The temptation of any online activity is to become someone you’re not. When you go online, you may create a persona that isn’t indicative of who you are in real life. This may happen involuntarily or even imperceptibly over time. I fear that churches are guilty of committing this same error when it comes to their online presence, especially in the realms of social media.
If only it was this easy . . .
Some churches use social media like Facebook and Twitter as a way to repeat basic information to their members. Event times, worship schedules, and other informational items are posted, and yet church staff wonder why social media isn’t “working” for them. Other churches attempt moderate amounts of engagement with their members, yet I’d hazard a guess that these churches are also discontent with the effectiveness of their social media usage.
Why is this so often the case?
Simply put, the online persona of the church fails to flow from the real life of the church. A church is not its events, its Sunday worship service, or its potluck dinners. As good and necessary and delicious as those things are, a church is its people. The effective use of social media demands that you focus on the people. By engaging your people through the mediums of real-life conversation and online engagement, all the while maintaining the same persona throughout these conversations, you’ll start to see a vibrant display of your church’s unique identity in an online space.
So, how do you get from rehashing event information to creating an environment conducive to building an authentic online community?
1. Be You
Churches that don’t know who they are in real life won’t know who they are online. Your Communications Director or Volunteer Social Media Expert may need to have multiple conversations with church staff members, church lay leaders, and church attenders. To go even further, consider asking those in your community that don’t attend your church what they think of your church. While this could be a daunting task, the results could prove quite beneficial, and will likely be surprising. What are the themes that sound a constant refrain? Take the information you’ve learned and consider how that should play out online.
2. Be Social
No one likes to hear someone talk about themselves all of the time. Just like any functional relationship, communication has to happen both ways. Establishing a safe online place for your church to communicate with each other and with church staff allows for such a mutually beneficial relationship to take shape. Consider using social media to ask your members questions that dig deeper than simple yes or no answers, or ask for suggestions for a particular issue:
3. Be Present
If your focus in social media is squarely on your people, there will be work involved. Relationships take time and care to cultivate. The social media presence of many churches is anemic at best because adequate time hasn’t been given to the church’s social media endeavors. This is why many churches’ online personas devolve into the repetition of dry information that fails to engage. In order to be present, someone on your staff needs to monitor your social media feeds and work to start dialogues and promote daily interactivity. Here are a few suggestions:
4. Be Integrated
Obtaining buy-in for any endeavor (especially within some entrenched church cultures) can be challenging. For a church to have a successful online presence in social media, a majority of its leaders must participate. Without such buy-in from church leaders, a church’s social media presence will likely lack a defining voice. In other words, it will not be wholly representative of the church. As with most issues in church culture, buy-in from your leaders will lead to buy-in from your members.
5. Be Careful
There are a few surefire ways to lose your audience. For good or ill, establishing a vibrant online community requires daily interaction. If there is a perceived lack of consistency, you will likely lose followers because you’re not reliable. If there is a lack of focus (does your church really need to see that funny cat video?), you will likely lose followers because you’re not being true to your church’s real-life identity. If there is a lack of necessity, you will lose followers because . . . well, you likely didn’t have any followers to begin with.
Lack of necessity refers to this important question: Are you attempting to get your people to come to you, or are you going to them? For instance, ChangePoint, a church in Anchorage, Alaska, was recently deemed The Juicys Communications Church of the Year after they ditched their traditional printed worship guide and monthly calendar in favor of a mobile app and reduced printing costs. They saw a noticeable hike in mobile-based traffic to their website and responded accordingly. They went to where their people were.
Furthermore, according to Nielsen’s latest Social Media Report, Facebook is the most visited site on the Internet, and 4 out of 5 active Internet users visit social networks and blogs. Additionally, 40 percent of social media users access social media content from their mobile phone. And, somewhat surprisingly, social media users over the age of 55 are pushing the growth of mobile social media usage.
6. Be Resourceful
Learn about the effective use of social media every day and seek tools that can help you engage your church online.
By remaining true to your church, making yourself available, and consistently seeking engagement both online and offline, you may find yourself in the middle of a robust social networking experience that draws people to your church, and, more importantly, to God.
Originally posted on November 3, 2011.