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Social media needs a strategy

CHURCH IN THE DIGITAL AGE

An online presence isn’t enough

by Richard Hong | Presbyterians Today

Illustration of toy blocks showing the logos of different social media platformsIt’s one thing for your church to be on social media, but simply having a presence is not enough. What is needed is an understanding of the various social media platforms, who uses them and what content gets noticed. So, let’s begin with the basics. The platforms we think of most often are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For church discussions, we will be focusing on Facebook and Instagram. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, nearly 70% of adults in the U.S. use Facebook, Instagram is around 40% and Twitter is used by about 25% of U.S. adults. The Facebook demographic skews older, with users in the 50–64 age group. Facebook is 2.5 times more popular than Instagram and nearly four times as popular as Twitter. Facebook is also more popular among women than men.

In terms of content, most people know that Instagram is only pictures, and Facebook is usually more words than pictures. But in terms of platform culture, remember that the “insta” in “Instagram” stands for “instant.” Instagram is about what is happening right now. It’s about where you are and what you’re doing. Instagram stories are posts that disappear within 24 hours. Once someone views them, they aren’t shown again.

What kind of content should you produce if you’re using Instagram for your congregation? The least effective content for Instagram is known as “direct response.” This is a call to do something specific such as “Come visit us this Sunday!” or “Come to the pancake breakfast!” It is less effective because only a miniscule percentage of people are looking for a church event. What you want for your Instagram posts is “brand image” content. This is where you simply want people to develop a positive impression of your church. Pictures and stories showing your church serving the community, enjoying family fun, advocating for justice — all of these can help your community feel favorably toward your ministry.

An underused source of content for all social media platforms is the sermon. Posting an inspiring quote from a sermon — often superimposed on a picture of the preacher or the worship service —  is a good way to help people become comfortable with your church. If you have some savvy folks who are attuned to the world beyond the sanctuary, ask them to report what the most memorable lines of the sermon were to them. That can be the inspiration for your social media posts that week.

Notice that this means that most of what you post on your social media channels will be about what has already happened, not what is coming up. Consider what a person posts on social media. They post what they have done or are doing now. They aren’t posting about what they’re planning to do. For many churches, this is a different way to think about social media content. In the next Presbyterians Today, we’ll explore the basics of how to plan content and manage your social media presence.

The Rev. Richard Hong is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood in  New Jersey. Have a question or request for a future column? Email him at rich@englewoodpres.org.

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