How Your Church Can Get Better at Social Media Right Now
September 28, 2017 |
In some ways, a social media platform may seem like just one more way to mass communicate your big announcements. But every app gives your church creative opportunities to connect with people in authentic, meaningful ways. Used well, social media is a valuable extension of the ministry your staff and volunteers do all throughout the week. Social media is an opportunity to invite people into the story of your church.
But how do you get there?
It’s not enough just to have a Facebook page or Twitter handle—you have to use it. And you’ll get frustrated fast if you jump in without a plan.
To use social media well, you have to know how and why it works, and develop a strategy to use that knowledge to reach your church’s goals. Before we get into tips on how to do this, let’s start with what you need to know about social media and the church.
Why Social Media Is Important for Churches
Social media has completely saturated our culture. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center 69 percent of Americans use social media. It’s not just Millennials that want to stay connected online. That same study found that 35 percent of people over 65 use social media now (the percentage has tripled since 2010), and well over half of all adults younger than 65 use social media.
Your congregation is using social media, with or without you. And they’re not just sharing pictures of their cats and creating memes about you behind your back. People are having conversations about faith online.
Is your community having these conversations without you?
Your staff and volunteers are in a prime position to participate in or even initiate these meaningful discussions.
And churches who do participate are having success. Nearly half of churches surveyed in 2012 reported that social media was their most effective method of outreach. Another study in 2013 found that most churches use social media for outreach. And that shouldn’t really come as a surprise, considering that over half of all social media users engage with brands several times a month.
Clearly, social media should be in every modern church’s toolbox. But like all things, using social media well takes time. Unless you can afford to waste time and make lots of mistakes, you’ll need a strategy. And that means you’ll need some goals.
The 2 Social Media Objectives Every Church Has
When it comes down to it, there are two main goals every church probably has for social media: engage your congregation and reach new people. What those goals actually look like is a little different for every church.
Objective 1: Engage your congregation
Engagement is a notoriously ambiguous word, but most definitions usually boil down to something like “getting people involved.” Getting people to volunteer in ministry probably comes to mind right away, but engaging your congregation could also mean that people are:
- Joining or starting small groups
- Following your reading plan
- Giving to your church
- Inviting friends and family to attend your services
- Going on a mission trip
- Talking about their faith or what they’re learning at your church
There’s a host of other things people can do that align with your church’s mission and vision—whatever your engagement goals are, social media can probably help you get there.
For example, if you want people to get involved with small groups, you can use social media to talk about where and when people are gathering, what they’re doing, and maybe even tag some of your small group leaders so they can guide the conversation when people have questions. Your leaders could also share videos of or stories about fun things that happen, or you could challenge them to film an activity or their answer to a question.
A great way to get people involved in your reading plan is to have a pastor or staff member share some of the things they’ve been learning or enjoying, or ask a question from the passage each day (this is perfect if you’re already creating questions for the reading plan).
Many social apps like Facebook let you directly invite people to your events, which gives them (sometimes several) notifications that it’s coming up and allows you to keep updating people who are interested. (This is really great for outreach events!)
Whatever engagement looks like for your church, social media is a great way to help you achieve it.
Objective 2: Reach new people
No matter how engaged your congregation is, if your church isn’t reaching new people, you’re going to have a hard time growing. Social media exposes the public to your message—and that means you can talk to people who have never heard of, let alone set foot in, your church.
Every time you publicly share posts, videos, photos, and links that your congregation appreciates, social media can vastly expand the reach of your message. While social media is great for engaging your current members and getting them involved, you can also craft posts that are designed to reach new people. You’ll want these to target the people you’re trying to reach, but this could include things like:
- Broad questions about faith and life
- Thoughtful commentary on some aspect of American culture (the more tactful and well-written this is, the more appealing it will be)
- Articles that appeal to families, college students, seniors, or another demographic you care about
- Local news, events, or stories
Whatever you choose to share, social media is a good place to start conversations and expose your brand to new people in your community.
Make sure you put in the effort you need to come to a good understanding of what your engagement goals are and what ways you’d like to expand your reach. Once you’ve decided what you’d like to accomplish with social media, it’s time to go over some tactics you can start using right now.
