[Continued from Monday, September 16, 2013]
Ask and you shall receive.
More information on small congregations and social media, that is.
In the movie Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella says, “If you build it, they will come.”
While I love that classic line, I don’t think that strategy works for branding an organization. Many religious organizations have created a Facebook account, have a Twitter handle or started a church blog, but if they are not using them properly, they are useless. Just because you “build” a Facebook group does not mean “they will come” look at it.
Small town churches really have the opportunity to promote a feeling, an experience. Although the mega-church is still prospering in America, I truly believe that many people would prefer a personal experience when and if they decide to attend a religious service.
So, with the help of an aggregation of ideas from Ignite Social Media, here are eight ways businesses are using social media to attract consumers and my eight ways small congregations can compete with America’s mega-church.
1) Take advantage of popular trends
It is up for debate whether or not social media itself is a trend. However, within social media there are obvious trends that people are obsessed with being a part of—hashtags, photo challenges and personal photography just to name a few. Blogger Ashlie Lanning said that by showing real people in real moments, you can show “consumers” (or potential members) that other people love your “product.” For religion, this translates into showing people that being religious can be fun and engaging—not stuffy and boring. Mosques, churches and synagogues could be just as successful as a teenage girl at utilizing these pre-existing trends and getting their names out there. Post a picture of a structural renovation for transformation Tuesday, throw back with a tweet linking to a Youtube clip of a Christmas pageant from 1995 or have your pastor/rabbi/imam participate in selfie Sunday, which leads me to #2 …
2) Use humor
Yes, most people take religion very seriously. There are times to be respectful and reverent. However, social media is the perfect way to relay the light-hearted side of your organization. You will gain more followers and more attention if you use wit, kindness and humor and save the serious stuff for later.
3) Allow people to ask questions
The fact that you can evangelize without ever leaving your home is amazing. However, effective evangelization allows for conversation and questioning. According to Christy Buckland from Ignite Social Media, customers want a relationship with their brands. In order to allow friends or followers to interact with you technologically, make your Facebook page/group public. While you may need to monitor it for spam, if people feel comfortable posting to your wall or tweeting you, they will (hopefully) feel more comfortable coming into your building and talking to you face-to-face.
4) Engage with those who follow you
Don’t just allow people to post on your wall—talk back! This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for— the chance to answer someone’s questions, invite them to a service or encourage them in some way. Tweeting someone back and taking the time to show that you are interested in them may be the most important way to utilize your social media accounts.
5) Update frequently
Maybe you shouldn’t blow up your followers’ feeds with 20 pictures an hour of your building’s new shrubbery, but updating frequently lets people know that the account is active. It also gives them a steady stream of information— keeping your group on their mind, which may lead to them visiting you in person.
6) Don’t use social media as a soapbox
Don’t use your social media accounts to go on a tirade. This is the fastest way to find yourself de-friended, un-followed or blocked altogether. Yes, you should post about your organizations core values and beliefs. But the minute you get on your I’m-right-and-this-is-how-it-is soapbox, people won’t think twice about never visiting your page again.
7) Be honest
Even online, consider your word usage and tone. It can be difficult to understand the meaning behind something through digital interface, but we’ve all read a little too deep into a smiley face before. Be honest about who you are and what you mean. It’s hard to win back a follower who feels tricked, manipulated or lied to.
8) Information, information, information
Last, but certainly not least, social media is a way to disseminate information. I think the most important way a small congregation can gain momentum is by promoting the experience of being a part of something special. Articulate that you are a close-knit group. Let the community know what type of service you’re involved in, when your next church picnic is or who the special singing group is next Sunday. Utilize graphics, encourage interaction or, if you’re feeling really spunky, try creating a video or some other digital advertisement. You may be surprised what kind of response you get.
Even in the most remote places, people are using social media. Creating an online presence is an easy, free and effective way to reach others. And after all, isn’t that at the heart of every religion?