Top Social Media Tools for UU Congregations

Friends, Don Skinner of the UUA’s  Tip Sheet Blog and I have been discussing top  social media tools for congregations.  The following is a quick write up / draft of my thoughts.  It was posted in rough forms so it could be linked to in another publication. I will clean up this draft  over the next day or two. – Peter

Peter’s Top  Social Media picks for UU Congregations

  1. Blog/RSS enabled church website
  2. Facebook
  3. Twitter
  4. Youtube
  5. Flickr
  6. Audio podcast of sermons

When talking social media I think congregations need to focus on the goals of their communications with members and friends, and to determine how these tools fit in.

Social media — blogs, Facebook and Twitter in particular — are one more communication channel.  But with some differences.  When people sign on to receive blog posts,  Facebook announcements, and Twitter Tweets, they are opening the door to be in closer contact with the congregation than the average email or print bulletin allows.  Conventions of social media allow for content to be shared in more of an ongoing fashion, a stream of discrete news items.  This is in stark contrast to many other church communications which “bundle” large quantities of information as weekly emails, Sunday bulletins, and monthly newsletters.

My top social media pick for congregations is to start publishing news items via a blog either on their primary website or a dedicated news blog hosted by one of the many free blog services.  Once news is moved from bulky bundled “I don’t have time to read this right now” publications to a blog platform the magic of social networking can kick in.

Congregations sharing news via a blog should publish each discrete item of news as a single post.  Why?  Because other social media tools are optimized for sharing discrete news items and links.  This brings us to pick number two – Face Book.

Once a congregation has a blog, they can set up a Face Book fan page.  This page allows anyone to become a “fan” of the congregation and receive all of its shared news items without sharing personal information with the congregation.  Whereas people may be selective about becoming a Facebook friend with someone, there is very little risk involved in becoming a fan of a congregation.  This is great outreach.

With a Facebook fan page created all of the congregation’s blog posts can be set up to automatically be shared via Facebook.  Every blog news item posted is turned into a shared item on Facebook.  All of the congregation’s fans can then share these items in turn. This allows news to spread in a more viral fashion.  Fans can also comment on items increasing communication and strengthening relationships.

Just as new items are easily distributed via Facebook, the same is true with Twitter, the most popular micro-blogging service.  Congregations may a free service such has (my pick) to automatically send out  “tweets” notifying their Twitter followers of each blog post.  Post a news item and your followers receive a tweet with the title of the post and a link to it.  They may then click on the link and read the full post.

It’s important to highlight that once you are publishing news via a blog item-by-item for no addition time investment you may set up Facebook and Twitter to share these items as well. This leads to a cascading effect with news traveling from the blog to Facebook and Twitter and from their to whomever your fans and followers share items with.

We’ve all heard a picture is worth a thousand words, and its true.  And congregations should cash in on this.  My next set of picks serve to help turn the congregation inside out, making it easier for visitors online to get a sense of what your community is like.  I recommend that congregations get in the develop a practice of sharing videos and photos on their website.  YouTube and Flickr, the top video and photo sharing sites are ideal for this.  Placing videos and photos documenting congregational life on your website is an ideal way to tell your congregation’s story and communicate to visitors what they can expect if they visit.   And again there is the bonus of making content easy to share.  Videos and photos published using YouTube, Flickr and other services are easy to share.

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr — that’s five.  If I were to include a sixth to round out the package it would be podcasts of sermons.  Sermon podcasts allow people considering Unitarian Universalism to have all of their fears, doubts and questions addressed.  Is this the right church for me?  What is a UU Sunday Service like?  I recently greeted a newcomer at our congregation.  It was his first time but he walked in with a confidence that surprised me.  I asked if he had been to our congregation before.  No, but he had already watched all of our YouTube videos and listened to multiple sermons.  He had even heard one of mine and we immediately launched into conversation about the issues that service addressed.

Beyond helping newcomers in their quest for a spiritual home, podcasts also allow teachers and those unable to attend to hear the sermon.  Some question whether sermon podcasts encourage people to skip church.  In my experience I’ve found that as peoples’ busy lives pull them away,  social media and sermon podcasts in particular help keep people connected.  These tools keep members, friends and even soon to be visitors engaged.

