Believe it or not, 140 characters could solve your communication problems
If you're a church leader who feels like your church should be using the social networking tool Twitter, but you're not sure how to leverage it to carry out your church's vision or mission, here are a few techniques that may give you some ideas for getting started.
Showcase your staff. On your church website's "Staff" page, provide clear links to those staff members on Twitter. This is also a good place to link to their profiles on other social networking sites like Facebook. Here's an example:
Show live chats from events. A simple hash tag (indicated by a "#") can go a long way. At a recent youth event, our church encouraged people to use a hash tag when discussing the event on Twitter, and then we pointed parents to the Twitter search results page for that hash tag. Note: It was very popular, but you do run the risk of someone posting something inappropriate; nothing can be cleaned up or deleted.
Find out who among your church is already on Twitter. If you have an email database of your users/congregation, you can import that list to a new Gmail account, then have Twitter search that account for active members. Follow people in your church, and many will follow you back.
Tweet from retreats, events or mission trips. A great way to keep the people at home informed is a Twitter account dedicated to that event. The advantage to this strategy over a hash tag method is that parents and other concerned parties can subscribe to that user and get updates on their phone. Our Twitter account for our mission trip to Ecuador garnered about 45 followers overnight, mostly from concerned parents. Many aren't tech-savvy, but they took the time to learn so they could keep up with their kids.
Post weather-related news. If you have ongoing weather-sensitive events, such as VBS, outdoor sports or other summer activities, cre-ate an account dedicated to field conditions. Our recreation update account is often quiet, but it's worth gold on rainy Saturdays in the summer. It saves a lot of phone calls from parents asking about cancellations.
Post your blog entries with a link. Anytime you or someone else posts a blog on your website, let your followers know via Twitter. You only have 140 characters, so write an introductory phrase introducing the post; make sure to include the link and "Please RT" asking people to "retweet" the post.
"Crowdsource" new ideas about ministries, service projects and communication strategies you're interested in pursuing. Post a Tweet (e.g., "Plan-ning a missions trip to Guatemala. Any tips/suggestions for lodging? Pls RT"), then wait for responses. Crowdsourcing gives you ac-cess to people and experiences you wouldn't contact otherwise.
Use Twitter to invite your community to upcoming outreach events and initiatives. And ask followers to post a similar Tweet or "retweet" yours. Always provide a website link in the Tweet that people can access for detailed information. Crowdsourcing also gives you op-portunity to immediately respond to any questions or comments.
Always try new ideas for your context. One youth leader told me he was thinking about setting up a separate Twitter account to keep teens and their parents updated on activities and changes to the calendar and then tying it to a Facebook page. Think through your current communication needs and obstacles and brainstorm ways social media could provide some creative solutions.
Mickey Mellen is a Web developer and co-founder of Green Mellen Media, which works with churches, small businesses and individuals to help further their reach on the Internet. He also writes blogs, including "Google Earth Blog" and his own at Mickmel.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmel.
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