I was recently asked to deliver an overview of how we run church communications at Kings. I’ve written it up and produced a run down of our approach, split over several posts, about what we’ve found works for us and some useful resources.
Running the comms at your church is essentially figuring out all the different channels of communication available to you, which ones to use, and how best to use them. These can include websites, apps, blogs, print work, social media, podcasts, email, video, radio, Sunday notices, text message and even TV. All of these can be used as forms of broadcasting.
Content delivered on a Sunday morning is the most effective single platform for engaging your church. You have a captive audience, usually with the majority of members present, and no other channel can replicate that. It’s the main hub of church life where everything gets connected. But it only happens once a week.
Technology now gives us the opportunity to broadcast and engage with people 24/7. There’s no one perfect channel that everyone connects with, so using multiple channels is key. In this post we’ll look at one that’s become increasingly dominant.
According to We Are Social 59% of the people living in Britain today have an active social media account, each spending an average of 90 minutes a day on it. When you consider 17% of the population are too young for an account, that’s a pretty high saturation. Social media keeps surprising us with just how prolific and influential it can be1. It’s the place where information and ideas are exchanged.
There are lots of negatives, and it’s easy to focus on them. But I would argue the platform itself is largely neutral and, like any powerful tool, it can be harnessed for good or bad. If we’re good stewards, if we’re wise and keep our eyes open, we can use it well. Growing up, there were a few words that got lodged in my head by the founding pastor at Kings: “If you want to save someone from the fire you’ve got to get your fingers burned”. We have been sent into the world to be a part of it (John 17:18), and sometimes that means taking a bit of heat.
For church, social media provides a channel to broadcast content, and good content can travel far. For many people it will be their first encounter with church. It has the potential to be that first link in the chain that connects them on a journey towards Jesus.
There’s literally hundreds of social media platforms around depending in how you class it, but statistically Facebook is by far the biggest with Twitter following second and Instagram third. These are the three we stick to at Kings for our main church comms, and it’s these three that we touch on below.
Social media sites all work in quite different ways; to co-exist they naturally have to. Facebook is the best for rich media content and the most versatile. It’s great for videos, photos, events, linking to articles and even quite lengthy posts can work well if they’re interesting and relevant. It also has fantastic advertising capabilities at low cost and you can target your audience quite specifically. We often boost posts where we want to reach people in a particular location, or the friendship circles of those in our church and those that have liked our page.
The stats for video views are very insightful, allowing you to see exactly how far through people have watched. What you soon realise is that the first 10 seconds are the most important, capturing and retaining views as people scroll down their news feed. Many videos now use subtitles so people can read the dialogue before they’ve tapped to enable audio.
The stats below are for our most recent post ‘Kings in 60 Seconds’. It’s a one minute snapshot of our church which we created for the home page of our new website. It also happens to make a good advert for Facebook and perfect for Instagram (which currently limits videos to 60 seconds).
The post had a reasonable number of shares — 52 so far. But with a £50 boost we reached over four times as many people. I love the insights you get from the curve on the Audience Retention graph (Vimeo doesn’t give you anything like this). Although the stats say 9.2k views, just three seconds counts as a ‘view’, so realistically it’s a bit misleading. You can see that 44 seconds through it’s dropped to 13.8%. So you could say around 1200 people have watched most of the video.
This graph generally looks the same on all our videos. On purely organic posts we have about 20% of viewers watch most of the way through. And with paid posts this drops to about 10%, but with four times as many views overall (on a £20 boost). So if you have good content, it is an effective way of reaching those who have no other connection to church.
Post content while it’s hot
There’s a definite time frame when content works. Post the baptism video within a day of it happening and it can really travel far. There’s a often a buzz in the aftermath. Wait a few more days and it’ll only get a couple of likes. There’s also certain types of content that work, and types that get overlooked. Facebook uses an algorithm, arranging popular content at the top of your feed. If you post content that people engage with, it can have a snowball effect and really take off. But a message about needing a new caretaker will often be lost into the void, with very limited reach.
When to post
Generally it’s said that people are most on Facebook when they least want to be at work. So Mondays and Fridays would seem to make the most sense. But from experience we’ve found that the best content always rises to the top, whenever you post. So our focus should really be on what and not so much on when.
We make use of a filter on comments, all of which have to be approved by us before they become visible to the wider public. With the filter engaged comments are visible to the person who wrote them and their Facebook friends, but to no one else. Most of the time we wouldn’t need it, but there’s occasions when it’s very useful. It helps avoid scenarios where you need to delete comments, which people can take very personally. It also stops any one person from voicing their opinion on your posts that potentially reach thousands of people. In a medium size church (around 900 people), we often get a few comments but we’re not inundated with them. If there’s only one or two on a post, those comments can carry a lot more weight than they should.
The general rule for anything negative is that ‘if you engage you will enrage’. Social media is not a good forum for debate or dealing with people’s frustration. It’s so public and much of the tone and nature of the comments can be misunderstood. Much better to follow up in person if needed.
Always post natively if you can. Avoid using apps or plugins to sync between your different platforms. It can make you look absent and taking a little time to craft your content to each account will result in much better engagement. There’s also a big advantage to uploading your videos directly rather than linking to YouTube or Vimeo. We’ve experimented with both techniques and found we get four or five times as many views on direct uploads. Facebook naturally prioritises it’s own content. On native video it autoplays and captures attention rather than showing a link to an external site.
