If you’ve ever watched a supermodel pitch a hair care product, a football star promote foot powder, an insurance company or a YouTube celebrity recommending a designer, someone has attempted to influence you. Simply put, being influenced is when someone uses their name recognition or likeability to build brand awareness and encourage specific actions, such as volunteering, buying something or giving. In today’s online marketplace, influencer marketing is especially prevalent on social media.
An influencer is anyone who has a significant number of followers. Micro-influencers have 10,000 or fewer followers; macro-influencers have 250,000 or more. Power middle influencers have some amount in between.
An organization hires or inspires influencers to promote their company, product or mission through the influencers’ personal social channels.
Before you dismiss influencer marketing as a hokey Hollywood way of selling or something only large churches might consider, think about this: Online advertisements have become so pervasive, invasive and disruptive, that many people now use programs to block them. Those who don’t block them are prone to ignore them. However, studies have shown that influencer marketing has 11 times the return on investment (ROI).
Influencer marketing is effective because people are more likely to respond to familiar faces and voices. Given that the church’s stake in the digital realm is greater than ever before, it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored. Influencer marketing in its most sincere sense can actually be an extension of the Great Commission, another form of evangelizing. Some churches are reluctant to use this type of marketing. Here are some of the possible problems:
Problem #1: Geography
Prior to COVID, one of the biggest issues of influencer marketing for churches was geography. It does little good to hire an influencer to promote your church to a national or even international audience when you’re looking for ways to increase the number of people sitting in your pews. As the digital church becomes more and more relevant, that problem is less of a concern. The church is no longer limited by the pews in a building. An influencer can draw people from any geographic area to join your church through the internet. Local influencers can also target people in your community who may be looking for a physical location to attend.
Problem #2: Deception
For many people, paying an influencer seems distasteful at best and dishonest at worst. Won’t anybody say anything if they are paid to do it? While there may be some truth to that statement, influencer marketing is most successful when it’s sincere. The idea is not to pay someone to lie about your church but to find someone who is genuinely like-minded regarding your church and its mission. Your payment should not be for their opinion, it should be for the service of posting or promoting that opinion.
Problem #3: Economics
The third problem regarding influencer marketing is that many churches simply can’t afford to pay anyone thousands of dollars for promotion. The more popular and well-known the personality, the more costly this type of marketing is. However, it’s not always as expensive as you think. Local influencers are much more affordable. In fact, when a person has a legitimate interest in your mission they may even agree to help you for free. You should also consider influencers who are already sitting in your church pews. While they may need some direction, a congregant with a large number of followers may volunteer to use his influence on behalf of the church.
Problem #4: Content
Even if you decide to pursue influencer marketing, you may not be sure what kind of content the influencer should post. There are a variety of influencer marketing campaigns. Your church may want to increase attendance, garner volunteers or raise more funds. When you work with an influencer, clearly state your goal and then you can create the content, or you can allow the influencer to create it with your collaboration.
The key to effective influencer marketing is always authentic storytelling. Influencers for your church should not only have an awareness of your church but also be personally involved. For instance, a celebrity donor might share why she gives to your church and how that makes her feel. A local news anchor who attends your services could share his first experience visiting the church or having reported on it’s activities in the community. A young mother who is a member of your church might blog about how comfortable she feels when she leaves her child in the nursery.
Problem # 5: Influencers
While you may be convinced that influencer marketing is the way to go, you may still wonder how to find the influencers. While Influencer marketing guides and tools can help you vet and manage your influencers, church influencers should be able to authentically promote the goals and mission of your ministry. Keep an eye on your current social media. Look for people who are already engaged on your church’s website or Facebook page. Identify the ones who always like or comment on your posts.
Cater to your targeted audience. If you want to increase the number of young adults in your congregation, you’ll want to find someone whose audience is composed of mostly young adults. If you seek to minister to seniors, find an influencer whose message and persona attracts that age range.
Check out their social media. Gauge their online presence to make sure that the things they are saying, doing and promoting are already in line with your message. If they publicly support organizations, research those to identify possible controversial issues with which you don't want to be associated.
Consider the numbers. While not the most important thing, the numbers obviously count. An influencer isn’t an influencer without an audience.
The statistics are clear; churches should be doing influencer marketing. Social media is where conversations are taking place every day, and it’s an area that the church can no longer afford to dismiss. Insincere or irrelevant marketing is likely to be ignored and will erode trust. Trusted relationships and authentic content can help increase your online presence and draw people to your doors.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations. Her latest book, A Year of Yearning: A 12-Month Devotional to Help You Study God's Word More, is available from Amazon.