Social Media

Social media
These seven keys will help your church engage both members and guests on social media. (Flickr )

Social media is here to stay and some churches have done well as early adopters of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But many churches are still either hesitant to use social media or are using it poorly and not seeing any positive results.

As the pervasiveness of social media grows, it would be unwise to continue to ignore your church's social media strategy and presence. And like any other ministry in the church, social media needs planning (a strategy), people (someone in charge) and a purpose (measurable goals) to be effective.

These seven keys will help your church engage both members and guests on social media:

1. Have a clearly designated point person. If no one is responsible the social media communications of your church, the chances of being effective are low. Someone—whether paid or volunteer—should be responsible to see that schedules are followed, content is posted and standards are being met. If your goals call for a daily tweet and nothing has been tweeted in two weeks, you need a structure of accountability in place to get back on track. Without a designated point person, church social media can be haphazard and will ultimately hurt the ministry and reputation of the church.

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2. Understand the differences in the channels. It seems obvious, but Twitter is not Facebook, and neither of them are Instagram. Each social media channel has advantages and disadvantages and is best served with specific content for its audience and format. Twitter and Facebook are the most alike in that links and photos work well on these platforms. Quotes will fall flat on Facebook (but not on Twitter) and Twitter isn't the best for photo galleries or events (Facebook is). Speaking of photos and links, on Instagram photos links aren't active in the body of a post. When you post content online, remember what works best in each channel.

3. Integrate social media into your current communications plan. One big mistake many churches make in social media is separating it from what they are already communicating. Use your church's weekly newsletter or bulletin to shape the content in your social media channels. And while you match the type of content to the channel, always consider the "sharability" of the post. Think, If someone sees this, will they want to share it with their friends? If the answer is no, consider a shift in content or the call to action.

4. Monitor channels for feedback and respond. Social media is not a one-way street. The entire purpose is for social media to be social. This requires dialogue, listening and responding to questions. While not every comment requires a response, if you find yourself getting asked the same questions time and again, consider adding an FAQ page to your church website or integrating those answers into existing content.

5. Have a clearly defined goal for each channel. While it's great to have an ever-growing number of followers online, having increased follower counts as goals isn't the best way to measure effectiveness. Set measurable and timely goals for engagement and effectiveness rather than simply trying to increase your follower counts.

6. Use tools for efficiency and analytics. Once you've set your goals, you need to track them. Using tools like Buffer and Hootsuite allows you to monitor, engage, schedule, and analyze your social media accounts. Also, spend some time in the analytics areas of your social media accounts. You'll be amazed (and possibly frightened) at what they can tell you about your audience.

7. Promote the social media channels through traditional means when possible. If you are going to use social media as a church, tell your members and guests about it. Put the logos and usernames for your accounts on bulletins, newsletters and promotional materials. If you want your members and guests to engage with you online, they need to know where to find you.

Where has your church found success in social media?

Jonathan Howe serves as director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of "Rainer on Leadership" and "SBC This Week." Jonathan writes weekly at on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @jonathan_howe.

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