• Finding content for your social media channels may be easier than you think! [INFOGRAPHIC]

    I find that many churches are a little intimated by social media because they don't think they have much to post. Others who do participate in social media treat it as simply an online church bulletin or a venue to post scripture of the day.

    It can be so much more, and if you take real advantage of your web site, you can have plenty to post that not only can appeal to members and potential visitors, but can drive traffic to your web site for more information and content.

    It's all about recycling.

    If your minister or other church leaders blog, even if they post to their own site, make sure thoses posts wind up in your web site as well (web sites powered by content management systems - CMSs - like Joomla or Wordpress can use add-on tools that can automatically import those posts). Use individual posts from your site as social media entries. Add a sound-bite-like quote as your comment.

    If you post church information, news and events on your web site, organize the content so that each item can be linked to directly, and post the link to social media.

    Are your sermons online? Promote the series or specific topic in social media, then post a link to each sermon in social media after it is  loaded into your web site. Headline it with a quote from the sermon. Occasionally post a link to the series with something like "have you missed a few Sundays? Catch up on our current series here!".

    Expand the content in your web site by answering questions your congregation's leaders get from visitors or those just curious about your church. Chances are others might be interested in the answers as well. Pick the best questions, and either blog your responses or post them directly into your web site. Now you have more to use in social media.

    Do you have online registration for events? Put the event details on your site, with a link to the registration form, and promote the link to that event in social media.

    Do you find articles by others on relevant church or Christiain topics? Post those directly to social media, again with a comment that draws people to click on the links.

    Be sure to adapt your posts to each social media platform.

    You may quickly find you almost have far more than you need to make your social media channels active, useful, appealing, and effective.

  • Is your church atwitter?

    (Part of an ongoing series on how churches can create an effective digital presence, on the web and in social media)

    "Twitter - I know it's a social media thing... but I don't know much about it, I don't understand it. And don't get me started on hashtags - whatever they are."That's the gist of what most church leaders tell me. But if you are a church leader who would say something like this, please give me a moment to try to explain briefly why your church should tweet. If it is already tweeting, allow me to offer suggestions on how to do it effectively.

    My purpose here is not to explain the mechanics of Twitter, but to focus on how your congregation can be more effective in using it. If you are not familiar with Twitter, here's a video that does a good job of explaining the basics. Feel free to skip to the 9:55 mark and start watching at that point.

    When I ask someone if his or her congregation tweets, I usually get a blank stare. If your church does tweet, what sort of things does it tweet about? 

    If your congregation doesn't tweet, it should consider it. A recent Pew Research Center report shows that in 2014, nearly a quarter of Americans who are online use Twitter. Thirty-seven percent of 18-24 year-olds use it. Ten percent of those 65 and older who are online used it in 2014, double 2013's number. While it may not be surprising that 25% of urban online adults use it, it may surprise you that 17% of rural adults use it too, up from 11%. The chart has more stats, and in nearly every case, usage is climbing.

    If your congregation is or plans to tweet, here are some tips to do it effectively.

    Know and tweet to your audience(s)

    Marketers are taught from the time they're in college that they must identify their target audience, the kind of person they are trying to reach with their advertising and social media efforts. If they don't know their audience, then they have no idea which web sites, TV shows and magazines are best to advertise on or in, and how to determine the best way to present their messages, but there's no way to measure the success of those efforts.

    Your congregation must do the same thing. Do you want to reach your members or potential visitors? Or perhaps you want to target people who might visit or that your congregation wants to help. Your choice should have a significant impact on what you tweet. 

    Encourage your members who tweet to share your posts

    Especially if your church is just starting out on Twitter, encourage your members to follow you and to share your tweets. That expands your potential audience from your followers to include their followers as well.

    Make your content shareable

    Of course, if you want your content shared, make it shareable. Tweet relevant content... relevant to your audience. It may be nice (and easy) for you to post "insider" content, but then you're likely to reach only insiders. 

    By "insider" content I mean content written for members, such as a daily scripture reference, lofty truisms, devotional statements that use church buzzwords, and committee meeting schedules. The first three assumes you're trying to reach Christians and the fourth suggests you're targeting members. While that can be good content for those audiences, and good content to post, if that's all your Twitter feed offers, how likely do you think it will draw non-members and non-Christians to follow you?

    If you are trying to reach potential visitors, include posts that link to articles they might find interesting, useful or valuable. And don't limit it to religious sources. I have recommended to clients articles like this from the Huffington Post, this from Business Insider, and even something humorous, like this from tickld. Don't avoid religious sources, but keep in mind whether the discussion has appeal outside your faith, such as this one, which is good because it ties current events to a religious context.

    Also, try to avoid building a mutual admiration society. Often, when I look at a congregation's follower/following list, it is apparent that it is preaching to the choir full time: the lists consists largely of sister congregations, church professionals, and Christian authors and bloggers, and the content is consistent with that.

    Use hashtags effectively

    Don't forget to use hashtags, and not just hashtags, effective hashtags. Hashtags that others are using and that relate to your message. Why? Because when a Twitter user clicks on a hashtag in a tweet, Twitter brings up a page of other tweets that use the same hashtag. He or she can also search Twitter for tweets using a specific hashtag. Plus, if you search for a hashtag on a search engine such as Google, the results include matches on other social media site.