6 thoughts on “Top Social Media Tools for UU Congregations

  1. Advice on social networking from an author who apparently is unsure of how to spell “Face Book” (sic) — now that’s funny! 😉

    1. Those who read this post the first couple of days it is online will notice that I said this is a quick post with edits coming. I was asked my thoughts on this subject at a time when I had very little time and needed to post something immediately so it could be link to. I actually do know how to spell Facebook, though my fingers don’t particularly care when I’m cranking a post out early in the morning pre-coffee. As always, your comments, feedback, and gentle notice of typos and other errors are much appreciated. 😉

  2. I think it’s great that you started this!

    My opinion about congregations using social media: Each congregation is different and they need to find their strengths and where their energies and interests will work best in social media. I belong to a small congregation (teetering under 120 members) and a lot of our congregations are small or lower mid-sized so the staff and volunteer time is limited.

    Facebook: If a staff person or volunteer leader or the board or a committee would like to keep up a Facebook page, that would be great! One of our members started a Facebook group and the only purpose it serves is a place for people to find fellow members to friend, especially when they first join Facebook or the church. Otherwise groups don’t have a lot of interaction possibilities since it doesn’t show up on the newsfeed.

    Podcasting: I’ve been keeping track of our church’s visitor log & our online stats for over 15 yrs. We’ve had people come to our church as a result of the web site and our podcast. We’ve tried to make these as visitor-friendly and as findable on the web as possible. Search engine optimization is still an important part of using the web since searching is still a big part of what people do online.

    I think it’s good to be wherever searchers might be looking for what we have to offer and keeping up with the new tools is a good idea. I just put an Addthis Share button on our monthly event web page.

    1. As always, great points Joyce. It is so important that we keep in mind – myself included – that our congregations vary greatly in size, staffing, financial resources… In my opinion this is why we need to couple resources and articles with conversations and comments. That is ultimately the point of this blog, to facilitate conversation. My thoughts are just a starting point. 😉

  3. Okay, from the top:
    * Blog/RSS enabled church website–got it (thanks Joomla!)
    * Facebook–got it, but really limited interaction (several members are on Facebook, but there isn’t a lot of interaction with the CUUC page)
    * Twitter–nope
    * Youtube–nope
    * Flickr–got it, but there is little activity (I don’t help this by forgetting my camera most Sundays)
    * Audio podcast of sermons–nope

    A few stats about Community Unitarian Universalist (San Antonio flavor): 26 adult members, attendance in the low to high 20s including kids, steady membership over the last few years (because we’re gaining members at about the rate we lose them), half-time minister (who’s leaving at the end of May), mid-five-figure budget.

    Our challenges: we are about 3 miles from a much larger UU church (don’t ask me, I didn’t put us there); we have four families with kids and the rest are 60 or over; we have not only lost a minister this church year, but had a board president (and fundraiser-in-chief) resign; and when I forwarded your post about buying a Flip camera the sole response was “I don’t want to get away from what Sunday services are supposed to be about.” Oh, and we have a sound system that, at last count, two people can get working about a third of the time.

    We have, per UU traditional practice, talked growth into the ground and then some. We’ve kind of decided that we need to change, but whether this change will be geographical, technological or ministerial in nature, we don’t know. We are facing, we’ve been told, at least 18 months sans minister, who we hired at least partly because the literature says a minister will help growth and partly because this particular minister said he had ideas for spurring growth.

    I am all in favor of trying anything we can do to increase visibility, and I certainly see the website and social media as a huge part of this (not that I don’t see any value in old fashioned methods–I think it’s idiocy that we have a sign that’s partially hidden by foliage and not lit, plus we don’t have a sign on the main road nearby), but I sometimes wonder if this congregation will put forth the money (yes, even the $150 or so for a Flip) or especially the effort into changing and growing in this way. The openness to change seems to be of the “if you’ll do all the work” variety, while I would much rather have every member not only be able to participate online but be encouraged to (and obviously for them to embrace this opportunity).

    Anyway, whether you have any advice to our specific situation or not, thank you for this resource.

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