Are my church’s media and message ready to go social?
Do you remember when organizations would only provide their address or a toll free telephone number at the end of an advertisement? Neither do I. These days, more and more businesses and churches are forgoing such standard contact information and are urging their customers to be their “Fan” on Facebook or to “Follow” them on Twitter. What makes online social media (or social networking) platforms different from more traditional forms of “customer” engagement and marketing? And how do you determine if it makes sense for your church?
The answer to the first question is simple. Nearly 25% of the entire world population, cutting across all demographics, regularly conducts business or hangs out on a social networking website. Within these “global hubs,” individuals and organizations gather and break news, promote themselves or their services, target their preferred audience, and decide whose conversations they want to hear. And much of this comes thanks to the growing number of mobile phones, which make it easy for users to access and update their social networking accounts on the go.
In addition to the obvious appeal of reaching millions of people at little cost, one primary advantage for churches to have an online social presence is to be found when someone decides to look for the message they’re spreading (for examples, archived sermons) or the services it provides. But if your church’s primary mission is to evangelize, then online social networks are no replacement for pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, or visiting people in their need in hospitals, prisons, and orphanages. Also, by setting up an online identity, your church would be exposing itself to the wild wild world of cyberspace, where reputations can be enhanced–and just as easily destroyed!
And yet, more and more churches are beginning to “go social.” According to this infographic(below), 46% of 250 churches surveyed said that social media is their most effective method of outreach; that’s followed by knocking on doors (24%), and advertising in the traditional outlets of newspapers, radio, and TV (a combined 30%). But the beauty of social media is that it’s not an either/or proposition: You can literally knock on doors and tweet about it at the same time.
Is social media right for your church, and is your ready for social media? Here are five questions you should answer before deciding:
Does your church want a two-way conversation with your followers? Unlike the church blog, a social-networking follower can post content (if you allow them to) on the church’s Facebook Page for all to see. Or a complete stranger can send a Direct Message to the pastor’s Twitter inbox. Or church members can chat with the clergy, or hold church business meetings, in a Google+ Hangout.
Does your church do frequent outreach campaigns, musical concerts, or fundraising? Then you definitely need to be active in the social media sphere.
Does your church want to target the young and unchurched? Social networking is NOT just for the kids, but naturally, the young and young at heart gravitate to these relatively nascent media platforms. Also, the millions of people who may not feel comfortable stepping inside a church door could very well visit your Facebook page from the comfort of their home.
Does your church want to educate the broader public, affect change, and at the same time protect and shape your reputation? The promise entering the dynamic world of social media is that you are on the same stage as politicians and celebrities. Anyone can find your church’s account, and what you say or do online can go “viral.” And that’s also a danger. If an improper photo or message is posted to your church’s social media account, its reputation can tank within minutes. It pays to be aware of social media’s unwritten rules of conduct.
Does your church already have an existing, but inactive, or ineffective social media-presence? It’s possibly because someone just doesn’t have the time needed to keep it “fresh” by making updates several times a week–in the case of Twitter, preferably at least once daily. But to be effective, your social media manager, whoever it may be, also needs to learn social media’s best practices, such as responding to questions or comments.