How to avoid mistakes while you build your following and protect your mission

Social media takes time and careful, strategic thought. It doesn’t happen by accident. | by Brian Boyd

There two huge misconceptions about social media starting with the numbers issue. Many wrongly assume that social media is all about gaining tens or hundreds of thousands, even millions of followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook, making them easy prey for fast-talking, self-styled social media gurus who dazzle them with schemes to deliver the big numbers. Though numbers are important for weighing success in social media, they mean far less when they have been grown artificially by way of techniques and methods that are less than ethical (for example, paying people to like their page or follow). Such ill-gotten big numbers tend to lead to a minuscule conversion rate.

My friend and author Phil Cooke recently wrote a blog post, “If you love Jesus, like this post,” about some of the methods that less than ethical “consultants” use to get likes. In his blog, he writes: “‘Liking’ pages is one thing, ‘liking’ stupid, cute, or trite sayings is something else entirely. Plus, there’s no real two-way conversation happening.” It’s a shame that some leaders are blinded by the promise of big numbers. You don’t need to have the following of Rick Warren for social media to have a successful impact on your church growth.

Far more important than sheer numbers for your church, mission, or yourself is your personally targeting those who have an alignment with who you are. It is far better to have 10,000 Facebook friends who are aligned with your values or a common interest than 100,000 random robot followers from around the world. As a company committed to integrity, transparency, and bringing our clients measurable results over time, it is hard to watch “consultants” and organizations that promise big numbers fast but use a mixed bag of tricks and schemes and deliver literally no conversion. Sadly, even in the faith-based space, there are organizations that do not operate transparently with integrity. (We hear this all too often.)

Anyone who truly knows what they are doing in social media knows that merely going after numbers is a foolish approach when using social media is all about communication and connection—all about relationship. I promise you that big numbers of friends, followers, and likes alone won’t increase church attendance. When the smart church staff member is approached by the fast-talking consultant, promising big numbers and claiming, “I can get you 300,000 likes,” he or she must ask: “Okay, but what will the conversion rate be? How will this meet my mission’s objectives? How will we gain more visitors?” The conversion rate and attendance goals should all be clear right from the start.

Not long ago, we were in Nashville, meeting with a Christian author who wanted to sell more of her already successful books. We took her through the same exercise we take all our clients through:

1) What are your goals?
2) Here is how we will work to help you meet those goals through social media.
3) Here is how we will measure success (which will always tie back to the goals).

This particular author not only wanted to build a bigger audience, but she wanted to sell her books. We left the meeting and wrote up the plan, making it all clear right up front. This is crazy, crazy important. An organization that operates in integrity will take you through a similar process.

The second big mistake we see in churches as well as other organizations is the misconception that an intern can handle the social media plan and execution.

I recall following the social media feed of a widely respected, large global ministry. It is well-known and hundreds of thousands of people think highly of it. Its legacy stretches back over dozens of years. Unfortunately, I noticed that they had a less than impressive social media presence. They were failing to engage. The text of the posts they were sending out was not well thought-out, and there just seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what they were doing or how they were using social media. I found my way to a decision maker in the organization and asked who was handling their social media. It turned out that a part-timer, an intern, had been hired to handle all their social media.

This very highly respected ministry that had done so much for decades had handed over their social media presence to a part-time intern. I let them know this was a problem—one that needed to be corrected, and fast. If they did not act quickly, their ministry and reputation would suffer.

Companies spend crazy amounts of money to ensure their corporate image is impeccable, sparing no expense on their logos, advertising, taglines, and the rest. After investing a fortune to build their image, brand, and reputation, and after being in business or ministry for decades, why in the world would such organizations risk it all by handing it over to an intern to manage?

Too many churches fail to understand that people communicate through social media now and that social media is the Number One way people will interact with their brand. If the big ministry who hired an intern to manage their social media had understood this, there is no way they would have entrusted it to a rookie. As I travel across the country and even the world, more often than not, this is exactly what I see happening.

Social media takes time and careful, strategic thought. It doesn’t happen by accident. It certainly doesn’t happen with an investment of five to ten minutes a day or sending out a random tweet every so often. If it is done incorrectly, it can cause damage to your brand. Unfortunately, you need to pay attention and get in with a substantial commitment of time and resources or get out. (The only thing worse than a poor social media presence is an abandoned presence, left to fester.)

If done correctly, with a sufficient investment of time and strategic thought, social media can be very good for your brand and even revolutionize your ministry. It can change the outcome for your church and make you very successful at bringing in visitors. Take the time, learn some tactics that work for your community, and then embrace social media to expand your reach and achieve your goals of reaching more people for Christ.

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