Leading from the 2nd Chair

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Social Media Dusting

5/19/2014

Social Media Dusting

I looked back over my shoulder just in time to see my wife’s body hit the ground as her right knee dug into the dirt and her head finally coming to rest on the pillow of grass after bouncing a couple of times. We had only peddled 50 yards on our brand new matching mountain bikes. The path was straight and flat; yet, Traci had become disoriented quickly and found herself still attached to the new bike while simultaneously lying on her side. She assured me everything was okay and with a courageous boldness wanted to continue down our path. Unfortunately, this same scene replayed itself over and over again every 50 yards…pedal, fall, bounce up, repeat. She kept going until we finally made a small descent into some trees and her foot snagged an exposed root this time dislodging the bike  from her body as she skid across the rugged foliage. Scraped, bruised, and bleeding she exclaimed with tear filled eyes that she was done with the new two wheeled menace and promptly threw it to the ground one last time. This was not the way I foresaw our first bike ride playing out; a rough start to say the least.

Her bike has followed us from Oklahoma, Florida, Tennesse and now thirteen years later is hanging on my garage wall in Kansas. The bike looks great and is in working condition; yet, it has not touched the ground in over a decade. She had a rough start, got a little overwhelmed, needed a bit more direction, but in the end she finally just shelved the bike for dust to collect on its frame. Many of us have taken the same approach to our websites and social media accounts. Though we may have created accounts and built sites, without direction or purpose, we became overwhelmed, fell a few times, and now these helpful tools simply sit on our shelves collecting dust. It is not good enough to have a website/social media account(s), no matter how beautiful they might be, if you don’t know why or how to best utilize their function.

Before we jump into a few practical suggestions for developing a communications plan, we must pause and ask the questions of why and if this is even important. I’m not advocating for a slick marketing plan; nor am I interested in simply overwhelming our people with information thereby pacifying them with entertainment. Beyond just informing people and making them aware of events, I want to assert that an intentional communications plan can help supplement a robust presence centered ministry in order to spiritually engage and develop a people. The church has had to wrestle with the best practices for each advent of technology it faced and the 21st century has seen a plethora of these advents. We are facing the task of spiritually developing a people whom we see for an hour every other week, on average, if they are faithful attenders. No, we must not give up meeting together; yet, the variety of social media tools available offer us the opportunity to continue to shape our people even when they are not near us. It seems the people of God throughout history have always been resourceful in finding contextual clues and technologies by which to proclaim the gospel and shape the church. I am hopeful that tradition will not end with us.

Let’s turn our attention to a few suggestions for helping you begin to think about a communications plan.

  1. Identify your audience: The demographic of your audience will dictate which social media tool you use. For instance, Instagram might be used by more of your middle schoolers while twitter is utilized by High School and College students. Yes, there will be overlap, and I would use multiple media for a particular demographic. Within our college/young adult ministry we are currently using text, mail chimp (email), website, Facebook, Twitter, and a little Instagram.
  2. Available Medias: Access the medias already in use by your church or organization. Ensure these are the best medias for your audience. Don’t be afraid to ask several people in your audience what media they use and how often. The other part of this equation is being realistic with how many accounts you can adequately service. It does you no good to have a twitter account if you only tweet once a year.
  3. Websites are Great File Cabinets: For the most part, people don’t go to websites unless they are pushed to websites. You can have the most beautiful website, but you are wasting time and money if nobody is visiting the site. The easiest mistake is to post a great story on your site, push back from your desk, wipe your hands and say you are done. Remember most people aren’t constantly checking for updates on your site.
  4. What are people expecting from each media? You could write a 1,000 word blog post for your website, but most people won’t read a 1,000 words on Facebook. Therefore, you need to adjust your material according to the media.
  5. Free is Good: People are shocked at the amount of free social media resources available to them. For instance, if you have an emailing list, you might want to take a look at mailchimp. Though there are paid upgrades, the free account has several functions and makes you look like a rockstar without being a graphic designer!
  6. Be Consistent: I must confess this is where I struggle most. I tend to be a binge social media guy. I’m great when I have an open day or two, but I tend to fall off the wagon when my schedule becomes busier. Having a stated plan of not only what medias you’ll use and when, but also an idea of content you’ll include has helped me become more consistent. You might consider a theme for the month which has four aspects. You could write a weekly blog post about each aspect, than commit to two extra Facebook statuses and two tweets within the same week that build off the blog post. 

I am not a social media guru. It is an absolute discipline for me to create a single status or even tweet. However, I was confident that these social media tools could be used to tell the good news outside of our normal gatherings, but I was overwhelmed and had hung most of them up. Fortunately, I had a good friend Dewayne Ablesw ho was willing to ask me hard questions about the purpose of our accounts and took the time to brainstorm with me several times until we had created a communications plan. We have a long way to go in perfecting and executing our plan; however, we continue to experiment with the best practices in order that we might be faithful in proclaiming the gospel using any and all means necessary.

-J.P. VanDalsem has served congregations in Oklahoma, Florida, and Tennessee.  He currently serves as the Young Adult pastor at Olathe College Church in Olathe, KS.