According to YouGovAmerica, fewer than 50% of Americans trust television, print or radio advertisements. Even fewer — less than 20% — trust social media ads.
Churches depend on having a reputation of trust. Try using user-generated content as an alternative to these traditional advertising methods.
How is it better?
User-generated content capitalizes on the power of word-of-mouth marketing, particularly in the form of social media endorsements and the testimonies, pictures and posts of your followers.
Its content offers several benefits:
It is practically free. There are no advertising agencies involved, no graphic designers to pay and no ad space to rent.
It connects with the audience. When someone shares a personal experience, people are more likely to remember it and to engage in conversation about it. They make comments, share the post, ask questions and look for answers.
It sparks emotion. Effective storytelling creates emotion. For instance, your story about feeding the homeless will spark more compassion than a billboard on the subject. You will laugh with the man who posts a video of his toddler dancing to praise-and-worship music. You may tear up when a teenager praises her youth pastor in a post. Most importantly, you are less likely to forget.
It promotes activism. User-generated content promotes action. A friend who reads your post may decide to give to the church food pantry. A young man sees the toddler video and looks up the lyrics to the worship song. Upon reading the teenager’s post, a mother calls the church to find out when the next teen event takes place.
It reaches a diverse audience. Since this type of content relies on people sharing content with friends, acquaintances and followers, messages get dispersed to a wide demographic.
It improves search engine optimization. The more people use the name of your church, the more likely it will appear on people’s home pages and in search results.
User-generated content is successful because each post, like or share publicizes your church and increases its online presence and influence.
How do I make it work?
You must find the content before you can capitalize on the benefits. Start following those who follow your church’s social media accounts. Ask yourself:
- Who is following the church Facebook page?
- Who are the people commenting on or sharing the pastor’s blogs?
- Who liked the recent Instagram post about VBS?
Check out Facebook and various social media analytics to discover the church’s most loyal online fans and what type of social media they are using. Like and comment on their posts. Repost relevant content and stories.
Pay special attention to any content that is specifically related to the church or its missions and activities. For example, a mom tweets about a funny comment her child made about the Sunday school lesson, or a teenager posts a photo of the church with the sun going down behind it. What do you do?
- Like it.
- Comment or ask questions. “That’s so cute! Broadway United Methodist has an awesome Sunday school program!” “What a cool picture. Was that taken after Broadway’s UMC youth night last Friday?”
- Share it with your audience.
What are some other ideas?
User-generated content only works if people share positive things about your church and its mission and programs. You don’t want to make up content, force people to say specific things or post the same thing. That’s defeating the purpose. But there are a few ways you can drive user-generated content.
Encourage your congregation to generate more buzz with some of the following ideas:
- Create and publicize a hashtag to use whenever someone mentions your church online. This will help you keep track of your church mentions on social media.
- Promote a “Tell Your Story Sunday.” Ask your congregants to post a story about how your church has blessed them.
- Inspire small group members to “pull out your phone and take a picture.” Ask them to post it and tag your church social media account.
- Assign a video creation project for teens. Give different themes to different groups: how the seniors have fun, what happens behind the scenes during worship or a day in the life of the pastor. Once the videos are complete, host a movie night for the church. Then post the videos on YouTube.
- Ask members to give your church a positive review on Facebook or Google.
- Regularly incorporate specific users into your blog or social media posts. For instance, you might feature Worship Leader Wednesdays on your Facebook page. Highlight one specific leader each week with pictures and fun facts. Ask mothers in your church to guest blog on the church website. Call it “Mondays With Moms.” (Hint: If people feel intimidated by the idea of writing a blog, send them a list of questions to answer. Put their answers into paragraph form. Add a picture and a short bio and you have a guest blog!)
- Invite someone different to handle the church’s social media accounts for one day. Having a new perspective can liven things up and lead to new followers.
Artist and cartoonist Scott Adams once said, “You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential.” User-generated content depends heavily upon the fact that everyone is an influencer to somebody. Discover the influencers in your church and help them do the advertising for you.
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.