It’s so tempting, isn’t it? It’s new, it’s exciting, and it seems to be quite effective at doing the job. Plus, the price is right.
Sure the old one was working just fine for you, but this new one looks like it might be even better! Why wouldn’t you jump in feet first and give it a try?
The “it” that I am referring to could be almost anything. It can be the newest iPhone from Apple or the latest streaming service like Disney+. It could even be the most recent gadget that achieved the “As Seen on TV” label. However, in the realm of church communications, it’s usually the latest social media platform or the newest feature on an existing platform.
Social media changes so quickly, it’s inevitable that the next big thing will be making a splash every few months.
There are always the early adopters who rave about how great it is and make it so enticing to give it a try. Of course, there are also those people who are a bit more pessimistic and claim that it won’t last (e.g., Google+). How do you know whether it is worth pursuing now or better to wait and see?
Read on to see a list of questions that will help you properly evaluate each social media opportunity to determine if it’s the right fit for your church’s communications strategy.
Platform vs. Feature
First, it’s important to distinguish between a new social media platform and a new feature on an existing social media platform.
A social media platform is any network or application that launches and requires new users to sign up. While it may seem like a new social media platform launches every month (and trust me, they do), most platforms that are worth considering will have been around for a while, quietly building an audience of active users. For example, TikTok was launched in China in September 2016 but didn’t top the app charts in the United States until October 2018 and is just now starting to be used by churches.
New social media features are launched far more frequently. Facebook—which operates the Facebook app, Instagram, and WhatsApp—seems to launch big new features in one or more of those networks on an almost quarterly basis. Just the other week, they launched Avatars, and soon almost every user’s newsfeed was filled with animated versions of their friends.
More often than not, new platforms and new features are not unique ideas but similar concepts that have been tweaked, improved, or downright copied. There are far more important things to do in the church than to waste time on every new opportunity, so you must be careful and discerning about what you try.
Baseline for Evaluation
The best way to evaluate any new social media opportunity is to have a strong communications strategy developed for your church. This strategy gives you a baseline by which you can evaluate any platform or feature to determine if it’s worthwhile for your church.
If you know your ministry goals and your audiences, you can determine whether a new opportunity is worth your time regardless of how many people are talking about it.
For example, according to Omnicore, 41 percent of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24. If that age range is not one of your primary audiences, there is far less value in your church figuring out how TikTok fits in your strategy than for a church with a strong college ministry.
By starting with your strategy, you can quickly rule out platforms and features that are not a good fit.
Categories of Questions
If there are no immediate red flags like in the example above, then a new opportunity may require more careful consideration. Using your church’s defined audiences, journey maps, and messages, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I reach my audience with this platform?
If your audience is not the target demographic for the platform, then this is clearly a red flag. But more subtle is the fact that many platforms and features are about entertainment rather than communication. If you can’t use the new opportunity to communicate with your audience, then it has no place in your communications strategy.
- Can I find a new audience with this platform?
Many times your church’s ministry goals will be focused on reaching a new or underserved audience in your community. That means that you can’t continue to do ministry as usual, which makes new social media opportunities especially appealing. If the target audience of the platform and your ministry goals align, it is certainly worth exploring more.
- Does my audience actually use this platform or feature?
Regardless of what the statistics and demographic data say, if your audience doesn’t use this social media platform or feature, it’s not worth pursuing. Of course, this requires you to know your audience well, so be sure to talk with a good number of people before spending any time trying to make it work for your church.
- Is this platform too personal for my audience at specific stages of the journey map?
The key part of social media is the “social” aspect of it, but how much is too much? While I don’t mind connecting with a new acquaintance on LinkedIn, I’m a little wary about friending someone on Facebook that I have not met in person. Get to know the tone and expectation of the social interactions of a new opportunity before placing it in your strategy.
- Is this platform timely enough for my audience at specific stages of the journey map?
Some studies have found that 60 percent of people check their social media accounts ten times a day. That leads to the false idea that social media is always the quickest way to reach people. Social media serves many purposes, but if you need a quick response or want to be sure your audience gets the message, it’s best to go with true messaging platforms like email or texting.
- Is this feature the right tool or just the convenient tool for the task at hand?
The new and exciting things of this world can easily cloud our judgment about what is the right tool for the job. Many times there is a better, albeit less flashy, tool for accomplishing the task at hand. Always ask yourself if you are using social media opportunities because they are the right tool for the job, rather than just the first thing that came to mind.
- Is this the platform where my audience would look for the message?
Social media platforms display content in different ways. Facebook is infamous for adjusting their algorithm that chooses which posts to display in their newsfeed. In fact, according to Sprout Social, 53 percent of adults on Facebook don’t understand how their newsfeed displays posts. Your audience may have different expectations for where they will find information, so make sure you know where they are looking before you choose to post in a new place.
- Is the feature appropriate for this type of message?
Social media features come in many forms and for many purposes. Stories, which were quickly popular on Instagram, took a while to become popular on Facebook because the audience was not used to that type of message. Instagram users were more likely to be comfortable with it from using it on Snapchat, which has a more similar messaging style. Consider if your audience will be comfortable with that type of message on that specific platform.
- Is this message appropriate for this platform?
Have you ever seen a baby announcement on LinkedIn? What about a job posting on Pinterest? Each social media platform has a general tone, and posts that don’t match that tone feel out of place. It takes some time to learn that tone, and the tone of many platforms may not match your church’s messages. Spend some time learning the types of messages that are appropriate before posting your own.
Other Things to Consider
- Is this platform designed to build community among users?
Outside of communication, social media has many other fantastic uses, include building community. A social media platform or feature might not have a direct place in your communications strategy but is still worthwhile for your church to pursue because it can increase the sense of community among the members of your audience.
- Will the content from others on this platform negatively influence my audience?
When Snapchat first came out, it had reputation for users posting some unsavory content. That rightfully scared many churches away from considering it, but not everyone knew of its reputation. Make sure you do your research before adopting any new platform to ensure that you are not placing your communication alongside things that could cause offense among your audience.
Your situation may require that you ask more questions that will be unique to your church, but those listed above should provide you with enough things to consider during an initial evaluation of any social media platform or feature.
Before adopting anything new in communications, make sure you take an inventory of everything you are already doing with our free downloadable Communications Framework Worksheet. This document will give you prompts to consider all your existing communications opportunities.