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Being Social: Making the Most of Social Media
What Is Social Media?
Media, at it's root, is nothing more than a form of communication. Newspaper, television and radio are some of the many forms of media in use today. Traditional broadcast media's one-way communication model isn't very good at building relationships. Social Media incorporates interactive, relational elements that facilitate two-way communication and collaboration. It's not only good at disseminating information, but also good at facilitating interaction through commenting, asking questions, discussions, etc....
Do People Really Use Social Media?
Yes. According to the Search Engine Journal, one in every nine people on Earth are on Facebook. If Facebook was a country, it would be the world's third largest by population. Facebook isn't alone. Twitter is adding nearly 500,000 users per day, and YouTube has 800 million unique visitors every month uploading over 60 hours of video every minute of every day.
What Are Some Forms of Social Media?
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are some of the most popular examples, but the social Web is a world that is constantly changing. LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Flickr, Foursquare, Vimeo, Last.fm and Instagram are just a few of the players in the growing social landscape.
Most websites dedicated to social interaction have their own unique capabilities intended to set them apart from the others. These differences result in unique strengths, weaknesses and uses. Keep in mind that the social landscape is ever changing and that new technologies are introduced, gain popularity and fade into obscurity almost over night.
Can Churches Benefit from Using Social Media?
Yes, but they need a clear plan of action. An organization shouldn't use social media just for social media’s sake. Merely having a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn't work. Using social media the wrong way can even hurt how people perceive you. To be successful, your friends and fans must find value in your social strategy.
How Can Social Media Help My Organization?
- Social media can expose your organization to people your marketing efforts wouldn't ordinarily reach. The best part is that when the viewer discovers you, he or she already knows and (presumably) trusts at least one contact within your organization.
- Sometimes people miss church, don’t pay attention to announcements, don’t read newsletters, or don’t check email. Social Media can provide reliable delivery of time-sensitive news and information to people who use social media regularly.
- Social media can help people feel better connected to the church. For people who only attend church once a week or less social media helps them know what’s going on.
- Social media can also help foster relationships among members. Your organization’s use of Facebook or Twitter may expose members to other members they've never met.
- Social media enables the whole church to be the church–praying, encouraging and teaching each other–online.
- Social media helps the church fulfill its role by equipping people to evangelize and make disciples by making it easy to invite friends to services, share stories, articles, videos, and the Gospel with people outside the church.
How Can Social Media Hurt My Organization?
- It can alienate people who don't use social media. If you use social media for your primary means of communication, those who don't use it may constantly feel left out. Don't force people to use social media. Social media is about meeting people where they are. Most churches will need to augment their social media strategies with printed and electronic communications for those people who aren't “social.”
- It can fool you into thinking you're communicating when you aren't. Social media is great for its immediacy, but depending on the number of friends or followers they have, your messages may be getting lost among the hundreds or thousands of daily messages appearing on their timelines.
New social networks seem to pop up everyday, but they aren't all created equal. While social media can pay huge dividends, doing it right can also require a sizable time investment. To ensure the best return on investment, we recommend the following planning guidelines:
- Find out where your target audience spends its time socializing and prioritize those channels first;
- Set some specific goals like the number of times per month that you plan to post, or the number of followers or fans you want to attract over the next three months;
- Determine the kind of information you want to publicize over social media; and
- Write down your strategy for each type of social media you plan to pursue.
Once you've determined which forms of social media you plan to use and decided what type of information and how often you plan to post, it's time to get busy implementing your strategy.
The 800-Pound Gorillas
Since Facebook and Twitter are currently the largest social networks on the planet, you'll probably find that your target audience has at least one of these accounts and more than likely has both.
Facebook is currently the largest social networking site with over 900 million users and is intended to connect friends, family and business associates. Facebook is a great place to start building your social media strategy because many of your constituents are likely already using it.
Profile, Group or Page?
- Facebook provides multiple avenues for communication, but which one you should create. Let's look at the differences.
- Profiles are intended to be used by individuals.
- Pages are intended to be used by organizations.
- Groups can be used by either.
Profiles have “friends.” Pages have “fans.” Profiles can send messages to one or more friends, that are delivered directly to their Facebook inboxes while Pages can only send updates. Both Pages and Profiles can post status updates, links, photos, etc. that appear in fans’ or friends’ news feeds. Unlike Profiles, Pages cannot make “fan” requests. However, your fans can suggest that their friends become fans of your page.
Groups allow for more interaction between members, similar to a forum or message board. Here’s what Facebook has to say about Groups: "Groups and Pages serve different purposes on Facebook. Groups are meant to foster group discussion around a particular topic area while Pages allow entities such as public figures and organizations to broadcast information to their fans. Only the authorized representative of the entity can run a Page."
