Making Facebook Work This Year.

I’ve been contemplating the efficacy of facebook for a church (or other organization).  I’d like to take some time this new year to reflect on what seems to work and what doesn’t.

What you see above doesn’t work.  It gives information, you’re right.  It shows what we were doing, at the time, certainly.  There is nothing wrong with sharing information and announcements on facebook, but that can’t be the totality of it…in fact i’m not convinced that facebook is even particularly good at working like a calendar or bulletin, but I think there are ways to do that…I’ll get to that in another post.   What I want to say today: facebook is meant to connect with people on a relational level.  There should seldom be a post that doesn’t share a photo, video or link to an interesting story.

But, just because you have a link or a photo doesn’t mean its good.  Some churches augment their ‘announcement feed’ with links to denominational news stories or, worse yet, stock photos**.  If that is the extent of what we do, then we are doomed.

I want to suggest that developing a successful church facebook page comes with continually developing original content.  There is no other way to do it effectively…

Photos:  Pick up a digital camera or the nearest smart phone and take photos.  Not blurry snapshots and not all of them can be from the back of the room.  Get in close to people and show happy expressions.  OH, and please, get a variety of people.

Get Permission:  It should go without saying, but please take the time to ask permission from adults to use their photos and make a permission slip for photo an video a part of your sunday school registration so that you can easily know which parents are cool with you using their children’s photos and which ones don’t.  Don’t post photos where children’s faces are clearly visible without permission (the exception, for me, is public performances where the photo or video is of a large group from a distance)!

Video:  It can be as simple as an iphone or as complicated as a professional camcorder, but there are middle-of-the-road options for most churches.  Get a digital camcorder with an external mic plug (there are some inexpensive ones).  With an adapter or two from radio shack you can plug the church microphones into your camera and have decent sound if you do an interview.  But, again, don’t just put up anything.  Just because it is video, doesn’t mean it is good.  Just panning across a crowd will cause yawns to form and people will not click your next video.  Sure, pan the crowd and get videos from behind children and adults so that you have some b-roll that you can use without faces…but get some close up videos and pull people out of the room and ask them to tell what is happening; why they chose to come; and what they like about the event / the church.  Remember, we are not reporting just WHAT happened, but who and how it makes us feel.  and then… most computers have a basic video editing program.  open it up and put together a short video.  For the most part (for shots around the church or short interviews): don’t go over 2-3 minutes, in fact, 30 seconds – 1 minute will give you the best results in my experience.

Recommendations:  There is a very under-used section on facebook pages called recommendations.  For a company it is used for customers to ‘recommend’ the company or the product they sell: “I love [restaurant]’s food because it makes me think of home,” “Everytime I walk into this [business] it makes me think of the day I got engaged.”  Companies use this section to connect.  Churches need to start asking people to think about what they love about the church and post it there.  It is called evangelism and this is a very simple yet powerful way to share our feelings about our church in a visible way.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to remove unhelpful recommendations or comments that get put there… and seek out a variety of voices for this section: get your youth and college students involved here.

Insights:  There are a million tutorials for facebook and the most accurate are right in the facebook help section…  spend some time learning about insights.  They are powerful tools that help you understand how your page is being used.  Very basically, the more that people like, share and comment about a post or recommendation…the more others are going to see your church and know that your organization is an active force in the community (that is “Reach”)

Comment, Share, and LIKE:  Talk with your church staff or leaders to set an expectation that they would spend some time on the page and encourage them to regularly like, comment and share posts.  Now, here is the thing:  discourage people from liking everything.  Why?  My friends are likely to stop paying attention if something from my church comes up on their feed 5 times a day from me, but when staff and church leaders see something that actually connects with them – they should be sharing it.  When a person sees a variety of postings from your church that many of their facebook friends are connecting with, they may actually pay attention!

Oh, and if you are the page admin, don’t be afraid to share items to other people’s timelines.  For instance, when we had a Cantata I put up a video ‘as the church’ and then shared it to the choir director’s timeline.  If it is an item that especially needs attention, “Like” it yourself or comment on it (as yourself, not the page).

Voice: I can not stress this one enough…  Use the right voice on facebook pages!  There is a blue bar at the very top of the page, if you are the admin.  It will look something like this:

For most posts for major events, youtube videos, etc. I make sure that I am posting, commenting and like as “Normal First UMC,” but the staff and I have been trying to upload some photos short video clips and comments using our own voices…  (just go to the blue bar and click to change to your own “voice”).  In the new facebook timeline they appear in a seperate section that gets less notice on the page, but they don’t have to stay there!  Go to the “recent posts by others” click on “see more” and you’ll see all the personal posts that have gone up.  Click on the X.  It doesn’t delete it (although you could) but it gives you options and one of those options is “allow on page.”  That moves the post by someone else to the main part of the page.  It gives a more personal face to the page and to the church.

