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8 Ways Your Church Should Navigate through Facebook’s News Feed Changes

Big Changes Are Coming to Facebook’s News Feed

Your church’s social media manager’s job just got harder—maybe a lot harder. In case you missed it, Facebook announced changes in the platform’s all-important algorithm on Thursday that effectively emphasizes personal interactions and de-emphasizes content from brand pages (which is how most churches use Facebook).

Although the latest announcement follows a trend in recent years where Facebook has made it harder for those using organizational pages to get their content in front of people, this is clearly the biggest shift yet.

What This Change Will Do

Specifically, the new algorithm prioritizes content that Facebook believes users are more likely to engage in “back-and-forth discussion” or share with their friends.  

“Changes to Facebook’s news feed are not new,” writes Mike Isaac in The New York Times.

“The Silicon Valley company constantly experiments with what shows up in the news feed, and in the past it has also said it would prioritize posts from users’ friends and family. But Thursday’s shift goes beyond previous changes by prioritizing posts that have generated substantive interactions.”

This means you can expect to see less “passive” content that you consume but don’t engage and more content you’ll want to get into a healthy dialogue about. Bottom line: More copies of Aunt Freda’s potato salad recipe and fewer viral cat videos (hopefully).

Theoretically, you should see more of the content you want to see and less of the content you don’t. That’s Facebook’s hope.

The challenge for churches is to create content people want to consume and regularly engage.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised big changes to the platform shortly after the new year with a post asserting his goal of fixing Facebook in 2018. He specifically took aim at hate speech, “fake news,” and wasted time on the platform. These algorithm changes are expected to help with the latter two goals. Though Zuckerberg admits the change could mean people spend less time on Facebook, he hopes the overall experience will be better for users.

So How Should Your Church Respond to These Changes?

All isn’t lost. Don’t toss your communications plans into the trash. You’ve got options. But there aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions. Here are eight ideas to get you started:

1. Put more money into Facebook advertising

Facebook ads still provide the best bang for your marketing buck. Facebook may be limiting your access to your audience organically, but it will gladly take your money for more focused and strategic connections to the people in your community. No other platform gives you the same precise targeting options and the reach for the price. That won’t change. Just $1 a day can bring in impressive returns for your church’s ad budget. Don’t let a lack of funds keep you from trying this.

2. Keep pushing live videos

Unless you haven’t actually been on Facebook for the past two years, you’ve seen the dominance of live videos on the platform. Facebook’s algorithm has prioritized live videos since Facebook Live’s inception in April of 2016. According to Facebook’s communication about these new changes, they will continue to boost live video in a similar manner.

If you’re among the many churches that have already taken advantage of Facebook Live, keep it going. In fact, it might be time to look for more opportunities to do it. Consider not only livestreaming your worship service, but start a weekly Facebook Live chat with your pastor. Be creative and think of some new ideas. These posts will likely continue to be some of your most engaging posts.

3. Diversify your communications plan and emphasize platforms you “own”

These changes should serve as a reminder that your church doesn’t own your Facebook channel. You’re a renter at best, a squatter at worst. Mark Zuckerberg can change the rules whenever he wants. If he wants to limit your church’s access to his network for any reason he’d like, he has a great amount of leeway to do so.  

Like I recommended in Content Marketing for Churches, use social media to drive people to the channels you own, such as your email lists, your website, and your mobile app presence.

Those are yours. You set the rules for how your content is seen in those spaces. It doesn’t mean you have to give up social media: Just have a smart strategy—one that sees social media as a piece of a larger whole.

4. Get creative

As a church, you already know this. Creativity will usually blossom when you have limitations placed on you. Use this as an opportunity to rethink how you’re communicating to your community. Get creative people in a room to talk about the best ways to get the word out to those you’re trying to reach.

5. Train pastors to use their personal Facebook accounts effectively

Remember, this change de-emphasizes organizational and business pages, not personal accounts. It’s another reason why you need to encourage your church’s pastoral leadership to be active on social media. Frankly, it was incredibly important before this change. It’s critical now.

If you’re in charge of social media at your church, put together a simple training program for your church’s pastoral leadership. Help them understand how important this is for your church’s ability to reach people in today’s world. If at all possible, start by getting the buy-in of your church’s senior leaders so they can encourage other pastoral leaders to get involved.  

6. Mobilize your volunteers to be church advocates on social

In December’s free Pushpay webinar How to Recruit More Volunteers with Facebook, Saddleback Church’s Haley Veturis describes how she mobilizes advocates to post content about the church on their own social feeds. These changes underscore the importance of doing something similar in your context. The new algorithm will emphasize content that friends engage and share. When you empower church volunteers to share and engage with your content, you’ll drastically increase the reach of your posts.

7. Train your community to find your posts

If your Facebook followers want your content, they’ll still be able to get it organically, but they’ll greatly increase their chances to do so if they make some simple changes in their news feed settings. It’s easy to do, but you’ll have to train your users how to do it. Most of them likely have never messed with these settings.

Create a Facebook post, live video training, or blog post describing how a person can prioritize your posts in his or her feed. Your attendees will likely be glad to do this. They’ll want to get your content. A few minutes of their time will be a small price to pay.

8. Level up the engagement in your posts

This has always been important, but frankly it’s also tough. Social media should be about engagement anyway. It’s supposed to be social, right? Unfortunately, too many churches use their Facebook feed like an online bulletin instead of a forum for engagement.

Try to create posts that solicit discussion. That might mean pushing the envelope and being willing to take calculated steps into controversial subjects. Don’t do it recklessly, but certainly consider it, if appropriate in your context.

Since sharing will continue to be a key measure of engagement on Facebook, ask yourself a couple of simple questions for every post you create:

  • Why would someone share this?
  • How does this add value to someone?

These questions help put you in the right state of mind for creating posts that people will engage. Remember, you can’t just ask people to share your content. Facebook will find you and penalize you for doing that. You have to earn engagement.

But beyond that, tell stories. You have them all around you. Churches should major in stories. Your community will likely love them and share them far and wide.

Ask questions. Expect responses and conversations on those questions. If you’ve mobilized social media ambassadors (as described earlier), encourage them to respond in particular to these questions so they can get the ball rolling on discussion.

Seize the Moment to Level Up Your Facebook Efforts

Social media in general and Facebook specifically will still be a powerful force in how people communicate over the next few years. Take this opportunity to make some long-needed changes in how you use the platform.

Your church can still thrive on Facebook.