Facebook Best Practices
We recommend that organizations create Facebook pages and assign administrative rights to the people they want to post. We do not recommend creating corporate profiles because Facebook has a strict policy against them that could get your organization red flagged. We recommend creating groups for specific ministries or special events.
Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables people to send and receive text-based posts of up to 140 characters, known as "tweets." It has been described as "the SMS of the Internet." Anyone can read tweets, but registered users can also post tweets through the website, text messages, or any number of applications for mobile devices. Tweets can include links to images, videos, and Web pages.
How Is Twitter Different Than Facebook?
Other than the 140 character limit, the main differences are that Twitter allows corporate profiles and doesn't have pages or groups. To get started, simply create a corporate account for an organization in the same way you would create a personal account. For corporate profiles, it's better to establish the account using a department-level email like firstname.lastname@example.org instead of a personal email.
Twitter Best Practices
Consider allowing your staff to use their own personal Twitter accounts to build readership. While your organization should have its own Twitter profile, many people would rather follow a person than an organization. There are many examples of organizations where the employees and leaders have a larger following than the organization.
Follow Everyone (Well Almost Everyone)
The goal isn’t to prove you can build a bigger Twitter following than everyone else. The goal is to improve communications with your network. When you follow someone, they are able to “direct message” you. You want that because it allows for more personal communication when needed.
Organize With Lists
Normally the first reaction to “Follow Everyone” is “How will I manage all those people” or “It really crowds my timeline.” The answer to that dilemma is to use lists. Lists let you organize and manage your true friends that you want to follow. People adept at using Twitter will sometimes follow thousands but really only track 100 or so. They filter through all the noise using Twitter's lists.
Connect Twitter to Facebook
Set up your Facebook page so that everything you share on Twitter automatically posts to Facebook. By doing that, you're able to connect with a completely different audience. This is even more crucial if you have a larger percentage of your organization involved on Facebook.
Link Back to Your Web Property
Whenever you publish a story, event, photo essay, blog post or podcast episode, announce it on Twitter and link back to it. It wasn’t very long ago that Google was the number one way people found my website. Today, Twitter is right up there.
Share More Than You Promote
Many people use Twitter like a news aggregator. Don't hesitate to share links to articles that you think may be useful or valuable to your audience. One of the most enduring qualities of Twitter is the microblogging aspect that allows users to continually share what they're learning and experiencing.
Participate In the Conversation
The fun part of Twitter is getting to connect with people who you can’t do life with in person. Because of the limited 140-character message length, it actually makes it easier to engage a larger number of relationships. Do your best to respond to every question or request that comes through your Twitter feed either through a response or direct message. Believe it or not, it’s possible even when following several thousand people.
Use Hashtags to Promote Events, Programs and Services.
A hashtag, also recognized as # sign is used to signify a keyword or phrase. Twitter users can click on these to show other tweets that are related. If enough similar hashtags are created in a short time frame a particular tag can then show as “trending” which basically means “popular” to other Twitter users. Trending list are determined by geographical areas so a large gathering can sometimes allow for a specific tag to trend quickly if there are enough Twitter users present. A great example of this would be if a church was hosting an event, for an example let's call it the “Best Picnic”, leading up to and possibly at the event you could ask users to tweet something using the hashtag #bestpicnic. If enough users tweet #bestpicnic then the topic will begin to trend and other Twitter users can click any of the #bestpicnic hashtags to see all the posts that are related. As you can see, an instant flood of digital “word of mouth” marketing for your event or program could be extremely valuable.
While Facebook and Twitter dominate the social landscape, they aren't the only game in town. People often forget that video-sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo are social networks as well. Users can create a channel of all of their uploaded videos so that visitors can browse or search all of their content at once. YouTube and Vimeo not only offer the ability for visitors to follow or subscribe to your channel, but also allow visitors to embed and link your videos on their own sites.
YouTube is the most popular video sharing site on the web. The amount of video content hosted on YouTube is greater than all other video sharing sites combined. Since YouTube is owned by Google there is also very tight integration with search engine functionality which has quickly promoted YouTube to the second most popular form of search behind Google itself.
A video sharing site that allows for great customization of embedded players and offers budget friendly prices for Plus and Pro accounts that remove Vimeo branding and allow larger uploads.
How Is Vimeo Different Than YouTube?
YouTube has a much broader audience. Since it is the second most popular search engine after Google.com, it offers the greatest opportunity for someone to stumble upon your content.
With Vimeo you have more control over the look and feel of videos you embed on your site–including what is shown on the video (title, creator, etc.), the size and dimensions of the player and the color of text. Although at one time Vimeo held an edge in the quality of video content, YouTube is generally considered its equal now.