Hiding:  One last thing, this season we did advent devotional.  Each day I wanted to put up the most recent devotional as a note, but, I didn’t want 31 notes clogging up the page and making it look…well…boring.  So I put up the next day’s note each evening and “hid” yesterday’s note.  The note wasn’t deleted and people could still comment on them and they were still showing up in people’s feeds, but there weren’t 31 notes in a row on the timeline by now, either.  This is critical to understand: what you see on your page timeline is not the totality of your church’s presence.  Facebook is a complicated mix of timeline, notifications, newsfeeds and ads.  Posts exist even when they are hidden from your timeline and old items can be made new, simply by having people go back and like them (or re-sharing an old photo or video).

A successful page will have annoucements (although usually in the form of “events”), sure, but will have a focus on relationship building and content that is personal (not stock photos or, too often, denomination news links).  If you’d like to see some of things I’m talking about in action, feel free to stop by www.facebook.com/normalfirst.  Our page is far from perfect, but we are moving in the right direction.  I think that the staff are making great strides in how we take our church online and aim to ‘connect’ not just inform.

I hope your new year on facebook will be fruitful for you and your church!

**Hey, we occasionally use stock photos…but I suggest there is usually something better to use, it just takes more effort.

Ministry from the Backyard.

I’m still on medical leave from my pastoral duties…at least officially. Although I preached this morning for a confirmation service at my church, I get to walk away without the worries and responsibilities of being a pastor for the rest of the week.

I came home and relaxed in my recliner and did all the things that a guy should do when he’s recovering from surgery…but, then, when my wife got home I joined her in the backyard. She wanted to write a blog, but also enjoy the day. I couldn’t argue with that. I went out and did the same.

I logged onto facebook, then twitter, and then went over my blog stats and posts. I really did very little, yet I communicated with a number of friends, member of my church family, and people in the community. As I sit in the sun and write blog posts (feeling the wind whip past me and the sun on my arms) I am connecting with other people and building relationships. A pastor who only did this all week would be…well, quite simply, lazy… Yet, shifting some responsibilities to make time for social media is a smart move.

Getting a small laptop or iPad and going to the local coffee shop or a restaurant…or using an iphone to update your status (or check-in) from a community event or location will enhance and deepen your ministry and your connection to the people who live near you.

It is time for pastors to recognize that making time for social media, not at the end of the week when everything else is done, but throughout their week (as a priority) will help them to do every other element of their ministry in today’s new context!

NOTE:  The photos above were taken with intstagram.  If you are a pastor with an internet-connected smartphone, you need to get the app and start a photostream!  It’s a fun way to share your world with others.

Nuts & Bolts

Alright, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about my ideology of communication.  Yes, some of it is dated, but I want to move on.  I want to write a bit about the “nuts and bolts.”  I want to inspect more specifically how we put good communication into practice.

Over the last few months I have started an experiment by accident and I think we can learn something from it.  Let me tell you:

A few months ago I was in an unusual situation.  My church had decided to make major staffing changes, so I knew I was moving.  I went to the doctor and found out I had a brain tumor, and then my senior pastor went on vacation for a month.

When I went in to talk to my District Superintendent (the pastor who supervises my district of churches), she shook her finger at me and told me that I needed to communicate VERY CLEARLY and often with my church.  My job, she reminded me, was to minimize anxiety and keep the church informed.

She was right, but also I didn’t want my wife burdened during (and after) my surgery with lists of people to call and email, nor did I want her to feel inundated with calls when she was going through a lot.  Hmmm.  Well, Facebook, Twitter and my blog turned out to be the solution.  It was perfect because friends, family, church family, and even the people who weren’t yet on facebook could stay connected to my progress without much effort on my wife’s part.  We ended up starting a new blog and by the end of that month we had over 6000 hits.  It was a great success.

It was an accident, but  it worked beautifully.  It wasn’t just information, it wasn’t just what happened, but it was about how I felt.  Perhaps more importantly, it wasn’t just words but also video and pictures.  It turns out that I finally did all the things I’d been expounding on this blog for so long!  I was using social media to build relationships.  In the process of authentically expressing myself, I was sharing my life and faith with a larger audience than I preach to each Sunday.  How cool is that?  It was an accident, but I was actually doing the mission statement of the church… perhaps even more effectively than on Sunday morning.

What Would Jesus Tweet?
Image found on HuffPost

I’m going to steal some words from Leonard Sweet today:  It’s not a question of whether Jesus would have tweeted or not.  It’s a question of what Jesus would tweet.

