Social media offers local churches many good opportunities. That doesn't mean it will be easy to get your message across. With so many posts competing for people's attention, it will still take effort for your congregation's voice to be heard.
Successfully use social media to draw your community to your church by focusing on these opportunities.
1. Your congregation is already there
Many of your church members are already on social media. Connect with them, and they will connect with you.
Tag members in photos of church events, mention them in your posts and encourage your church's biggest promoters to start a social media dream team.
Once you start interacting with your members on social media, their friends and followers will start noticing you as well. Your presence can be a subtle reminder of the Spirit's movement in their life, a subtle form of evangelism.
2. They're already talking; listen
Social media is a great place to learn what concerns your community. Sometimes church marketing efforts resemble people who only talk about themselves. This will get you ignored on social media. Stop talking and start listening to your community. Consider sharing five engaging posts that relate to your community for every post about an internal program.
Church leaders who listen on social media may learn what areas of ministry are needed and where the congregation should focus its efforts.
Make sure, too, that you know where to listen. Pay attention to the social media platforms young people are using.
3. Use tracking tools to hone your craft
Many social media sites provide free analytics showing how posts perform. Administrators of a church page on Facebook can see the number of likes, shares and mentions. Twitter tells you when your posts are retweeted or when you are mentioned. Tracking these metrics will help you test and learn the types of posts that get the highest engagement.
You can also track performance through hashtags and trackable links. Hashtags may be used by others discussing a particular topic or theme. Trackable links are often ingrained in shortened URLs and enable you to see when certain links were clicked.
You may even want to track offline responses. How many came to an event you promoted on social media? Did you receive any incidental offline feedback?
Count the people who walk through the door and keep track of any comments you hear from participants. You may want to write them down or copy them into a single document or digital note.
You may want to consider soliciting feedback. Surveys are good, but it is often hard to get people to complete them. Take a pause during a meeting and ask for comments. Or, give a small token (chocolate works well) in exchange for completing a feedback card. Ask people to do this as soon as they arrive for your event.
Use these responses as you evaluate what worked best and when you tweak your posts in the future.
4. You're United Methodists! Test different methods
It is important to learn the best time to post on social media, but even that needs to be A/B tested because times change and every audience is different.
One of the common elements in viral content is that it piggybacks on trending topics. Give it a try. Then do something different. Discover what methods work best and use them, but also test them again later.
5. United Methodists are unique, so share your calling!
Highlight your church's unique calling and what you do well. This can help you and your community start to Rethink Church.
Do you have a music group in your congregation that uses instruments not typically found in a church? Do your members have video or photography skills that can be used in online posts?
One East Coast congregation filmed its teens talking about the new youth director they were seeking. Their video brought in approximately 200 resumes and raised public awareness of the ministry.
Start thinking about what your congregation can and will do to highlight your community and your ministry on social media. It doesn't take a big budget. You just need a little time and understanding to take advantage of these great opportunities.
6. Learn more using the #chsocm hashtag
#chsocm identifies all the latest conversation around church social media. Trade ideas on how social media helps your church spread the good word. Participate in the chat every Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.
Stick to it. Give social media the proper time, and you will see your fruit grow and multiply. Keep up your good work!
-- Andrew J. Schleicher, Project Coordinator, United Methodist Communications. Andrew is an ordained deacon and is certified in Christian communications with The United Methodist Church.