Use social media to communicate, connect and convert

Social media is the preferred method of interaction for people of all ages today. If you don’t have a strong social media presence, you are missing opportunities to reach people in a meaningful way. Here’s how social media can enhance your other types of outreach. | by Brian E. Boyd

Social media is not a passing fad or novelty, but a way of doing business. Churches that will survive and thrive in the future will be those that understand the incredible opportunity social media offers them and commit to excellence in managing their social media presence.

Social media success is found in three C’s: communication, connection, and conversion. Sound familiar? This is exactly what pastors do in every message, every visit, every handshake. Social media is no different, and in time can become as natural for a pastor as talking.

The three C’s mean communicating your message, connecting with your audience, and converting them to friends, members, or even donors. Every organization wants to communicate its message effectively, connect with its audience directly, and convert them to its goals. That is the upside. Satisfy your new followers with quality communication and genuine connection, and they will reward you with a growing relationship.

The downside is, if you do not do all three C’s well, you will fail. You cannot tweet for fun and hope for the best. You cannot throw social media at the wall and hope something sticks. Every character you put out there has to contribute to one of the three C’s: communication, connection or conversion.

Communication

More than 80 percent of Americans own smartphones, and the number globally is growing exponentially, according to Pew Center research.

I’ve been fortunate to travel to India every summer for the past few years, teaching social media strategies and tactics to leaders in places like Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi. The first year I was there, clamshell phones were popular, and a social media platform called Orkut prevailed. The next year, smartphones were more prevalent, and Facebook had overtaken Orkut. Dr. David Mohan, who pastors one of India’s largest churches, stated, “In India, even the beggars have smartphones.” Almost anywhere in the world, the ability to get information is at people’s fingertips.

Your ability to communicate to them is at your fingertips as well.

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My wife is a runner. Not long ago, we were standing in the staging area for runners of Disney’s popular marathon, Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. The DJ played a song over the sound system that I immediately liked. I wanted to know the name of it and the artist performing it, so I pulled out my smartphone and activated the Shazam app. Within seconds, the app identified the song and the artist who performed it and then gave me the option to purchase the song. Several days later, Shazam sent me an email reminding me that I tagged the song — and gave me an easy-to-click link so I could buy it on the spot.

The power of the rapidly growing social media “cloud” amazes even me, though my career has been focused on social media since 2007. It must amaze, and mystify, many church leaders, too. The truth is, if you or your church are not present in this huge social cloud, you simply become invisible, unable to be found. Online searches are how people find information now, which is precisely why you need to add social media to your existing strategy to reach your community and neighborhood. Old media — direct mail, TV or radio spots, door hangers and the like — is not enough anymore.

Churches that communicate in social media will be the ones that successfully extend, grow and get more visitors. They will simply reach more people, and the demographic is ever-growing and broadening.

Some time back, the woman who cuts my hair complained that her 13-year-old daughter was using social media so much she wasn’t getting her homework done. Today, this is such a common challenge for parents and schools that whole books and seminars are devoted to it. And the age at which casual use becomes obsession is getting younger and younger.

But social media is not just for the young. You might remember when MySpace gave way to Facebook and everyone joined. My mother is 77 years old, and she meets with friends in a prayer group on Skype once a week. She keeps in touch with our family through Facebook. This is how we communicate, more often than by phone.

This age range, from preteen to 77, is wide. That’s how broad the age range is that churches can reach when they communicate through social media.

Connection

When I refer to communicating and connecting, I don’t mean simply talking about the temperature outside and sharing innocuous information on social media platforms (though that might work for the Weather Channel). I mean communicating information about your church, your members, your outreach, your successes and even your God — information that actually adds value to the conversation that is happening. It’s a conversation that never stops, even when you do.

Not everybody sees everything you put out on social media. In fact, the life of a tweet is only a couple of minutes. Your post on your Facebook page reaches only a small percentage of your “friends.” So although the odds of connecting with the “right” person may not be phenomenal for every tweet or post, the more good, original content you generate that connects with readers so well that they click through to your website, the greater the chance you will realize the final “C” — conversion — for a potential new guest or member.

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There are thousands of ways for your church to communicate in a way that engages the audience, creating a connection. The work of the Good Morning America social media team once caught my eye. Every morning, they were posting this on their Facebook page: “Good morning, America! Who do you want to say good morning to?” Many people commented because this was a post designed simply to get people to engage, to connect. This was a solid idea.

I worked with a global publisher based in New York and Nashville that posted this: “If you were to write a book, what would it be about?” More people interacted with this post than any other that entire year. It really got people thinking and responding. The publisher was then able to interact with them.

I liked this post because I know that those with a dream of becoming published authors rarely get the opportunity to engage directly with a major publisher, to share what they would write about. A publisher was actually listening to these authors and their ideas. It was a novel, meaningful post, and it held tremendous value for their audience.