Twitter is much more informational than Facebook or Instagram. I love it as a designer. I don’t follow any of my friends, I almost exclusively follow other designers, photographers, blogs and magazines. It’s a great platform for sharing news and resources. It’s designed to be snappy and concise and seems to encourage a greater frequency; meaning you can post a lot more often without it getting annoying.
As each post is very constrained Twitter favours the snappy one-liner, the humours animated gif, a single eye-catching image, resource link or short video. To really make the most of Twitter you have to carve out content that works best in this format, rather than trying to copy and paste from Facebook (and getting frustrated when it’s too long!).
Almost every post now has an image attached — an attempt to claw out more vertical space for your post and grab attention. For the best results make sure your image works nicely with Twitter’s image preview aspect ratio. One of my iPhone apps has guides built in, which is pretty awesome. But you can easily figure out the aspect ratio and use for all your designs.
It may partly be the demographics of Kings, but we’ve never got that much traction on Twitter. At the time of writing we have 490 followers, as opposed to the 1727 on Facebook. In terms of likes and shares; Facebook has often generated hundreds, whereas the exact same content on Twitter can go almost unnoticed.
Our content is a natural fit for Facebook which enables longer videos, photo albums, stories and in-depth posts. Twitter, on the other hand, is a lot more limited and is just a bit awkward for our content. But when I worked at New Ground the reverse was true. They naturally gravitated towards Twitter as a sharing platform for their network of churches and it grew quite nicely; whereas their Facebook account felt slightly more neglected. I think it’s fair to say the platform you use the most is the one that grows the most.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all use hashtags. It’s a way of tagging and grouping posts that speak into a specific subject, and conversations are often national or global. People also use it humorously, like #OhMyGoodnessHasHeReallyWrittenThisMuch, but one often overlooked function of the hashtag is for your church leadership to listen.
If you can find a hashtag for your church which is unique, short and memorable, people can use it to share photos, comments, resources and memories. They may also use it online when talking about your church. This gives you a fly-on-the-wall perspective, being able to listen in on conversations which you would otherwise be unaware of. The pros: you get feedback which helps you better understand your church. The cons: people can say whatever they want and they could have a bigger platform with it.
With Instagram the hashtag mechanism is quite effective as each one streams a feed of images. It can generate more exposure and likes on your posts (and you have to decide if this is useful), but you do have to be careful. Even some seemingly innocent tags bring up semi-naked women, while others get abused and return pornographic content. Instagram does it’s best to filter out nudity, but it isn’t always effective. So if you plan to use hashtags, keep a close eye on each one.
Instagram is all about what it doesn’t do. You can’t post from your computer. You can’t share or retweet in-app. You can’t hyperlink your posts to online content, share a long video or a photo album. Its restrictions make it much more personal. It’s designed to promote organic content from its users rather than a sharing platform for news and entertainment sites. It’s heavily image based, mainly driven by photography. It’s great for capturing and sharing events, humour, behind-the-scenes moments, artwork, photos and (with unlimited captioning) short stories. Live videos, like in Facebook, are a recent addition and brings a new dynamic.
Instagram is our newest and most reactive social media account. For the number of followers we have the interactions we receive vastly outstrip Facebook, and Twitter is like posting into a black hole. The platform is becoming increasingly popular, and has a younger audience (who’s parents are all on Facebook).
But because there’s no retweet or share function, your posts don’t travel outside your followers. One good example is this post on Instagram, which got 103 views, whereas the same (slightly longer) video on our Facebook account currently has 34,298 views and 618 shares (completely organic).
Following to get Follows
One way of easily getting followers on Instagram and Twitter is to follow others as a way of advertising. Ideally people who are in your locality or interested in your content. We’ve just done this as a bit of an experiment with our Instagram account for our new Love Eastbourne project. In the first week of going live we gained 670 followers. Clicking ‘follow’ on other accounts is an easy way of letting them know you exist. Our success rate is about 20% for a reciprocated follow. The benefits are more interaction with your town, more likes on your content, which makes it more popular and returns higher search results. It was a way of giving the project a bit of momentum during the launch.
It felt right on this project because the branding has a secular feel, and the content itself is typical Instagram: celebratory, positive, feel-good posts.
Some churches do this on their main accounts and others don’t. You have to decided if the pros outweigh the cons. I don’t plan to do this on our main Kings Church accounts for a couple of reasons. Mainly, it just feels a bit invasive. On Instagram, when you follow someone you’re requesting access to all their photos and videos, which may be them getting drunk on a Saturday night or teenagers dancing round a living room. This feels awkward on a main church account. So we prefer to stick to the boosted Facebook post as a way of reaching into people’s feeds and let people follow us. It returns less follows, but the people who do subscribe are probably more interested in us and our content.
For a great e-book guide on how to run social media for churches check out https://thatcc.com/pro/books/social-guide/
For the most comprehensive and well presented stats you’re ever likely to see, check out http://wearesocial.com/uk/special-reports/digital-in-2016
1. A few recent examples from the time of writing. During the EU Referendum, Vote Leave created a ‘Voter Intention Collection System’ to harness data and deliver one billion targeted digital ads, mostly delivered on Facebook. In the recent US Election, a BuzzFeed news analysis claims that fake news outperformed real news on Facebook. And according to the Pew Research Centre, 61% of millennials use Facebook as their primary source for news about politics and government. Scary stuff. A recent episode of Click also showed how election campaigns used automated bots to run fake social media accounts, flooding news feeds at the last minute with stories to try and sway the vote.