10 Actionable Church Social Media Tactics
There’s a wealth of information about what works and doesn’t work on social media, but your success really hinges on one thing: your ability to treat people like people. Whoever manages your social media accounts needs to be able to empathize with others and see the ministry opportunities in every interaction. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Be responsive to comments
When you share something on social media, you should be hoping that people comment. It’s an important part of both engaging your congregation and reaching new people with social media. Ignoring someone who comments on your posts online is no different than ignoring them in person. It makes the person who commented feel like you don’t care about them, and it shows everyone else that you probably aren’t interested in what they have to say, either. It also tells people something else: social media isn’t a great way to interact with your church.
When you quickly and thoughtfully respond to comments on social media, it demonstrates that you’re available and approachable, and it tells people that your church is part of their online community. How you respond should reflect your church’s “brand” and fit with how you want to be perceived. (You probably don’t want your church to sound like a middle school student, so go easy on the exclamation points.)
That being said, it can also be helpful to include a signature at the end of each comment to reinforce that there is a real person responding (this gives you the freedom to include a little personality, too).
Note: Some public comments don’t require a response (or a “reaction” such as a “like” may suffice).
2. Be especially responsive to private messages
Private messages are a little different than public comments. Whether people are reaching out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or somewhere else, they have different expectations for what happens when they send you a message. When people message you, it’s like they’re leaving you a voicemail (or an email, or any other kind of mail, for that matter). They reached out with the expectation that you will respond to their questions or comments.
While your church certainly isn’t the same as a business, it’s worth noting that over 40 percent of people expect to receive a response within an hour of reaching out to a company on Twitter. Facebook even has a special icon for pages that consistently respond quickly to messages. If you’re going to be on social media, it’s not enough to hop on for a weekly post or check messages every couple of days.
3. Post about events and topics other than your church
Nobody enjoys being around people who only talk about themselves. You might feel like social media is just another place to share what’s happening at your church, but that’s only a small part of how you’re going to engage your congregation and reach new people. Your presence on social media allows people to build a relationship with your church’s page or profile.
Your mission and vision should help you decide how you want your church to be perceived online, and from there, you can flesh out the kinds of things you can talk about to reach the right people and engage your congregation in the right way. Your sermons, newsletters, reading plans, and other regular content provide plenty of opportunities to talk about things that matter to your target demographic without making every post sound like an announcement. You can share the things your church is doing without making it all about you. But if you’re really interested in reaching a particular group of people, you should constantly wrestle with the articles, questions, and cultural issues that matter to them.
Share stories. Share insights from scripture. Show people that your church cares about something bigger than what happens in your building.
4. Be consistent in your posting schedule
This may seem insignificant, but it really makes a difference. Whoever manages your social media accounts needs to post regularly, at a consistent time, so that people know what to expect from your church. If you’re posting content people look forward to, a consistent schedule can increase the impact of each post by training people to anticipate your Monday morning sermon highlights, or your Tuesday night devotional, etc.
5. Be relevant: comment on current events, new books, movies, and opportunities
We touched on this a bit in the context of reaching new people, but commenting on the things that are going on in the world around you consistently reinforces that your church is relevant to the lives of your congregation. It shows people that you care about the things they care about and understand the world they live in, which can lay the groundwork for evangelism.
Scouring local news is a great way to keep your church relevant to your local community, and you can probably find overlaps between your mission and the things that are happening in your neck of the woods. The comments you make can help your congregation recognize applications for the things they’re learning through your teachings, and it could show non-members that you have a perspective they can get on board with.
Hopefully, your church staff regularly reads. Talk about new books you’ve read and why you recommend (or don’t recommend!) them. You can do the same with movies, shows, and other forms of literature and media your congregation is already talking about.
Whatever you talk about, keep in mind that social media is dangerous territory to talk about controversial topics.
And on that note…
6. Don’t start arguments (be sensitive with your posts)
You should definitely talk about things that matter. But when you do, keep in mind that wherever there’s a dividing line, there are people on both sides of it who you would love to have in your church. Everybody needs Jesus, not just people who share your perspective on politics, culture, and everything else.
