When to Make the Switch

Over the past couple weeks, in both my practice with congregations and with small businesses, I’ve encountered the same question from three very different organizations. Can the switch to online communications be iterative, of do we just make it at one time?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.”

In this blog, I’m going to explore the factors to weigh when a congregation is facing this situation.

Social Media usage

  1. Be clear-eyed about your facts: Nationwide, the move toward social networking sites is unmistakable. In most categories (race, education, income, and urbanity), the percentages of social media adoption are nearly equal.
    Lesson: Despite the cries of some, social media is no passing fad. You will have to make the switch eventually.
  2. Be clear-eyed about your facts (Part 2): While social media adoption is consistent across many categories, in one important area, a yawning gulf remains–age. For people age 18-29 a staggering 90 percent are on some sort of social media. But for those 65 and over, the percentage is still (slightly) below 50 percent.
    Lesson: Look carefully at your demographics. If your congregation is older, pay attention to that fact.
  3. Are You Ready?: The time required to establish and perfect protocols for going to social media as your prime means of contact with your congregation should be carefully considered. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it can be done quickly. In fact, moving to social media will require training in technologies and developing content for your staff, even if they’re experienced with social media. And, moving in this direction will fundamentally change the way you and your staff work together. I will argue for the better, but make no mistake, it is a significant transition.
    Lesson: Don’t gloss over the difficulties involved in making this transition.
  4. Do Your Members Want It?: Listen, the fact is there are some communities that will never be comfortable moving to social media. Smaller churches with older congregations and little new blood coming through the doors can be a difficult sale. We all reach a time in our lives where we’re tired of keeping up with Joneses.
    Lesson: You can’t force change.
  5. Are Your Ready to Teach?: Even if your congregation is ripe for the change, there will need to be clear communication about how things are changing, why they’re changing, and when the changes will occur. Failing to do so will leave even power-users perplexed.
    Lesson: Just because people are savvy about social media, doesn’t mean they’ll understand how social media is being implemented and how you intend to use it. No more that those who love to read paper will understand how to find information if you don’t have pre-set, determined, and known locations for the print publications you now produce.

Have you detected a theme? The onus for any such switch is on the leadership. Not the people in your congregation.

So educate yourself, seek advice on how to understand how social media will affect your workflow, and be prepared to walk patiently beside your community as you take this next step.

Sacred Language Communications is here to help. Questions about making the switch from print to social media? Call (540-498-5994) or write us!

Oh, Those Millennials

Millennials—everybody wants ‘em, no one seems to know how to get them.

That’s the major take-away from a newly-released study by Pew Research, “Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions; Networked with Friends.” So the question for congregations naturally becomes, “How do we reach them”?

Some like Keith Anderson, a Lutheran pastor and digital media maven, see in the report a reason for churches to become more engaged with online social media. He’s become a leading voice in this movement, and has some fascinating ideas on the topic. And I have come to believe that he is basically right. The days of churches hiding within walls that members wish to be epicenters of people’s lives are largely over for much of Protestant America.

But simply shifting to digital ministry, or outside the walls of ministry, isn’t a sure-fire path to restoring religious life in America. (A fact I suspect Keith would agree with.) Because the problem remains—what do you say in this space?

Authenticity

In this new space of communicating, authenticity is everything. People can sniff out individuals and organizations that are using social media becaumillennials unmooredse they want to reach “the younger crowd” in the time it takes to hit re-tweet with a modified comment.

How do you know if you aren’t being “authentic”? Here’s an easy way. Look at your past ten posts/tweets/etc. Read them. Are these 10 items pushing events, making announcements, delivering marketing pitches? If more than two are, your authenticity is in question.

It’s this type of thing that sends Millennials, and others who “get” social media, scurrying.

Hence the Pew Report subtitle, which could well become a working definition of social media: “Detached from Institutions; Networked with Friends.” Social media is all about meaningful networks. And yet, this remains the major criticism of the medium. A charge largely leveled by those who don’t use the tools.  The person who charges, for example, that “nothing meaningful can be said in 140 characters” fails to realize that good twitter communications are long series of 140 character statements among two or more users—i.e., conversations.

Almost by definition, institutions have a hard time interacting this way. Not that they don’t try—and largely fail (i.e., far too many are not authentic in their communications or spend all their time “pushing” information out and bragging about themselves).

Confused, or Clear-eyed?

Gone among the Millennials may well be the belief that institutions are the arbiters of what is right. Some see this as a sign of Millennial self-centeredness. But I have a different take. I see Millennials as bold people constructing meaning out of the world they live in—not the world filtered through an authority figure(s). This takes courage, as the world they discover is not clean and logical, but messy, full of injustice and right, pain and pleasure, faith and faithlessness.

And it’s a view that is growing. Looking at growth trends, older Americans are the fastest growing groups of people embracing Twitter and Facebook. They trail the Millennials in total adoption rates, to be sure, but the growth trends among those 40, 50, 60 and over adopting these tools is clear.

A story in The Atlantic describes Millennials as “Deeply confused about … politics, finances and culture.” As the story says, “They’re always connected but distrustful. They’re selfish yet accepting of minorities. They’re “independents” who mostly vote Democratic and love Obama while hating Obamacare.”

Confused? Or facing the world head-on? Social media has created a generation that must face the world head-on. There is no place to hide. And older adults, who learned this lesson the hard way, are coming to find the same value in the tools.

Savior Social Media

To take this information from Pew Research as ammunition to integrate social media into your church marketing efforts is to misread it entirely. Social media is no savior. It’s a social gathering place.

Forget marketing. Embrace the conversation.

That is the path to the Millennials. Not a path that will lead them to your door, necessarily, but a path that will pull you out of yours.

Sacred Language Communications specializes in helping faith communities improve their communications through social media. To learn more, contact us directly.