Three Questions to Ask about Your Church’s Social Media Use

There’s a great deal of information available to churches and businesses about how to “inventory” and assess your social media program. Many of these inventories are quite good; done properly, they’re also time-consuming and best done with the assistance of someone who specializes in this world.

Should you go to that extent? Take the time to fully account for all your social media projects, assess their effectiveness, and analyze how you manage your channels?

Before undertaking a full inventory, SLC recommends you answer three simple questions.

followQuestion 1: Looking at your existing social media channels, are you following everyone (or as many as you are able) of your congregation? 

Why It Matters: Social media is just that–social. If you are not following your parishoners, you are using social media channels as a one-way street. You can send out information that you find important, but you aren’t seeing information about your community that your members find important.

integrateQuestion 2: Thinking about your online habits, are your church’s social media channels integrated into your work (i.e., they stay on and you check them at the same rate you check e-mail)?

Why It Matters: Social media works best when you respond. Just like e-mail. If you aren’t monitoring and responding to the social media pages of those in your community, you are missing a critical opportunity to discover what people are saying about your community and learning what those in your community are learning and sharing with others.

speedometerQuestion 3: Do you regularly review and make adjustments in your social media habits based on your parishoners’ responses and posts?

Why It Matters: Think about real-time, face-to-face conversations. When you start talking with someone, you use your aural and visual senses to decide how the conversation will develop. If the person you’re speaking with is using sober tones and looking down, you aren’t likely to start talking about how wonderful everything is in your life. Instead, you listen and sympathize more. If someone is excited, you don’t burden them with a heavy question. The same is true of social media. Sending out material that no one responds to and never changing suggests to those who follow you that you’re tone deaf. Staying on top of people’s reaction is critical to your success.

So how’d you do?

If you answer positively to all three questions, you’re set for a full-blown social media inventory. Forge ahead!

Less than that, there are some more fundamental steps you need to take before investing in an inventory. Start with the questions you can’t answer affirmatively, try doing them for a couple months, and then re-evaluate your readiness for an inventory.

Happy Socializing!

Martin Davis is founder of Sacred Language Communications and specializes in helping congregations and faith-based organizations leverage social media to strengthen their communities through improved mutual understanding and discussion. Contact him at mdavis@sacredlanguagecommunications, or call him at 540-498-5994.

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A New Way to Market Your Church

Perhaps the best line ever voiced about social media was never said of social media at all. It’s spoken by the no-nonsense Captain in the classic 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke.

There’s a grand failure to communicate when it comes to social media, because the vast majority of users in the church–and elsewhere–continue to think of social media tools as a way to market themselves to the world.

A Frontline piece last week will forever change your opinion about this.

Inverting the Funnel

Generation Like explores the inversion of marketing that social media has wrought. (If that sentence turns your theological ears on end, hang with me. It all comes back to you and your church.)

For as long as there’s been marketing, it’s been driven by the “funnel.” You caste as wide a net as possible, then filter prospective clients from non-prospective clients via a series for sieves, until you have people most likely to interact with you.

The classic marketing "Funnel." Caste the net, and narrow down.

The classic marketing “Funnel.” Caste the net, and narrow down.

Sound familiar? Canvassing, encouraging people to invite friends to church, community events, pancake breakfasts, mailing flyers. These are all examples of the classic marketing funnel.

Turn It Upside Down

Social media has turned this model upside down. No longer are you the marketer, but your clients become your marketers. To simplify greatly what the documentary describes, a clothing store’s best bet for selling is not the splashy ad in the New York Times, but the teenage girl who sings the praises of her new jeans to her 20,000 Facebook fans.

“But wait,” you say, “that’s no different from wearing branded clothing.” True, except it’s more complicated.

With branded clothing, you’ve convinced people to shell out large dollars for a product that improves their image with their friends.

With social media, big organizations are trying to convince individuals with the largest followings to pay attention to you.

In short, now, PepsiCo fears Tyler Oakley (watch the documentary).

From PBS documentary "Generation Like."

From PBS documentary “Generation Like.”

Bringing It Back Round to Church

So how does this apply to the church?

Hands down, the greatest concern of congregations is bringing young people and their families into the church. And everything, it seems, has failed–consistently, for 30 years.

Churches blame increasing secularization, travel sports, and a range of other issues for their failure to bring the young in.