Social media is a great place to build relationships, but arguing isn’t a good method to engage your congregation or reach new people. Arguments generally reflect poorly on your church, especially if they’re publicly visible. Even if you courteously disagree with someone, you can’t control how they respond, and they may say things that reflect poorly on you, too (especially if they’re a member). If you feel an argument coming on, instead of feeding into it, seize the opportunity to build a relationship with a response like this:
“I can tell you care a lot about this. I’d love to talk about it in person sometime. Message me, and let’s grab coffee.”
This isn’t the place to write a treatise on church doctrine. You’re here to build positive relationships, and that’s what you should apply your energy towards.
7. Don’t take the bait (don’t feed the trolls)
Similar to what we just discussed, it’s important to be aware that some people really do just want to watch the internet burn. Whether they use anonymous accounts or not, you’re bound to encounter people who will try to provoke you. It’s not always easy to recognize an internet troll at first. They may ask pointed questions or make comments that seem to be rooted in genuine curiosity or interest.
It’s time to disregard tip number one and intentionally ignore (or block, if necessary) someone if you see them do any of these things:
- Personally attack you (as an individual or a church)
- Deliberately misinterpret your response and “put words in your mouth”
- Project their feelings about Christianity or church onto you
- Repeat the same question or statement regardless of your response
Don’t use sarcasm, respond emotionally, or otherwise sink to their level. They’re egging you on, and to them, any response is another opportunity to keep picking at you. You don’t even have to tell them you’re ending the conversation. Just end it. If they repeatedly comment on your posts, you may have to block them, but that should probably be your last resort, not your first choice.
When you feed the trolls, nobody wins and everybody loses.
8. Use images
After looking at more than 100 million Facebook posts, Buzzsumo concluded that posts with images had 2.3 times more engagement than posts without images. That’s more comments, likes, reactions, and shares—which all translate to reaching more new people.
And if you want to reach even more people, it might be worth creating or finding some good infographics that address things your audience cares about. Posts with infographics receive three times more engagement than any other type of post.
9. Ask questions
When you make a statement on social media, it doesn’t necessarily invite a response. Questions, however, directly invite people to participate in a discussion. A few things you’ll want to keep in mind:
- This isn’t the place to assert your own views. You’re just asking people to share what they think or believe or feel about a topic. Depending on how people respond, it could be a good place to follow up with an invitation to talk more.
- You may not want to publicly ask for feedback. It’s not just your congregation who sees your public posts. Questions like “What did you think about Pastor Jim’s sermon this weekend?” are invitations for criticism. Remember those trolls we were talking about? This is troll bait.
- Some questions are worth asking periodically. People’s responses to some questions change over time. You could start a new conversation each time you ask, “What are you reading right now?” or “What has God been showing you lately?”
Asking questions is a great way to engage your congregation in conversations that matter. You may also find that questions on social media help you discover sermon topics or learn new things about the people you minister to.
10. Tell stories
Sharing real stories about real people is a powerful way to both engage your congregation and reach new people. You might already be sharing testimonies on your weekend services. If people are comfortable with it, film them. Depending on the social media platform you’re using, you could also share their story as a series of images, or a longer text post. Experiment to see what works best for you (keeping in mind that images tend to perform better).
Not sure where to find stories? Your church is full of them! You could share:
- How volunteering in children’s ministry has affected someone
- What someone has been learning in their small group
- What kids are most looking forward to about Christmas, summer, or school
- How someone on staff met Jesus, or what made them want to be in the role they’re in
- The story of someone who one of your ministries has served
- Things you observed at the grocery store, the park, or at home
- Literally anything you have permission to share that’s relevant to your audience
People connect with stories. They can place themselves within them and empathize with others. They can see topics from another perspective, in a context they hadn’t considered.
Your stories could end with questions, or not. They could be inspiring, thought-provoking, challenging, or humorous.
Treat People Online the Same as You Do in Person
At the end of the day, social media is just another way to talk to people. The more you do to treat every profile as a real, living, breathing human being, the better you’ll be at social media. It may take time to get your page where you want it to be, but with each passing year, social media is becoming more and more valuable to churches, so it’s worth taking the time to use it well.