Building a Tribe
The landscape of church communication has shifted dramatically in the last decade. Before, if your church wanted to communicate something, it was almost always in print. Today, there’s literally an entire (digital) world of options to choose from when it comes to communicating to your congregation and broader community. In many ways, if you’re charged with the task of helping your church communicate, you’re like a digital missionary tasked with taking your church’s message to the different tribes of digital natives that exist online. And, knowing how to communicate with these individual tribes will require that you learn the language, values, and things that matter to them.
Having spent some time helping churches and organizations navigate this unfamiliar terrain, here are a few insights I’ve learned along the way about these new tribes.
The Twitter tribe is an active one. If you want to know what’s happening in the moment, hear conversations that are happening, and get feedback, Twitter is a great place to start. With a limit of 140 characters per update, you have to be clear and concise about the messages you share on Twitter. During weekend services, Twitter is a great way to interact and engage with your congregation using a #hashtag. Soul City Church in Chicago creates a hashtag for every message series they do so people can share their thoughts about the series and Tweet out their favorite quotes. And, thanks to the magic of hashtags on Twitter, you can see all of the conversations happening about their weekend series by doing a simple Twitter search. Check out some of the conversations about their recent series #scWho.
Twitter is also a great way to listen to what people in your community are talking about during the week. I always advise churches to follow people who are from their city or local community. Since most people tend to share (and sometimes, over share) what they are watching, reading, listening to, care about, and are connected to on Twitter, it’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of your local community – it’s free research!
And Twitter is a great way to remind people about events, classes, and ways to connect with your church. If you are very proactive and have the time, there are many great tools that can allow you to search for keywords by geographical location and can allow your church the opportunity to reach out to people. [Example: If your church is hosting a class on finances, you could do a Twitter search for budget, savings, etc. and proactively message people in your community letting them know about your class.] Twitter is an ongoing and active conversation space, so enter into the conversation and put the “social” back in social media. Make sure you’re responding and engaging in conversations that are happening as much as you are creating content and updates that you share on Twitter. The tribe will recognize it and value your presence on Twitter if you’re not only sharing great content but also listening and engaging!
Facebook is arguably the largest social media platform. With over a billion people, there’s a good chance a large population of your congregation has a profile. Facebook is a great space for your church to share content that people in your congregations can share with others. Liking and sharing are the currency of Facebook, so challenge yourself and your church to be generous with its presence on Facebook.
Where with Twitter, someone has to follow you or you have to be proactive to reach out with others, content shared on Facebook has a unique way of finding its way to people that may have never heard of or connected with your church before. Focus on creating and sharing valuable content on Facebook – whether you’re posting an image or photo gallery from your weekend services or events, are sharing audio or video from your sermons, or are publishing information about your events.
You can also use your Facebook Page as a place to ask questions and engage with people. Be mindful to not over-share on Facebook – 1 or 2 posts per day is great. And, you can measure what content works best for your church based on how much engagement (Likes, Shares, comments, etc.) you get around the content you share. Images always tend to get a lot of engagement, so keep that in mind as you map out what you want to share on Facebook.
Instagram is a great way to capture what’s happening at your church and the Insta-tribe is growing quickly. Besides being a way to make every picture you take look vintage or other-worldy, it’s an incredible way to share the story of what God is doing in your church visually. From sharing images from weekend services, to showing behind-the-scenes of church life throughout the way, it’s an incredible way to creatively share what’s happening in your church.
Instagram also allows you to share your images to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networks too. And, thanks to the power of #hashtags, it can be a great way to get your congregation involved and sharing their story on social media. The Crossings Church in Costa Mesa, California recently did a sermon series based on the book The Circle Maker and invited their church to share the things they were “circling” in prayer on Instagram using hashtag #tcCircleMaker. Check out some of the images here. It was a great way for their church to participate with the message series and share with their friends.
There Are Many More Tribes to Reach…
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are key social media networks today, but there are certainly many other places where people are engaging online. Be a student of your community and congregation and find where people are engaging the most. Then do your best to share great content and engage with them in those spaces. Every network has different rhythms, styles, and ways they work, so what works for one won’t work for all. Watch how people interact and engage on different social networks, and it’s also great to watch how other churches and brands use them too. The rules are always changing with social media, but at the core, it’s all about sharing great content and connecting with people. So armed with that, go forth and reach more people!