Whether you love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. Facebook started back in 2003 as more of a college/dating-type site and has turned into something much bigger that influences everyday life around the world.
I hopped on Facebook about eleven years ago when I graduated high school and went off to college. It was the cool thing to do, and the cooler thing to do was to make sure you had the most friends. There was no filter on who it was; you just clicked "accept." Additionally, there was not much thought behind posting.
As you know, Facebook has evolved! We now know you shouldn’t friend everyone and that there should be a little more thought behind posting. Facebook also has turned into a business playground, a way small organizations can start grassroots campaigns, and a way for individuals to share a message quickly. There are things like sponsored posts, boosting posts, requests for recommendations, and so much more that can help a business or organization get noticed in a hurry for little or no cost.
When I took the position as communications director at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and School (Edmond, Oklahoma), I was tasked with managing the social media accounts. At the time, the church and school had their individual Facebook pages and the youth had their own page. All three pages had a good base of followers/page likes, and the good news was I wasn’t starting from scratch.
Looking through past posts, there was some great content and some not-so great content. There were things that got shared and liked, and there were things that didn’t get noticed at all. How was I going to make these pages effective and not only gain followers, but gain engaged followers?
First, consider your audience
Like with all communication, your audience is the most important thing to consider. The hard part with social media, especially for a church, is the balance of sharing key information with members and stakeholders and making sure you don’t come across as an exclusive group of people that assumes if you’re not in the “club” you’re not going to understand our Facebook page.
I view a Facebook page as an extension of an organization’s website. The website is the home base where all the important information and go-to resources are housed. Social media, specifically Facebook, is where organizations can go deeper and share all the real-time action! The content on a church Facebook page should not just target members or be used to share information; it should be a place for individuals to find inspiration from our Lord and spread the message of our Savior.
So, my target audience wasn’t just members and it wasn’t just our community. It was the world! Social media is a free outreach tool for churches to connect with the world, while informing members and engaging them when they aren’t at church Sunday morning.
I know that sounds a little scary or maybe a lot scary. But approaching Facebook this way reminds us that what we put on social sites should be inclusive, and there are other communication platforms that should be used for targeted member messages.
Second, consider these recommended practices
1. Quality over quantity
In the years I have managed social media accounts, specifically Facebook, I have found success in quality over quantity. Many times, social media is something that is just another to-do on our ever-growing list of items to get done for the day. With the convenience of scheduling, many times organizations make the mistake of scheduling post after post each day, and there is no meat. The page then starts to become annoying. The posts never get a share, and out of the ten posts you may post that day only one receives a couple of reactions. Many times, these posts are something that pertained to a very small segment or were bland and cookie cutter. Posting five or even ten times a day is not going to get the engagement you’d like if the content does not connect with your audience.
2. Storytelling over information
Many times, we get stuck in the rut of using social media purely as a way to share information. Yes, social media is an easy way to get information out quickly. If the information is important, simply put “please share” at the end and—ta-da—you have informed everyone the potluck is cancelled, right?
When approaching Facebook, it should not be viewed solely as an information spreading tool or the answer to get the word out. Yes, it is a valuable tool in the communicator’s toolbox, but the value does not come from the fact that things can be shared quickly. The value comes from the ability to control the message and connect with individuals around the world at any time of the day.
The things we are sharing should be genuine. They should highlight what makes your little, or big, church unique and special. Many times, churches get caught up in posting just to post and forget to share the things that make their church just that, their church. We are so wrapped up in the routine of everyday business we forget to snap the photo of the sun shining perfectly on the cross outside our front door or that our staff celebrated someone’s birthday today.
Sharing the things that make your church special is what members and people exploring your church want to see and why they looked for you on Facebook. It is putting a face to the brand and welcoming people with open arms, letting them know we are just like you and inviting them to come join.