Complaining about things you can’t control, however, will never advance your work. Worrying about the things you can control can make things better.

And your outreach (let’s call it what it is–marketing) to the young is something that you can definitely control.

Begin with the young people and families in your church who carry iPhones and tablets, and work with them to create content that they can place in the body of their photos and videos. Engage them in the process, and allow them to be your marketers extraordinaire.

Just One More Thing …

Be sure to watch ALL of the documentary. This marketing does not happen by accident. It is carefully orchestrated.

Every detail, every connection, everything.

“Viral” doesn’t happen magically.

With some love and attention, however, you may come to appreciate better how to find the solution to your communication failures.

Chasing Youth: Can You Win?

Face book declineChurch Mag recently released a story that is often imitated in church circles. This story, The Facebook Exodus: Where Are All the Teens Going rattles the cages of congregations desperate to attract young people and families by getting more engaged with their social media tools.”Again,” the writer concludes, “we see that the Church will need to look beyond Facebook to reach this generation of users online.”

Let me spoil it for you. This is an arms race you are not going to win.

Give the article credit for unearthing the newest trend of social networking tools making the rounds among the young. If you have children, most of the new tools will be no surprise to you–your kids are already using them, and you’ve probably seen the icons if you haven’t used them yourself. Certainly, it helps to stay on top of what’s new and developing in this world.

But to think that using these tools will attract youth to your church is akin to thinking that wearing a particular pair of shoes will make you a better athlete. (It’s gotta be the shoes).

Using KIK or SnapChat or Vine is not something you build an outreach program on.

Rather, you build an outreach program on being true to yourself, being clear with others about what you are, and living that essence out in the world around you.

This is not to say that you should be ignorant of new technologies–we’re all for it and encourage it. Nor or we saying don’t use them.

All we’re saying is, don’t confuse the tools for the message.

In Church Communications, We > Me

Our family has a special connection to football season, as my son has been playing since he was a tyke. Though he has played with various teams over the years, each shares one thing in common. Each selects a saying at the beginning of the season that becomes the rallying cry for the squad. Coaches know that if you don’t get your players on-board, and give them a sense of identity, the season is lost before it’s begun.

This year, his middle school team selected one I particularly liked: “We > Me.” The resonance with football is obvious. It’s a team game—no one player can be responsible for winning and losing. Everyone must pull in the same direction to win.

And here’s why I like it so much. The same is true with church communications. Winning in communications requires your church pulling together in the same direction. Both in terms of message, and in terms of the tools you use to communicate it.

Three critical questions

Very often, churches looking to improve their communications look immediately to a tool. “We need a modern-looking website,” said one client to me before we ever talked about what the church was trying to accomplish. “We’ve got to figure out how to make Facebook work for us,” said another, without giving any consideration to whether their congregation wanted it. The rush to find a tool that will fix things is never-ending.

But to get your community to pull together begins with examining your current communications and what it says about who you are and how you talk together.

Answering the following three questions is a good first step in understanding how effectively you are communicating.

  1. What channels do people in our church use now? Ask your members to tell you what communication channels they use day-to-day to get information. The answers may surprise you. I recently asked people at one church to sort themselves into one of several categories based on their preferred method of connecting with people. Texting, e-mail, and face-to-face conversation were the most popular. Not one gravitated to the group designated “social media.” Beginning with what people have will do more to strengthen your internal communications than trying to introduce another channel that people may or may not desire.
  2. Do our existing communication channels allow us to connect with one another? There’s no denying that adopting the latest and greatest is fun. And a potentially significant boost for your church. But if you are not communicating well with the channels you currently use, the problem may not be the channel so much as the message. Look to understand why your existing channels are or are not working for you, first.
  3. What do our existing channels teach us about our community? Before adopting something new, be sure that you are collecting as much information as possible from your existing channels about the people in your community. If you only have print communications, have you done a reader’s survey of how often people read it, and how they use it? If you are using e-newsletters, are you spending time with the analytic data these provide to better understand what resonates with people, and what doesn’t?

All for One

Austin Starting to KickAnswering these three questions will tell you a great deal about whether your church is a collection of people talking as “me” (different opinions about who you are, what you are trying to accomplish, and how you spread that information within your community) or as “we” (a unified message over every channel).

If your church can embrace We > Me, you’re ready to take your communications to the next level. If you find We < Me, there is more foundational work to do before taking on the world outside your walls.

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.