Below is a list of the top 10 things I think you should do when starting at a new church, in terms of social media. This assumes that you’re doing all the normal things that you probably want to be doing when starting a new ministry job, getting to know your colleagues and staff, spending lots of face time with parishioners, listening to their stories, learning the ropes, working on gaining and accruing social capital that you can cash in later.
Again, these are just a few of the things that came to mind:
1. Talk to your colleagues and staff about social media. No matter what size of church you’re at, I think it’s important to find out if there is a social media policy in place, and see what your colleague’s thoughts are about social media. This is especially helpful and important if you’re someone like me – who is very transparent online – and that might be a new thing for your colleagues. This was something that I definitely had a lot of conversations about during my interview process with Winnetka, and I would suggest you do the same thing if you’re looking for a new job.
2. Determine a social media strategy. This one will take a bit more time, but plan to get together with the staff at your church and talk about having a social media strategy. Who’s going to be responsible for what? What voice do you want to use for official church posts? What is your goal with using social media for ministry? This will take some time to work through, but is really important in the long run. In case you ever want to run a social media training day for your staff, I happen to know someone who has experience leading social media boot camps: check him out here. If you want a really good example of some social media guidelines for a church, check out this post here.
3. Make sure you’re not the only one doing social media. If you’re at a small church, or a church where no one else seems interested in doing social media, you might actually be the only one engaging online. But try and change that. When I was at Asbury, we had 6 people who had the Manager Admin Role of our Facebook page. So we had multiple people who were posting updates, content, links, videos, questions and it created a robust and interactive page. If you’re the only one, you’ll get busy, you’ll forget, or it will only have your voice, and not a greater representation of the breadth of your congregation. Enlist a volunteer, get a volunteer, or connect with a woman in her mid-5os (this is the fastest growing demographic of Facebook users) and have them help with the page. This is also extremely helpful when you leave a congregation. Our church page has 2 administrators right now, but I’m really the only one who actively posts on the page. So, after I leave, I’m not sure what the status of the Facebook page will be.
4. Get a Gmail email address for your church. Unless your church already has a generic email address (firstname.lastname@example.org or something like that) that you can have access to, I think it’s easiest to simply get a Gmail account for the church, which can be used to setup all of your social media accounts, something you can use for Yelp, Foursquare, creating that Twitter account (see #1), setting up a podcasting service, WordPress blog, etc. It is also something you can give all of the staff access to (if they need it). This will also save you time from when you leave that church, and having to try and remember all of the different accounts and services your work email address is connected to.
5. Get your church on Twitter. Okay – so maybe none of the people in your congregation even use Twitter. But I still think your church should have a presence on one of the biggest social networks that currently exists. If you want to know why I think it’s actually really important, read my post: Should Your Church or Religious Organization Be On Twitter?
6. Decide what Facebook Friend Lists you’ll use for ministry. When I accepted the call to Winnetka, and I got my first friend request from someone on Facebook, I thought through how I wanted to organize folks into the various lists. As of right now, I just have two lists. WPC and WPC Youth. This allows me to sort my News Feed and view only WPC people’s updates. It is also important to start this from the very beginning. I also don’t accept any friend requests from my phone, because the process for adding to Friend Lists is a little clunky from Facebook’s iPhone app. Friend Lists are also really helpful for when you leave, because you can post all of your “I’M AT A NEW CHURCH AND IT’S THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD” updates and hide them from the church you’re leaving, which I think is a kind and generous thing to do.
7. Decide how you’ll handle “friending” parishioners. I go back and forth on this one. I use Facebook so much for ministry, that I want to be connected with as many folks who are members of congregations I serve as possible. However, I also realize that it’s possible that not everyone wants to be friends with their pastor on Facebook (although, if I’m your pastor…c’mon, really? You don’t want to be friends with me???). I know some pastors who never initiate a Friend Request, but will only accept them if folks send them requests. After the vote was official at Winnetka, I started to get some Friend Requests from WPC folks, which was great. But I also initiated a few that I figured were people who would want to be friends. I’ve also had some folks say they NEVER initiate a Friend Request with a youth. And I’ve gone that route before, but other times, I’ll “track kids down” by looking up mutual friends of youth I’m already friends with (which does, I’ll admit, feel a little “stalkerish”), but those youth have always accepted my requests, and it’s been a good thing.
8. Create a Foursquare Special for your church. You may not even know it, but people are probably “checking into” your church on Foursquare. And if you haven’t claimed your business venue, or added a Foursquare Special to your location, I would say you’re missing out on another way of connecting with folks who are coming to your community. One example of a Foursquare Special was the one I created at First Presbyterian Church of Ashland. It was very simple. It was a Newbie Special, and so the first time someone checked into the church, they would be rewarded with unlocking a special, and a message would come up that would say “Welcome and thanks for joining us here at First Presbyterian Church. Show this to Rev. Adam Walker Cleaveland to redeem your FREE COFFEE WITH A PASTOR!” It was a little tongue-in-cheek, a little goofy, but something that was fun for people to see and engage with.
9. Connect with Local Individuals and Businesses Online. Found a favorite coffee shop? Like them on Facebook. Had lunch at a great pizza joint? Follow them on Twitter. Connecting with local businesses is a great way to get involved in the community and make connections for you and your congregation. We have a pizza place here in Ashland, and through Facebook, I’ve become good friends with one of the owners, and so they’ve hosted Theology Pub, run great fundraisers for the Ashland Youth Collective, and much more. I would also encourage you to connect with local individuals as well. Search Instagram for hashtags related to your city (e.g. #ashlandoregon, #wilmette #northshore). I made some great connections and friendships with people not connected to our church in Ashland (or any church or religious community) simply through Instagram and smart usage of hashtags. One way to find some people who are the most active on Twitter in your communities is with websites like Twellow or Twitter Grader (which wasn’t working at the time of writing this post, but I assume will be working later).
10. Find a workflow and have fun! If you’re finding social media annoying, tiresome and frustrating…it’s possible you might need some help rethinking how you’re engaging with it. It should be fun, and something that you can easily work into your daily workflow.
I hope that these have been helpful ideas. But I know it’s not an exhaustive list. What would you add to this? What do you think is important to do regarding social media when starting a new ministry?