The Pope, Twitter, and the Man from Madrid

Gustavo Entrala is one in-demand dude. And why not? He’s the guy that put the pope on Twitter. Quite literally.

That’s right, the pope’s on Twitter, and by all measures doing quite well with it.

popeBut it’s Entrala, not the pope, who is the brains behind the account. And he told his story to those attending the conference I was at in way that held us all captivated. The next day, I had the pleasure of sitting beside him as we took a bus to the small town of Araxa.

My first question to him was, “how carefully do you measure the impact of Twitter on the papacy?” His response–“Not very.” We track relatively simple metrics, he said; mostly, we pay attention to what messages are resonating with what groups of people.

Come again?

The pope’s Twitter account recently topped 10 million followers. You read that right, 10 million. Entrala and company must have data coming out of their ears. But for all of that, they choose to focus on the relatively simple metric of how do tweets play with people, measured mainly through how often, and by whom, something gets retweeted?

There are two key take-aways here.

1. It’s not the size of your following (or the number of friends) one’s social media channels have. Instead, it’s what those who follow or befriend you are telling you about your thoughts when the react–or don’t–to what you’re transmitting. To benefit from this, you don’t require 10 million followers. You can learn the same lessons with 10, or 50, or 100 followers. Run your ideas up the flag pole, see who salutes, and react accordingly.

2. If Entrala, the brains behind the pope’s massive Twitter account, is looking mostly at what people are revealing about themselves when they retweet the pope’s messages, it re-inforces a notion we at SLC talk a lot about. The value of social media lay not in how it helps you grow. As a growth tool, it’s unreliable at best. But as a tool that provides insight into what people really want, it’s unparalleled.

Of course, I am simplifying here. Both Entrala and his work with the pope’s Twitter account are far more complicated than I’ve conveyed. He’s no hack who happened to stumble on a big customer. (Learn more about Entrala here, here, here, and [if your Spanish is good] here.) But the core of his message as conveyed here is correct.

As you think about your groups’ social media channels, think long and hard about what you’re learning. If you’re not, you’re missing out on the most powerful component social media offers you.

Just ask the pope.

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A Different Take on All Things Communications

I find myself in an airport this Saturday afternoon waiting to board a flight to Brazil for a conference of international religion journalists (Read more about this exciting event). It’s the pay-off for months of work with a team of first-rate people from across the globe in no less than three languages (Portuguese, Spanish, and English).

We are a tech-savvy group. Skype and Facebook and Twitter and Dropbox and Constant Contact and sophisticated online travel tools were all important to bringing the event to pass. Indeed, we could hardly have pulled the meeting together in as little time as we did had we been working in the pre-internet age.

All of which has little to do with church communications, save this. At no time in this process did the technology itself take center stage. Sure–you can do some pretty amazing things in incredibly short periods of time with online tools and communication channels. But at the end of the day, the technology isn’t the story. The people who are coming together, are. It’s a reality that many churches (and nonprofits) I encounter need a gentle reminder about.

An odd observation from a guy who makes his living teaching organizations to make smarter use of technology? Not really. In an age when newer and faster seem to trump everything (What, your church is still using e-mail? Your pastor still uses the iPhone4? You aren’t live-tweeting events? You’re still checking in with FourSquare?), we too often forget that technology is a tool for, not the solution to, better communication.

Your Kids Aren’t Technologically Smarter

In our organizations’ fervent races to reach new audiences, we routinely point to “the young” as a reason for expanding an existing technology, and adopting whatever new tool the young are turned on to at the moment. It’s a kind of social-networking arms race that Apple has turned into a multi-billion dollar business (as well as the major phonemakers and carriers) and convinces us that we ignore it at our own peril.

But are our kids really more technologically savvy? Perhaps in the sense that they adopt and adapt to new things earlier. But why? Because the new works so much better than the old, or does something radically new? No. (Ask most youngsters why they want the newest and the latest, and you’ll get an American-Bandstand-type answer: I love the graphics and it’s faster. Sounds like “it has a good beat and you can dance to it.”) They adopt new technology to stay one step ahead of their parents, grandparents, and other, older, family members.

By buying into the arms-race mentality, we lose sight of a fundamental truth. Technology won’t improve your communication. Surprisingly boring, simple things will.

