I recently sat down for lunch with Brad Ruggles, a web developer and designer, who is in the process of launching a new church in Westfield. We had a chance to discuss social media and its impact on a church’s marketing and came to the consensus that most churches have a difficult time with effectively leveraging it. One of the things that I am most passionate about is what I like to call vision consultation. I love hearing about the dreams and aspirations of organizations and individuals have about making the world around them better and then being able to provide feedback and make suggestions on how to move forward.
Social media is a great marketing tool for churches because most of their congregations use it to some degree or another and its totally free. Church groups would be silly not to use it! However, I’ve seen dozens of them enthusiastically create blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter handles, and more only to either stop using them or become discouraged by the lack of responsiveness to their communications. I know that many churches’ social media accounts are managed by volunteers who often lack an internet marketing acumen, so it doesn’t surprise me that many churches are missing the mark. It’s not the volunteers fault, they just need a better understanding what doing social media on a church’s behalf is really about.
Social media’s number one purpose is to help people make connections. This remains true across all platforms whether you are looking at LinkedIn or Facebook. (Blogs are a little more content-driven, but I will get to that later.) Therefore a church’s number one priority for social media should be to help its members make connections with one another and with people outside of the church. For example, a church can set up a Twitter handle, pick up a few followers, watch what they talk about, and then try to match them up with other members of the church based on particular interests. First Church of God could see that Ryan regularly talks about his photography studio and Sara is always talking about her Etsy business. The volunteer could acknowledge their passions for art and ask if they’ve met before. Now that’s not the only use, but you get the idea.
Content is the other side to social media and by content I do not mean regurgitating information in a church bulletin. Most churches do a much better job here. Oftentimes pastors have personal blogs that they use to recap their weekend messages and/or share useful bits of information with their congregation. When updated regularly, content based platforms like blogs, video hosting sites or even iTunes’s podcast directory serve as great ways to engage people outside of a weekend service. Therefore I would recommend that every church has at least one pastor or highly visible maintaining and posting to a blog of some kind two or three times per week on their body’s behalf. Ron Edmondson and Scott Williams are two pastors who do an excellent job of maintaining blogs for their congregations.
All in all, social media provides some great opportunities for a church to market itself and foster relationships over the internet. It’s free and easy-to-use, but it must be done thoughtfully. There’s absolutely no reason to get discouraging response to it. I believe that any church can use it effectively so long as whomever manages it remembers what its there for.