Social Media and Your Ministry

By Russell Cambria, Executive Director/CEO

PLAN IT, DEVELOP IT, & AVOID CRISIS MODE

Sometimes I wonder what the early Apostles would do if they could live in our digital age for 1 week. How would they use social media to their advantage? Would all of them be good accounts to “follow” or would some of those accounts break the unwritten rules leading to overbearing, irrelevant, or crisis-centered communication that turns people off? I guess we will never know, but we can control the way we use this technology as we carry the torch of ministry forward.

The power of social media’s reach yields opportunities for mass communication in ways we’ve never experienced in human history…until now. In many cases, the person posting on behalf of the ministry, has more direct access to those who support your organization than upper management or senior leadership. Although they may not have the same relationship your CEO has with a few major donors, the social media team (or person) is providing snapshots of your ministry that will quickly be seen, reacted to, and shared with thousands of others, almost instantaneously. For this reason, you need a social media PLAN. What do you post?How often?What message are you sending, and more importantly, what message is being received about your ministry?

We all see it. The ministry that uses their social media platform to sound all kinds of alarms and “urgent needs or requests.” Although this platform can be  used in this manner, it should be done so sparingly and with great consideration. Remember, people see the organization’s posts multiple times, in several feeds and on multiple platforms. They may tend to recall posts that emulate danger, crisis, drama, etc. over some less exciting posts, but if you’re not careful, your ministry will develop an online reputation and one that you’ll want to avoid. All ministries define “urgent” differently. Is it an urgent need that your center’s pool table is old and needs to be replaced? Well, if you’re asking a student who really looks forward to recreation time, then perhaps. But a donor, bombarded with your needs and the needs of otherorganizations they support may think differently. Rather, a broken HVAC system putting students in danger or threatening to close a dorm or a wing of your building due to extreme heat or cold is a different urgent need and one that your supporters understand. If you do not have guidelines as to how you define urgent needs or in some cases, “breaking news” you would do your organization a favor to develop them. Hold your social media team accountable because again, their messages reach the public much faster than a newsletter, church announcement, special flier, etc.

Key Take Away:

The social media team (or person) must be able to communicate general needs, opportunities for service and volunteerism, general day-to-day victories and successes that excite the donor base, and also, the occasional “stop the Internet in its tracks” type of urgent need. Don’t be afraid to inform this team that the pool table or a broken ice cream machine in the cafeteria isn’t one of them. Don’t waste the power of the word “urgent” unless it is actually….urgent! Listing several non-urgent needs occasionally within a post that highlights ways in which someone can help enhance student life and experience on your campus is a much better option. Make it fun, not a crisis. Very few people scroll social media looking to stress themselves out over another organizations problems. Right?

A plan we use (and this may not work for everyone) is below:

  1. General “What are we up to?” posts. These posts include pictures that showcase ‘a day in the life’ of someone in our program. Its light, informative for family members who are curious about what their son is up to, fun, non-stressful, and provides a sense of routine and stabilization when viewed by the public.  Frequency: This type of post may appear one time daily or throughout 4-5 different posts per week.
  2. Staff/Student Appreciation- We tend to do this at least 1 time per week or when something stands out where we want to honor a staff or student, but do so in a way that also communicates to the public that our program is in good hands. Again, informative for the public and serves as a confidence booster. Doing these less often makes it more special.
  3. Victories and Successes- People love stories and testimonies.  We found that short, 2-minute videos perform best. Anything longer, not so much. We also avoid testimonies becoming appeals for funding. Make it about the student and his/her success. This isn’t a sales pitch.
  4. Events- Leading up to a major event, we like to post pictures from that same event from last year, current registration information and links, and do so at least 1 time every 2 weeks. We do not go into overkill mode because the posts will also recycle through timelines and appear more than once. Each new posts can have a fun countdown or reminder, etc. to add a few differences.

DON’T:  Do not make your event sound like your desperate for attendees!
DO: Remember to ask for others to “share” it.

  1. Volunteer Opportunities- Even though these often lead to volunteer teams providing labor, materials, or just human capital to a project you are working on, the posts are always focused on the VOLUNTEER, not the need. The volunteer will fill the need, but first, they must be excited about YOU and what you offer to them as someone who will be giving up valuable hours of their time to come and work alongside your ministry.   Note: Avoid making these posts your next crisis that needs immediate attention.

What do you have to offer?
Feel free to share your ideas and lessons learned along the way. Our methods, although they work well for our campuses, are far from perfect. We love to learn and improve so our followers and subscribers feel more informed, valued, and obtain a sense of healthy pride that accompanies supporting one of their favorite nonprofits.

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