YouTube imposes a strict 10 minute time limit but doesn't restrict the number or size of uploads. Vimeo does not impose a time limit or restrict the number of uploads, but it does impose a weekly upload limit of 500MB. You are free to use all of your space for one file if you wish, but keep in mind that, according to YouTube, the average length of video watched on the Web is only 4 minutes. In other words, you might want to hold off on posting videos of your hour-long worship services online in favor of producing a shorter, high-quality “highlights” reel that stands a much greater chance of going “viral” (being shared via social media between friends and followers).
Another major difference are Vimeo's subscription packages that allow for removal of Vimeo's branding and much larger uploads. Current pricing for the Plus package which allows for 5GB of weekly uploads is $60 annually.
Which Service Is the Best Fit for My Organization?
Ultimately, the answer depends on your organization's goals. However, many organizations eventually come to the conclusion that the answer is both. An organization may find that it likes to utilize Vimeo for the ability to upload longer videos and embed customized players. They may also come to the conclusion that the exposure and usability that YouTube offers are too important to ignore.
In addition to YouTube and Vimeo, there are specialty services and video sharing tools, like E-zekiel.tv that offer the same kind of video capabilities as well as audio capabilities to users in specific markets.
Other Forms of Social Media
In addition to Facebook, Twitter and video-sharing sites, there are a number of other social media outlets that may be valuable based on your audience.
Pinterest is social media in the form of a virtual pinboard that allows users to organize and share anything they find on the Web. Users can browse pinboards created by other people enabling them to discover new things and find inspiration from people who share similar interests.
How Can My Organization Benefit from Pinterest?
Since Pinterest is all about “pinning” content that has been found elsewhere on the web a church or business could do just that by using it to cross promote content that has already been placed on a website or blog. Pinning media posted on YouTube and Vimeo is very popular.
Pin It Buttons
You can add a “Follow Me on Pinterest” button to your website or blog as well as a “Pin It” button which makes it easy for people to pin your image and video content with a single mouse click. You can install these buttons within seconds, and they’ll instantly make your content easier to discover.
A business based form of social networking that has become a very popular way of finding jobs for those adept in social media. It can also be utilized to an extent for brand building.
A location based form of social media that requires a user to “check in” at a particular location or event. It is very popular among businesses like restaurants and coffee shops that have a strong social aspect. Some churches and non-profit organizations have utilized it for event settings etc.
Although Google is somewhat new to the social media world, their infrastructure of existing services like Gmail, Google Calendar, Picasa and YouTube give them the capability of being a major player. The Google+ “hangout” feature incorporates video chat that has become quite popular.
Pastors Use of Social Media
One of the most common concerns with churches utilizing social media is the impact it will have on the perception of their leadership. When individual leaders are actively involved and people are allowed to see aspects of their lives they previously didn't have access to, this can be concerning for some. Others see the positive far out weighing the negative as it allows them access to “live out” their beliefs for the world around. Ultimately this a decision that must be reached by each organization to assure the public image they put forward is most in line with their theological position as well as their collective vision and values.
What are some ways leadership can engage people and add real value for the time spent?
This is a great way to give your message an echo. Members can return to your sermon, enabling you to assist in their personal spiritual growth throughout the week. And they can spread the word, sharing your message with family and friends.
Send Video Messages
A short message of encouragement or inspiration each day or week can make a world a difference to people. Let your members know they are in your thoughts. Remind them that you are there for them whenever they need you.
Receive Prayer Requests
Send out a simple question, “I care about you. How can I pray for you?” You will be amazed at the number of people who respond and send requests. If possible, reply to each request.
Share Scripture or Quotes
Simply share what God is teaching you by posting a verse or a quote. Social media provides a quick and convenient forum for all those little thoughts you have throughout the week--even the ones you can’t fit into a weekly sermon.
Recognize Staff Members and Volunteers
Send out a special thank you to a staff member or volunteer when they succeed. It’s a great way to recognize their hard work and dedication, and inspire others to get involved too.
Provide Book Recommendations
People are interested in what senior leaders read and consume. They want to know what informs and inspires you. It can help them in their lives, and make them feel like they know you on a more personal level.
Track Your Engagement
You have to measure what you’re doing to know if your time investment is worth it. Two key measures are determining how many people use social media to connect to your website. You can do this by utilizing Google's free statistics service--Google Analytics. You'll also want to see if people find value in the information you're sharing. This could be tracked using a service like bit.ly. Through the bit.ly dashboard, you can determine many of your posted links your social audiences followed in a given time frame. You can track that engagement over time to better understand whether or not what you're sharing is helpful to your followers.