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Social Media Tips For Churches (and Others)

I am teaching a workshop at the National Lutheran Youth Ministry Conference in San Antonio this summer. The workshop is titled “Leveraging Social Media for Your Church’s Mission.” This post is part of a series relating to that workshop. Here’s a full listing of the topics.

While some people are naturally “gifted” for communicating on Facebook and other social media outlets, it is definitely a skill that can be learned. Here are a few of the tips that I’ve picked up in the last year or so of running the First Trinity Facebook Page.

Consistency is key.

One of the challenges I noticed early on was that once you start updating some sort of social media (be it blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever), it’s hard to stop. Once you stop posting, your content quickly becomes “stale” or “out of date.” I noticed this when I took an extended break from my blog. Some people even commented to me about how it shouldn’t be linked on our church website if I wasn’t going to be posting content to it. To them, it looked like I just vanished from my blog because one day I was posting, and the next I wasn’t. Another organization website I work on had a blog as the landing page for a little over a year and once the regular posting stopped, the website was perceived to be out of date, despite the fact that all the other content on the site was current.

Once you get into social media, try to be consistent with your posting. This doesn’t mean you have to constantly post things, but try for some sort of regular schedule. Whether that’s daily, a few times a week, or weekly, be consistent. If you have to take a break for some reason, it’s ok to post that you’re taking a break. If you can publish the reasons why, it’s even more helpful. My blog probably could have been better served by a simple post that says something along the lines of:

I’m taking a break from blogging for a bit. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but I hope to do it again in the future.

This way, people know what to expect and aren’t left wondering. If you start a social media platform and decide to back off for whatever reason, let people know you’re doing it.

Pay attention to branding.

Branding is a fancy word for a consistent, intentional look to all of your social media. Our social media outlets are all using the same icon (pictured above) so that it’s easy to identify when things are coming from the church. While our website and Facebook page have different headers, they both share the same theme of lots of people/faces.

In addition to artwork, using common language online and practices are helpful. We have a style guide that helps us track “how” we talk. It has suggestions on word choices (for example, we talk about guests not visitors). Having some common, agreed-upon language can help people connect with your church across platforms because things will feel and seem familiar, no matter which platform they’re engaging with you on.

Mix regular and variable content.

We strive for a good mix of regular, recurring content (like our daily Bible verses) and “variable” content that we post when we can like pictures, stories and other updates. Using only regular content can give the impression that you’re not really engaging people, but rather pushing your stuff on them. Posting stories, asking questions and having conversations all help people interact with you more effectively.

Add value.

People have lots of sources of information coming their way. No one really wants to know what the church staff had for breakfast. Strive for content that will add value to the social media world and to people’s lives. A recent study suggests that quality content will get more responses from your followers than ordinary, mundane stuff. Adding valuable content also helps you influence more people as your content is shared among your followers.

Be proactive.

Great social media doesn’t just happen. It takes intentional time and planning. While you might be able to cobble together a decent social media effort by just “doing what feels right,” you’re going to be much more effective when you are proactive on social media. This certainly means planning your content, but it also means going out and engaging with others instead of just letting them find you. One of the best ways to build your audience and extend your influence is to be out knocking on digital doors.

Get feedback before posting.

Every now and then, something comes up where I run an idea past others on the staff before making a change to our website or posting something on Facebook. One of the pitfalls of social media is that once something gets posted, you can’t necessarily take it back. People have lost jobs and relationships because of one bad tweet or Facebook post that went viral at the wrong time. Running all major content past another set of eyes can not only help you judge the appropriateness of the content, but also the quality.

We have an unofficial policy that major pieces that come out of our church need to be seen by at least two—preferably three or more—sets of eyes. Larger or more visible runs need to be proofed by even more people. Our bi-annual report was actually reviewed by about 25 people before going to publication. While this level of review may be overkill for a social media piece, getting feedback can save you from embarrassing typos.

Strategic Social Media For Your Church

I am teaching a workshop at the National Lutheran Youth Ministry Conference in San Antonio this summer. The workshop is titled “Leveraging Social Media for Your Church’s Mission.” This post is part of a series relating to that workshop. Here’s a full listing of the topics.


Good social media doesn’t just happen. It’s intentional and deliberate. Today I will be looking at some tips for developing the foundations for successful social media usage at your church.