You see, Jesus engaged in the community of the day and, I believe, continues to engage.  It’s not a question of whether God would use twitter.  God is using Twitter and Facebook and Google…the church may not be, but God is present and active in community and our community is ever-shifting to the internet.

Today we have to ask ourselves a lot of questions about how we are going to communicate as a church.  We seem to think, these days, that the goal is to get our church on the internet and that will be ‘good enough.’ Maybe a website or a facebook page will get more people to come to us…where the real church is (behind a big stone wall).  No.  Not good enough.  We have to take our experiences of Christ into our online communities if we are to live out our faith authentically.

Do we remind people not just to “like” the church (which, btw, is waaayyy luke-warm) with our bulletin or do we ask people to check-in to show their friends they were at church.  Do we put an informational announcement out on our facebook page or do we RT (re-tweet) the pastor or church friend so that our followers become her or his followers?

What the “Googler” generation has grown up in (and what us older people may never catch onto) is a culture about relationships.  It is not just about what we say, but, just as importantly, how  we say it.  The church needs to delve into the relationship-building connections of the web.  We need to become more social and less institutional…and we need to find authentic ways to share God’s love with the people of this world.

My Wife is Sometimes Right, but don’t tell her so!

Alright, sometimes I’m willing to admit when my wife is right and I’m not.  This maybe one of those cases.  Carrie says I’ve been doing too much blogging.  She may be right, but I have a lot on my mind (less in my head, technically, but more on my mind), so you may have to put up with me a while longer.

Today I’ve been thinking about my luck this week.  Not just luck, though.  I’ve been thinking about my blessings.  I’ve slowly been learning about what happened during my surgery and in the time after (which with the anesthesia, I don’t remember, either).

A surgery that was only supposed to last 4-6 hours went for almost 10.  During that time I had family sitting together, surrounding one another and showing love for me that I didn’t even know about in the moment.  My mother, father, and sister never once left the hospital, only taking short breaks to the cafeteria.  Since my wife has so many St. Louis friends, having been raised there, her friends and family came and sat with her, bringing her food and support throughout the day and my loving wife never left the waiting room (according to her, I will get some fact-checking done on this 🙂

After a surgery that when more than twice as long as expected, we can expect that they had been thorough. I’m sure they were, but a new state-of-the-art intraoperative MRI was the real blessing, I guess.  While I was still on the operating table, the surgeon did a new scan and found tissue that still needed to be removed and the surgery continued in order to be sure that it was done right the first time.

So far, I’m already amazed at the care and love that has been shown to me, but there is more.  With every wearying visit, with all the amazing notes through twitter, facebook and comments on my blog…and with the letters that have already found their way to my in-laws house…  I see the blessings around me in all kinds of new ways.

It’s too bad that we wait for these moments in order to notice our blessings, isn’t it?  God fills our lives with continue blessings:  people who care, love being shown, and moments of health and care.  I hope that we will all set aside our cynicism and concerns in life in order to pay more attention to the joys that are right before us.  I hope that we will see the people who surround us in love.  I hope that we will feel healing, even in the midst of pain.  I hope that we can appreciate the small thoughtful things that loved ones do rather than over look them or expect more!

May my week of blessing, shed some light on all of our blessings this week and give us hope and peace for next week!!!

blessings,

Facing the Reality of the Facebook.
I’ve talked to a number of pastors and other Christians who have taken a stand.  They say, “that’s why I don’t facebook.”  And those who do facebook, seem to struggle with just what it should be.  They find themselves frustrated by a social media that is so popular (and even essential) yet doesn’t work for them or their church in terms of evangelism.  What a shame that our church is unable to share such an important story as Christ when companies are able to use facebook and twitter to so effectively to market cheetos and radio talk shows.
What is wrong with us?  Well the problem is not in the social media.  I mean, social media has its problems, but it has the potential to be a highly effective tool and it has the potential to be used for the greater good of growing people in faith.  So it seems that ignoring it is to turn our backs on a new frontier of evangelism.  Now, having said that, I don’t blame any pastor for turning their back…up until now.  This new frontier is scary and confusing.
The problem is that as churches we have become confused over which story it is we are sharing.  Too often we use social media to share the story of the institution.  Worse yet, it isn’t even really the “story” we share but information (and begging).  The primary story that we are to share is a story of faith, that is, the story of Christ told through our: lives, faith, circumstances and our reactions to those circumstances.

My suggestion to Christians, and especially pastors, is to share your life authentically using Facebook as a spiritual practice.  It isn’t until you have built relationships with your facebook friends that you should ever consider announcing an event or making invitations, because that story is secondary to the story of Christ as told through your life!