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Create a Social Media Strategy for Your Church

Social media provides opportunities for Seventh-day Adventist churches, schools and ministries to connect with online audiences.

How do you, as an Adventist communicator, make the best use of social media?
1. Develop a strategy. How will your church, school, or ministry benefit from having a social network? Who is your primary and secondary audience? What social tools will you use? How often will you post new content? Who will be responsible for setting up, monitoring and maintaining your social presence? What kind of privacy settings will you use? What’s your policy for responding to positive, neutral or negative comments?
Typical social media objectives for ministries fall into three categories: to aid and enable more effective church communication, to better connect with an online community and/or to prompt a call to action.
2. Evaluate your audience(s). What’s the best way to communicate with your target audience? A primarily young adult audience may flock to Facebook and become your “fan” to receive the latest information, while a primarily senior citizen audience may rely on announcements in a church newsletter or bulletin.
3. Select social media outlets. The eight most popular forms of social media are: blogs (Blogger, WordPress), microblogs (Twitter), social networks (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn), media-sharing sites (YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare, Slide.com, ImageLoop), social bookmarking and voting sites (Pinterest, Digg, Reddit), review sites (Yelp), forums (Craig’s List) and virtual worlds (Second Life).
Dan Zarrella, in The Social Media Marketing Book, unwraps these popular forms of social media to help you understand how to effectively use social media. Social media outlets, he says, are not the right place for “corporate-speak” press releases. Social media (particularly blogs) is conversational in tone.
Zarrella’s book also includes advice for social media strategy, tactics and best practices. “Before you launch into a social media conversation, listen,” he says. “As you do when joining a new forum, lurk in every medium you’re going to enter to get a sense of the rules and customs, and of who the influential people are.”
4. Create content. Quality content that you can link to is king in social media. Your ministry website and/or blog should be the core of your social media strategy. Your Tweets or Facebook updates should link back to your maintained blog or web site. (Tip: Shorten long links through services such as tinyurl.com, bit.ly, or ow.ly).
Content needs to be approachable and conversational. Joan Stewart, from The Publicity Hound, suggests several sources for developing blog content. She suggests finding topics in your inbox (i.e. responses to frequently asked questions), in print newsletters or ezines, through other people’s blogs, in local or national newspaper and magazine articles (be sure to give proper credit).
Ministry content ideas include current news from your local, regional, national or international organization, a photo devotional blog, event invitations and listings, ministry trends or themes, summaries of articles with a link to the original article, inspirational essays, video devotional clips, how-to tutorials, lists, embedded video clips with thoughtful commentary, slideshows, and other creative ideas. “Pick a niche you can own, stay away from crowded areas, and bring your unique voice,” advises Zarrella. “Mix up content types and add multimedia.”
When creating content, try tucking in 2-3 keywords related to your ministry. The keywords could appear in the content title and/or in the body of your content. Link these keywords to relevant additional information.
“Ask your visitors to follow you on Twitter, fan your page on Facebook, or subscribe to your channel on YouTube,” says Zarrella. “Don’t forget to cross-promote; tweet a link to your YouTube channel, and ask people to subscribe.”
Not sure about social media? Recruit young people or tech-savvy seniors to help you out. While social media is particularly popular with young adults, it appeals to many age groups.
5. Track metrics. Setup Google Analytics on your website or blog. This will help you track how many people are visiting your website or blog, where they are logging in from, how long they visited your site, popular keywords or searches for reaching your site and other valuable information. (The keyword information can be used in generating social content, as well.)
Set up a comprehensive Google News Alert to receive daily or weekly information about what conversations are happening online about your organization. At special events, consider using a survey response card to find out where people heard about your event. This helps you evaluate which social media outlets are giving the best return on investment.
Social media is another tool to use in making friends for Jesus. Traditional media interaction (newspaper calendar listings, letters to the editor, radio or TV spots, etc.) should not be abandoned in favor of social media. The two forms of media should work together to communicate the message, create community contacts, and call people to take action.
Whether you set up a Facebook Fan Page, contribute to a YouTube Channel, update a Twitter account, post a blog entry, share your music PowerPoint on SlideShare, or contribute to other forms of social media, remember that it is all about Jesus.

by Heidi Martella Baumgartner, M.S., Washington Conference communication director