So your church, ministry, or organization has finally decided to get on board with this whole social media thing.
But, in your excitement you go all out by creating accounts everywhere you can think of: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, Tangle, and anywhere else that you’ve heard that people are hanging out.
If you’re really ambitious, then you may even consider setting up a blog on WordPress or Blogger. Then you start loading pictures, videos, and write some great stuff announcing your foray into this exciting world of social media.
Now it’s time to sit back and wait for the onslaught of traffic that you expect to generate by putting yourself out there, right? People are going to start rushing through your doors into your meetings and services! I mean if you built it, then they will come (a.k.a. The Field of Dreams syndrome)… right?
This is exactly what so many churches and ministries do. The problem is that the one tweet you put out there will eventually get lost in the flurry of other tweets that people are trying to keep up with.
Go ahead, ask someone if they saw your tweet announcing the really hyper-cool outreach event that you’ve just poured your heart and soul into planning. Yup… they’ve probably never seen it.
If you’re really aggressive, then you’ll even use the various tools to cross-promote. You’ll put that video up on YouTube, and then share a link to it in Twitter and Facebook.
So if you put it out there like that, then why isn’t everyone talking about (and commenting on) your awesome video?
More people give up on social media for these very reasons. The lack of traffic can be very discouraging for a ministry that is putting themselves out there because they expect that what they are doing offline to change just as many lives online.
And when this doesn’t happen, they (or you) get frustrated and give up. After all, why should you put so much effort into something that isn’t paying any dividends?
The problem is that ministries in this position fail to recognize how people interact with these technologies in the first place. Too often we put things out there expecting that we ‘ll create this great new destination that people will flock to.
But the truth is that a single tweet (no matter how good or important it is) can easily get lost in the never-ending stream of tweets that your people are trying to keep up with. Your message may just be getting lost in the shuffle.
Engaging in Conversation
That’s why the most important thing that you can understand about social media is that it’s social in nature.
That means that you need to remember that it is a conversation, and not a destination. When you create a Twitter account, most people will not suddenly flock to http://twitter.com/(yourministryname) because it is the coolest place to hang out on the web.
They will be (hopefully) looking for your tweets in a stream of tweets from their Twitter homepage, a desktop feed tool like TweetDeck or Seesmic, or in a similar mobile tool on their smartphones.
While they are there (and this applies to other places like Facebook) they are not only reading, but responding to things that catch their attention.
What this means is that if you want to connect with them, then you must join the conversation. And in order to effectively do this, there are two things that you’ll need to do:
- Talk Regularly. This means that you need to appear in people’s social media streams enough for them to notice you. If you put one tweet (or other update) out there once per day, then you my not be getting the visibility that you need to stay at the top of people’s minds.
- Avoid Talking at Them. Nobody likes it when someone just talks about themselves all the time. The same thing is true in online conversations. Talk with them. Answer their questions. Respond to their comments. Establish conversational credibility, and then when you have things to share people will be more likely to listen.
Joining the conversation will not only help you gain the credibility that you’ll need, but it will also help you learn more about how you can fine-tune the strategy of your ministry.
In an authentic conversation people will share things with you that you may not have expected to hear. They will eventually trust and confide in you, and when that happens you’ll begin to experience the real power in using social media to extend the reach of your ministry.
As it is in the offline world, the key to your online ministry is still relationships.