Develop a Strategy

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. Proverbs 21:5

As someone who actually dislikes social media, this was a critical step for me to wrap my mind around how we might use social media to enhance the mission of our church and reach others. There were too many options for what might happen in social media outlets that I was paralyzed. But once I had a good sense of strategy, it because much easier to implement. Your social media strategy will also help you make decisions about whether something gets posted, or how it gets written.

At First Trinity, our informal strategy is three-fold:

  • Tell stories.
  • Have conversation.
  • Stimulate growth.

Our early strategy started by watching this online seminar from Waterbrook Mulnomah. The video is not aging well in some respects with the addition of the Timeline feature to Pages on Facebook, but it’s still a pretty good starting point.

Developing a strategy is an evolving process. It’s a good idea to have a discussion with other key players (who might be included on your team of updaters) about your initial strategy. As you live with it and start applying it to your social media usage, you’ll find some things that need to be adjusted, added or dropped. A few questions you might consider as you talk:

  1. Why do you want to be on social media? Knowing why you’re there is a helpful starting point for your discussion. Social media might not be a right fit for your church or your staff. If you just want to use it because everyone else is doing it, this might not be the medium for you.
  2. What are your goals on for social media? In other words, what do you hope to accomplish? If there’s no goal behind your strategy, there’s no way to know if you’re being successful or if things are worth posting. These goals will actually help you create content that’s appropriate for your page as well.
  3. Is social media right the right tool? It might be. Or it might not be. Maybe some of the tools available are useful for you, but not all of them. Figure out which ones are right for you and focus on those. You might add more later, but it’s ok to focus your attention in the early stages. Once you hit a rhythm, you can expand your reach.
  4. Who will be using social media? Whose responsibility is it? A program or ministry owned by everyone is owned by no one. Figure out where it best falls in your ministry structure and give authority and responsibility to that person. You might have others who are using it on behalf of the church, but someone needs to own it, otherwise it might not happen.
  5. What’s the relationship between church and personal accounts? I have a Facebook profile, but I also manage the church Facebook page. I don’t speak for the church “officially” on my personal profile, but because I’m a staff-member, I always represent the church (and more importantly as a Christian, Jesus). What gets posted to the personal profiles of the staff affects how people see and interact with the church. Having a discussion with staffers about what they post and how they use Facebook personally could help how effective your corporate account is.

Build a Team

One of the biggest factors in building a successful social media presence for your church is building a good team. At First Trinity, we have five people who can update our Facebook page. Three of them are staff members and two of them are lay people. While the staff does most of the posting, our lay people have helped with posting stuff as well. Building a good team is important because:

  1. It diversifies content. I only come in contact with a small portion of what’s happening at First Trinity, most of it in my own ministry. Adding others to the team allows us to engage more content and provide a broader picture of life at First Trinity.
  2. It provides coverage. A larger team allows you to have “live” coverage at more events, but it also gets your more coverage throughout the day and week. One of our team members takes off on Fridays while two others are off on Monday. If something immediate comes up, we can post it as needed. If it were just me, I’d be working “24/7” if we wanted full coverage.
  3. Leads to higher quality. Being able to bounce ideas and strategies off others on the team leads to higher quality, more engaging content.

As you build your team, consider your own strengths and weaknesses and try to find others to help fill in the gaps. Spend some time training them on what type of content you’re looking for so they have a good understanding about the strategy. Communicate with them regularly so you can learn from one another and present a unified voice. Everyone posting the same thing within hours of each other probably isn’t a good idea. Keeping communications open will help reduce the frequency of that happening.

Once everyone has a good understanding of what you’re looking for, empower them to post things and share with others.