  1. Talk with people. I use “with” and not “to,” intentionally. Churches and nonprofits need to talk with their members about their needs, their wants, their successes, and their lives. The power of really listening is as potent today as it ever was.
  2. Grow the community you have, not the one you want. Yes, be forward-looking, plan strategically for the future, and for growth. But grow with the people you have, not the ones you wish you had.

it’s into this strategy you bring social media and other communication channels. To serve and enhance what you’re building.

A small group of committed people building upon relationships developed over time upon trust and respect can move the world with the help of social media. Or simply put you on a plane to Brazil.

We’re A Church, Not a Business (Part II): E-newsletters

Our recent post on Google Analytics and church life drew quite a bit of interest. Today, we continue with that series by examining e-newsletter data.

As with Analytics, most e-newsletter platforms are built not for churches or nonprofits, but for e-mail marketers. Hence, a great deal of the data they make available is aimed at improving sales, growing market share, and understanding buying habits. Good and useful stuff, but not necessarily for churches. To that end, we recommend the following.

The nomenclature follows that offered by MailChimp. Most e-newsletter providers, however, use similar, if not the same, language.

Forwarded Opens Not Opens: In the world of marketing, opens matter. But in the world of church, not so much. Churches send relatively small numbers of e-newsletters, rendering this information less useful. But forwarded opens (people who open your e-newsletter, then forward it to another individual who then opens it) is an important number. If you’re getting few of these (or none), it may well mean that your congregation is inwardly focused, not thinking about those who might enjoy your community outside your walls. Not necessarily a bad thing, unless outreach is an important part of your message.

Click Map, Not Click Performance: OK, we’re stretching here a bit. Click performance, the numbers of folks who click links in your e-newsletter, matter a lot. Don’t ignore them. But it’s as important to pay attention to your click map. Why? It will tell you if people are reading ALL of your newsletter, or just parts of it. If you have consistently high click rates in one part of the newsletter, but not another, it may mean that people are looking for certain information. So don’t place critical information in a slot that doesn’t draw a lot of attention. (You might also consider mixing things up design-wise if this is the case. Readers looking in the same place week after week, and ignoring others, is bad news for your e-newsletter.)

Total Clicks, Not Unique Clicks: Marketers are consumed with “unique clicks” (i.e., how many individuals clicked a piece) and not total clicks, which count links clicked irrespective of who does the clicking. And for good reason. If the same person clicks the same link 8 times week after week, but never buys anything, you’re not having impact. But in churches, total clicks matter a lot. Members who come back time after time and open links repeatedly suggest that they are leaning on your e-newsletter as a primary source of information. And that, after all, is the name of the game.

How “Old” Are Your Church Members?

It’s hardly a secret that churches are aging. And many are spending countless hours trying to find ways to lure “younger people” into their churches. It’s an important and difficult task. But don’t allow that to distract you from realizing that there are ways to measure age beyond year of birth.

This point was driven home to me recently while sharing a cup of java with a minister in Fredericksburg. At his community, church leaders think not only about the physical ages of their members, but their spiritual ages as well.

What they’ve learned is that a 30-year-old member who has been in church his whole life has more in common with a 60-year-old who has been involved in church his whole life, than with a 30-year-old who has recently begun attending.

The point, I realized, was so obvious as to be profound. Of course that’s true, I thought, but how often do I (and other churches) act on that data?

There’s good reason why we don’t think about this very often. In the world of advertising, the emphasis is on chronological age groups. I.e., how does such-and-such a product do with women age 30-45? This kind of thinking permeates nearly every aspect of our lives, so it’s no surprise we think about church membership this way.

Why does this matter in the world of electronic communications? It’s important to know how long your members have been engaged with their electronic communications, too. It’s not necessarily how old the user is, but how long they’ve been engaged with Facebook, or Twitter, or email, or any other tool. Users who have been plugged in longer are going to work better with social media or e-communications than those who are relative newbies, whether the users are 25, 45, or 65.

America is not at a saturation point with internet-based tools, but we’re getting closer. And the closer to saturation we come, the less important is the chronological age of the user. But until we get there, knowing your members’ “internet age” is important for deploying effective communications.