The idea of connection is that as people respond to your post or tweet, you reply and engage with them. If Jim responds to one of your posts, saying: “I totally disagree with that last statement. You guys are totally making stuff up,” you don’t just leave it there. You enter the conversation, saying something like, “Jim, what about that post did you not like?” Or let’s say Jim leaves this post on one of your church’s social platforms: “I had a horrible experience last night at your church. The music was boring, and the greeters were rude.” You could enter the conversation and respond with something like this: “Jim, I am so sorry to hear of your negative experience. Obviously this is not what we wanted to convey. Give me a call directly, and we’ll sort this out.” Communication like this holds tremendous value for your church.

My family had an interesting experience at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort (@BonnetCreek). We were staying at the resort near Disney World when my wife was running the half and full marathons, Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. When we walked into the resort lobby, we were blown away by the excitement their staff showed toward us and everyone else who was participating in the Disney marathons. They had all kinds of festivities, free food and fun.

We had to get up the next morning at 2 a.m. to get Fran to the 3 a.m. bus that would take her to the marathon staging area. When we walked into the lobby at 2:55 a.m., the Hilton had a full (healthy) buffet set out, and balloons, signs and banners were everywhere. Their staff members were all gathered, wearing marathon shirts, cheering on all the runners with clapping, cheers and shouts: “Go! Go! Go!” It was extremely moving. There was so much love in it all. I remember saying to my wife, “Look at all these employees and how dedicated they are. They got up at 3 a.m. to root on their guests. If only churches could be like this.” It was just so impressive. When I recall it now, I still get choked up.

They also had a contest. If you saw one of their staff members in the marathon and approached him or her to pose for a picture, you would be given a little ticket you could redeem for a prize. In the marathon, Fran ran into one of their staff members, Shadi, and had her picture taken with him, so he gave her one of the tickets. The Hilton posted Fran’s picture with Shadi up on its Facebook page, and my wife tagged herself in it. A huge number of people left comments, saying they thought it was awesome, how great Hilton hotels are and how wonderfully the resort had taken care of and cheered on the runners.

Later that day as I stood in the lobby, a young lady walked up to me and asked, “Are you Brian Boyd?” I said yes. She said, “Well, I’m with the Hilton, and we saw that you posted to our page. Thank you for liking our page, and thank you for staying at the Hilton. You are a valued guest, and we are so happy you’re here.” Then she asked, “Is there anything we can do to make your stay more enjoyable?”

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I complimented her and the hotel staff, and it led to a conversation. She asked me about my profession. One thing led to another, and I scheduled a call to consult with them on social media. Due to our mutual engagement on social media, I gained a client. She “converted” me, and I “converted” her.

I was blown away by the way the online crosses to the offline. The Hilton saw the positive comment I posted to its Facebook page (their online social media presence), and then they saw me in the lobby and connected with me, telling me I was a valued customer. This whole 360-degree experience was pretty amazing. You’d better believe that we have not only told everyone we know of how awesome this Hilton was; we will also likely never stay in a Disney hotel again — we’re staying at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

Can’t churches do the same thing?

Conversion

Conversion is the name of the game. You can communicate and you can connect, but eventually you have to convert.

“Conversion” means many things. As Christians, the most important meaning is when we “convert” from death to life — from a life without Christ to a vibrant relationship with the living God. “Conversion” can also mean changing from being strangers to being friends. It can mean changing perspectives, perhaps from not being interested in attending church to being willing to “try it.” “Conversion” could also mean people signing up for your email list, downloading your church app, attending an outreach or going to a web page and clicking on a “please contact me” button.

Conversion can vary widely, depending on the organization and its goals. Here are just a few examples.

  • In our work with Joel Osteen Ministries, a “conversion” occurred when people participating in a live webcast event went to a web page and left their email addresses, names and other information, indicating, “I made a decision tonight while interacting with your event, and I would like to share this with you.” The ministry would then send them more information about their decision and what they learned through the webcast.
  • For the nonprofit Food for the Hungry, conversion could be gaining donations for a campaign or operation in a certain part of the country or world where they are reaching out and helping others. For the Teen Choice Tour, selling tickets to an event is conversion.
  • OneHope, a nonprofit that educates and helps people around the world, offers a textbook example of how the entire cycle of social media works — communication, connection and conversion. For some time, OneHope was just a connection. In our company, we had followed them on social media, attended some of their conferences and built a relationship with them, both online and offline. So when someone we worked with on their staff called us at the end of the year, asking us to give a generous gift and to partner with them in their work in a certain country, we were glad to give.

Steps You Can Take

Don’t allow yourself to be invisible. Begin to post on social media with meaningful communication. Just start. Don’t fear it. Be authentic. In time, your posts will become as natural to you as shaking a hand or standing up to deliver a message.

Connect with people. Respond when they respond to you. Watch what kinds of responses you get from which posts.

Choose your “conversion” goals. Do you want the person searching the “cloud” just to be friends or to “like” your church Facebook page? Do you want them to watch a service online or attend a special event? Do you want them to enter their contact information on your website or app?

The key to success is to allow people to draw close to you through the opportunities you give them to connect with you and then “convert” them to become a guest, a visitor, a member, a friend. Only when you communicate and connect with people will you have the opportunity to convert them. Start today. CGM

CGM

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