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
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 hootsuite.com (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.