3. Mission over memes
Oh, memes, they are pretty funny, right? Especially ones that have Martin Luther in them or the one with Robin about to say "Alleluia" but Batman gives him a great big slap, saying “Lent!” Everyone gets a good laugh out of them, and many times they get the most reactions.
Well, yes, these are funny, but they are not something I recommend sharing on a church’s Facebook page. One, if I wasn’t Lutheran and/or just getting my feet wet with your church, I would have no idea what these even mean. Two, is this something that is truly conveying who the Church is?
This goes even further than memes. There is no need to share the latest trending topic, even if it made the whole staff cry watching it or you want to know what color the majority of your congregation thinks the dress is.
As the church, we are tasked to go and make disciples of all nations. What can we share daily that will inspire, move and reach people in a way that is sharing this mission?
4. Rhythm over random
It’s 5 p.m. on a Monday, and you haven’t posted anything all day. Hurry, scroll through other Lutheran pages, and see if you can share something or . . . let’s google a verse and use an image from there to share. While this does get a post on your Facebook page, is it really conveying who your church is or what is going on within those four walls?
Finding a rhythm for your social media posts makes it seem less daunting and ensures you are sharing what needs to be shared.
Facebook has a handy tool that allows page admins to see when people are engaging with the page. Look at it! You’ll find information on what your followers like (or don’t like), and you will find when individuals are the most engaged with your page.
When I managed Holy Trinity’s page, I found if I posted between 7:30 and 8 a.m. during the week I received the most engagement. So, I made sure to do my best and post during that time frame.
5. Action plan
Each church is unique, and each staff is unique. You may be the pastor, secretary, and communicator. Or you may be a volunteer who has been charged with social media or the communications director who just can’t get your followers engaged. Whatever the case, I encourage you to take at least thirty minutes to find your rhythm, find your stories, and set an action plan for your social media. Taking just a little bit of time to strategically think through posts will make Facebook seem less scary and enable you to really connect with your followers.
Here's how I approached Facebook as the director of communications at Holy Trinity.
Sunday: Facebook Live of 10:45 a.m. service and/or photo of something special that happened during service.
(The photo could be lighting the Advent candle with an explanation of what the candle means. Or maybe a special music performance. If you don’t livestream, maybe schedule a post for Saturday of the recorded sermon from the week before or share the recorded sermon on Monday.)
Monday: Prayer. I pulled this from the Sunday morning prayer of the day in the bulletin. It was not fancy; I simply cut and pasted the text.
Tuesday: Barkings. This is a weekly video blog of our senior pastor. I encourage you to think outside the box and do something unique to your church. Maybe it is a Facebook Live devotion with the pastor or someone well-respected and known in the church.
Wednesday: Weekly devotion booklet. Our ministry staff recently started doing a weekly devotion booklet that tied in with our sermon series. I would put it on our website and then share the link on our Facebook page. Before the booklet, we would rotate between the ministry staff writing a devotion. If this seems like a scary commitment for your ministry staff, start small. Do one devotion a month or every other week.
Thursday: Important happenings around the church. This leaned more toward an informational post, but it was something that targeted most of the church and/or visitors. In the last year, we turned this into a super fun Facebook Live with our pastor and vicar going through the many activities on campus.
Friday: Emphasis verse for Sunday. I would put the verse that the sermon was going to emphasize in Canva to make it look nice and then post it.
My goal was to get these scheduled each week through Facebook. But sometimes it was something that happened right when I got in the office that day. I had one post a day planned, and then if something else came up worth sharing it was the cherry on top.
As I got in this rhythm and shared stories and connected with followers, I saw our page likes go up and our engagement increase dramatically. There were other churches sharing our posts! But more important, we were reaching people who had never set foot in our building with the message of our Savior!
If you want to be effective with social media communication, you need to be diligent about posting on a regular basis. This can take a lot of time and effort. Finding tools to take some of those tasks off your plate can be a Godsend! Learn this and more in our ebook, Social Media Automation.