What does it take to build a sound social media presence in today’s world? This can seem both overwhelming and extremely simple depending on a lot of factors.
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In this series, I’ll give you an overview of everything you need to know to develop a sound social media strategy for your church. Part 1? Understanding your needs.

The thing I hear more often than not when I ask a pastor if they have a good social media presence is this: “Oh, yeah, we’ve got a good Facebook page.”

This is a terrible, terrible answer. It’s not that Facebook is bad. Facebook is, in many ways essential. But Facebook by itself is not enough, nor is it safe to have as your only (or primary) social media presence.

Know the Terms

It’s important to understand that when you say “social media,” you’re talking about websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. That’s the actual definition. So, when you’re talking about your church’s social media presence, essentially, you’re talking about anything that electronically connects your church to the world.

But what do you need to have (and why is Facebook not enough)?

There are three elements you need to have in place as part of a sound social media strategy:

  1. Your Home
  2. This is your church’s home website. This is VITAL not optional. I know it can be overwhelming to think about putting together a website on your own (especially if you’re a pastor of a small church), and that it’s easy to think the task is financially impossible. The good news is that it’s almost as easy to put a website up today as it was in the mid 90’s. (Remember Geocities? It’s like that, but it’s so much better now.)

    There are a lot of advantages to having your own website, but here are, what I think are, the two most important:

    1. Control – Your website looks how you want it to look, contains what you want it to contain, and promotes what you want it to promote. Nobody affects what visitors see except you.
    2. Accessibility – Some churches have a staff that allows them to stay open from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm or later. Some churches are lucky if anyone besides the pastor is there during the day. The point is, at some point during the day, you’re going to have to lock your doors and leave your phones unmanned, but your website is active 24/7/365. If put together properly, a member or potential visitor can get the answer to their question at any time of the day or night in a setting that makes them as comfortable as possible.

    One way to think of your website is as a “virtual welcome packet” for your visitors. Once upon a time, a church would put together a bag for visitors. It might have a coffee mug, some flyers about the different ministries in the church, and a CD (or cassette tape!!!) of one or two important sermons or a special message from the pastor. Your website can do all of those things and so much more.

    Financially, it can be easy and inexpensive to set up a fully functioning website, that is beautiful, easy to navigate, and houses all of the content you might want a visitor to have.

  3. Your Embassies
  4. In the world of politics, and embassy is a permanent diplomatic mission. It is an outreach from one sovereign state to another. This is how you should view things like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. They are a way that you reach out to people, but all of your activity there will point them, somehow, back to your Your Home.

    The thing to understand is that, especially with regards to Facebook is this: Ultimately, you don’t control the dissemination of your Facebook content. Facebook’s algorithms (which are constantly changing) determine a lot of things for you, and, more importantly, for those who have liked your page (not your group! More on that in a future post.). Therefore, posting something to Facebook doesn’t mean your followers, and, just as importantly, those who you are trying to reach, will see that content.

    The same is true of Instagram, though the rules there are a little different.

    The issue with Twitter is strictly one of volume. If a Twitter follower is following 1,000 people, and each of those post two messages per day, that means your Twitter follower has 2,000 tweets to muddle through before seeing your content.

    The true benefit of these embassies is that it provides a quick way for people to get in touch with you. The downside of that is this: if people are trying to get in touch with you, YOU HAVE TO BE LISTENING! Which leads us to number three…

  5. Your Outposts
  6. Once, in college, I was sitting near the Student Center on the main thoroughfare of the campus. My table was situated behind some bushes. Some people sat at one of the tables around the corner and were talking about this and that, when, all of a sudden, my name came up. Well, not my name, exactly, but they described me.

    “You know that guy with really long hair (I had long hair at the time, ok?) that plays drums in the orchestra…” I couldn’t believe it. I was actually hearing people talk about me. ME! Of all things that they could have been talking about, they were talking about me!

    I won’t go into what they were talking about, but I tell this story to make the point: Somewhere, right now, somebody is talking about you or your church. Are you listening?

    Somewhere, right now, somebody is talking about you or your church. Are you listening? Click To Tweet

    You can use an app like Hootsuite to set up search columns for you and your church’s twitter handles, and you can set up multiple Google Alerts that will track mention of specific terms (your name, your church’s name, specific outreach terms) and send you emails when they happen.

    Why do this? It’s important to know what people are saying about you, good and bad, so that you can address the issues that need to be addressed, and be aware of the conversations that are taking place about you.

The Next Step

In order these are the first four steps I recommend you take to prepare a social media presence for your church.

  1. Secure a Domain Name
  2. This is SO important. If someone owns your domain name, people will search for you and find someone else. Find a reputable web hosting service (I recommend Blue Host. Use this link for a discounted rate.)

  3. Install WordPress
  4. WordPress is the easiest way to maintain and update your website content.

  5. Install a WordPress Theme
  6. A WordPress Theme can help you with a distinctive look for your site. There are free options, and low cost options ($50 – $60) as well. Additionally, you can add plug-ins for things like a dedicated, interactive prayer engine.

  7. Create a Facebook Page
  8. Some churches create a Facbook Group that is open to everyone, or, perhaps only open to invited guests. This is a bad, BAD idea! The way groups work, anyone can post anything to the groups area. I’ve seen churches have to deal with solicitations, and, at worst, pornography, posted to that group wall. Now, if you have someone monitoring that group 24/7, and they take it down immediately, the good chance is that no one will see that. But you don’t have to take that chance.

    Create a page and have it set up for people to “like.” They will receive a notification when you post something, and can comment on your posts (if you allow that. You still need to take care to monitor the comments.) as well as use that page to contact you. From the page, people can share your content directlywith their friends which equates to free advertising. Additionally, you can use Facebook’s “Boost This Post” option to use a relatively small amount of money to target a very focused group of people when you have an event you want to promote.

The social media landscape is constantly changing, but, unless Facebook implodes tomorrow, these are the four things you MUST do to prepare and be fully engaged online.

[reminder]Are you fully engaged online? What steps did you take? What are some obstacles you’re facing?[/reminder]

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