    Often, I'll see tweets (not just church tweets) that hashtag-ify generic words like #water, #new, and #first. Your hashtags should relate to the content, such as #vbs for a vacation bible school tweet, the name of your community or metro area, such as #DFW, or a common hashtag used in the tweets by others about local news or events.

    At the other end of the spectrum, if you use hashtags that are unique to your tweets - that is, they don't appear in any other tweets - they are not going to expand your reach. 

    A tool like hashtagify.me can help you see how popular (or not) a given hashtag is. Set up a free account to be able to compare the popularity of different hashtags before you choose one.

    Push them to your web site

    Include links back to specific pages of your web site. If you're promoting a specific event, such as a seminar, guest speaker or fundraising car wash, make sure the details are on your web site, then include a link to that specific page. There's probably no way to include all the important information in the space of 140 characters, so promote it as a headline and include the link.

    Interact

    Don't make the mistake of thinking "If we build it, they will come". Reach out. One client of mine does a great job of building relationships with community organizations (outside of Twitter), following each other, and sharing each other's content. This included the local Better Business Bureau, schools and businesses.

    Twitter can be a significant asset as part of your social media efforts. It takes a focus and dedication to get the most out of it, but it can be well worth it.

  • Lessons from a master storyteller for your church's digital presence

    The Sermon on the Mount

    He drew crowds. One was so large that he had to get into a boat and float away from shore in order to share with them. What drew so many people? Probably many things that go far outside my area of expertise, but a major one was that Jesus was a master storyteller. And the story is the most powerful form of communication.

    What made him so effective, and how can you apply those lessons to your church's web site and social media presence? He connected with audiences.

    He knew them. He grew up in the land where he taught and was part of the culture.

    If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you can't be sure that your content will be on target. Before you type that first word, ask yourself:

    • Who do I want reading this?
    • What is their background, socially and economically? How old (or young) are they?
    • What are they interested in and what do they do for recreation? What kind of music do they tend to like?
    • What are the common problems that they face (especially those your church can help with)?

    He went to where they were. He traveled from town to town, often speaking in locales where people gathered (although there are several occasions where they found him).

    Do you know which social media channels your audiences use? You should be there, be active, and engage in conversation rather than simply making announcements.

    His stories had familiar settings with familiar characters... shepherds, widows, religious leaders, poor people. The people of Jesus’ Palestine would be very familiar with such folk.

    He spoke their language. He didn't use religious jargon, he spoke using everyday terms.

    Do your online efforts get mired in church-speak, or do you write using terms and phrases that everyone can understand, regardless of how religious they may be?

    He used visuals … a child, a tree, a wineskin. Jesus used things at hand to enhance his message.

    Your web site, blog and social media should include images and videos whenever possible, but be sure they’re relevant. And be sure you get permission for any copyrighted material … it'd be embarrassing for a church to violate that seventh commandment!

    Per Sujan Patel, VP of Marketing at When I Work, “without question, there has been more than one article you’ve perused just for the pictures — or clicked on because it just seemed to... stand out more than the rest. Good visuals that break up big blocks of text can be the perfect way to keep your audience engaged. If an idea gets complicated or confusing, infographics and simple visual aides can, well, aide you in your explanation all the more.”

    He had a defined message, and it was consistent it with his mission, even when his supporters didn't grasp the full meaning.

    It's difficult to tell a story when you're looking at nothing but the details... promoting an event, posting a link to an article, thinking about your web site a page at a time or your social media posts one tweet at a time. Details are important, but keep your church's mission in mind. Think in terms of telling your story, of what your church offers, and use the details to support the larger view.

    He kept his stories brief. You can read any of his stories out loud, in their entirety, in less than five minutes.

    A story doesn’t have to be eternal to be spiritual. If a story can be told in one paragraph, or even a sentence, it’s still a story and can still have an impact.

    Once you’ve decided what your content is about, make sure that every paragraph relates back to the central idea or 'story.' If it isn’t helpful supporting your mission, it might be worth throwing out altogether.

    If your church doesn’t have a blog, start one. And don't make the mistake to think that you don't have much to blog about.

    Tell stories about your members and regular attenders … why do they like your church? What drew them to your church?

    Talk about events before they happen, while they are happening, and after they happen. For example, Sunday is Easter... post about preparations this week, and include "sneak peek" pictures or videos. During your Easter service, post pictures of events to social media. Perhaps you could live-tweet the celebration. Then recap the weekend on Monday.

    If you run low on topics, find out what questions visitors are asking your members or staff, and answer them in your blog. Promote events in story form, then re-cap them afterwards (with pictures!)

    If you use social media (and you should!), post links to articles of interest to your intended audiences. And links to your blog. And your online sermons. And your event registration pages. And to your other social media channels.

    A church may have a challenge in building its storytelling skills. You are not likely in a position to go out and hire a writer or a marketer, so you’re limited to your own staff and membership. Find the aspiring marketers, writers and artists. Play your strongest hand, build some skills, and start telling your congregation's story.

    Jesus told his.

    And you might say it went viral.