Plan Content

Good content doesn’t just happen. Consistent content doesn’t just happen. It takes work and planning to be most effective when using social media. Some things to consider:

  1. What will you put on social media? Are you looking to provide devotional resources? Pictures from events? Video messages? Inspirational quotes? Make sure this content aligns with your strategy above, then set some benchmarks for yourself. “Every Friday we’ll share a new photo.” “Every Tuesday we’ll provide a short devotional.” “We will post one video per month that illustrates how God is moving.” These benchmarks will help you produce compelling content.
  2. How can you extend the life of your ministry events through social media? In other words, is there a way to take an offline event online for continued growth and discussion? Sharing pictures is an easy way of doing this. But maybe you also provide a discussion question based on the sermon, or a challenge to put faith into action after a Bible study.
  3. Schedule your time and batch content. If I had to update my social media manually, it would never maintain consistency. Instead, I use HootSuite to schedule content. I take 5-10 minutes to produce the content, then schedule it for publication over several days with HootSuite. Scheduling time to actually produce and schedule content will help you present a more cohesive message as you’re designing all the content while it’s fresh in your mind.
  4. Write shareable content. You can maximize your reach by writing content that others will want to share with their friends. Ask yourself: “Is this something I would consider sharing with my friends? What about my followers?” The more shareable content you have, the greater your reach and influence will be.

Top Nonprofits put together a really nice one-page graphic about planning your content. Click the image to go to the full file for printing.


Getting Your Church Started on Facebook

I am continually amused when people come to me for help with Facebook. I’ve been asked to talk about social media to others because I’m perceived to be good with this stuff. The truth is, I’m good with computers and technology, and I can usually figure out something if I have to, but Facebook (and social media in general) has never been an interest or passion of mine. Truth be told, if I didn’t work for a church, I probably wouldn’t spend any time on them. By all accounts, I appear to be an extrovert, but my heart’s desire is to be an introvert, or at least an internet hermit.

So it’s funny that part of my job at First Trinity is to manage online communications strategy. Thankfully, I have some much more competent staff members here like Bekah Freed and Sue Steege. They’re gracious in helping to manage our Facebook Page, but I still have to be involved. So, in the interest of helping others, here are some of the steps we took, and the things I learned, for getting your church on Facebook.

Have a Strategy

One of my biggest challenges with social media is being strategic and adding value. I don’t want to just share fluff about my life or what I’m eating at any given time. It was hard for me to think about creating a strategy, so Bekah, Sue, Pastor Chuck and I participated in a webinar on the topic. I can’t recommend it enough as a starting point for you. Waterbrook Multnomah put it on. Click here to participate. With the change to Timeline view on pages, some of the information is outdated, but it’s still worth your time.

We’re still formulating a formal strategy, but we’re working under the guiding principle that we want to use the page to foster conversation and connections, while sharing news and happenings in a more story-based format and less informational. We also want to contribute to people’s spiritual growth through things like our daily Bible thoughts.

Convey Your Story

A while back we hired a communications consultant who helped us discover God’s story in this place, who He shaped this congregation of believers to be. It was a great process and we ended up with some solid content to help convey who we are. These three statements have become core to how we communicate and do ministry. Your Facebook page should be a reflection of who God has created your church to be in the world.

For our cover photo on the new timeline, we chose to use a collage of pictures that tries to convey our story. The “Celebrating Life Together” is the summary form of one of our three story statements linked above. I used Photoshop to put it together, but Google’s Picasa can do a collage fairly quickly as well. I got the idea from this article on Church Mag.

Your cover photo is the first thing people see when they land on your page. It should be bright and attractive, setting the mood for your page. Your content, however, is what will reinforce and develop your story. What you post and share, and the conversations you have, will refine and shape that first impression.

Develop a Routine

Sue likes to joke that I’m “Mr. Try It For A While.” I like to test out the new technologies and websites that appear, but I rarely stick to them. In the case of Facebook, one of my challenges was always remembering to go there and continue using it. I’d get on for a while, then forget about it and not update. The thing about social media for churches, especially Facebook, is that once you start, it’s really hard to stop. People will start to expect updates. So don’t be afraid to develop a routine for your social media use.

We use HootSuite to batch-post updates to Facebook. It can also do Twitter and their working on Google+ Page support as well. You can write several posts in advance and schedule them to go out at later times. You can also create a file to upload in bulk. I currently have scheduled updates for our Daily Bible Thoughts at 7 a.m. (hoping to catch people for morning devotions) and a 1 p.m. Thursday update with the Scripture readings for the upcoming weekend’s worship.

The scheduled updates are supplemented with “as we can” posts that are done when we think of them. This insures there will always be some content coming, but we’re also not beholden to the schedule and can post updates immediately if needed. These updates tend to be re-posts of staff blogs when they happen, pictures from an event, special videos and events, etc.

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