Be careful you’re not learning how to run social media in a church bubble.

If we’re looking to certain large churches for examples of social media success, can we really be sure that they are actually successful? Or are they simply “too big to fail” even if they have lots of bad habits?

Recently, I had Wes Gay on The Seminary of Hard Knocks podcast and we had a fascinating discussion on what churches can learn from brands about Social Media. 

Wes is a certified Storybrand guide and owns Wayfinder Agency, helping companies master messaging and strategy all over America.

I wrote a quick summary of our conversation here and put some things into my own words that I learned from talking with Wes. 

I came up with 6 takeaways that churches should take note of. If churches will watch how brands do these things, I think we can learn to master social media in a way that will actually bring some value to the pastor’s table as well.

Here are 6 things to watch in no particular order…

Watch how brands talk to their customers

Brands are conversational, they tell stories and support causes. Churches tend to lean toward information and transactions. 

I think one of the major differences is that brands find value in connecting with followers in social media spaces and churches only focus value on in-person connections.

Churches are still trying to build an audience while brands are trying to build a community. – Wes Gay

Chick-fil-A is a great example. They’ve built a community of raging fans and everyone knows at this point that they don’t say “your welcome” but say “my pleasure.” 

You probably heard the story of the drive-thru worker who ran after a car and saved a kid. Or you heard that if you dress up as a cow on designated “Chick-fil-A days” you will get free sandwiches? 

It is no mistake that you’ve heard those stories because those are the stories that Chick-fil-A wants you to know about. They demonstrate company values and what the organization is all about. Family, kindness, fun, positivity, and chicken, to name a few.

When they communicate online, they post photos of people with their food in their stores having a great experience with a positive caption. They don’t ask you for anything. 

Watch how brands talk about their products

What is the number one product of a church? I would suggest it is Jesus. We ultimately want people to know Him, believe in Him, and follow Him. 

But how many steps of that process can be accomplished on social media? In my opinion, salvation isn’t the best “product” for social media. Unless you know of a bunch of example of people accepting Christ online? I’d love to hear about how it’s done if you have!

For most of us, the best “product” our church can offer on social media is community or a sense of belonging, even if that belonging is based around simply knowing what’s going on. 

So how are you going to “sell” community on social media?

This is why brands have begun backing causes and issues. It gives followers something to rally around. They use other “influencers” to help create that rally as well. 

Or do you think it’s a coincidence that Nike frequently finds athletes with a compelling cause or story to put on their social media pages? They don’t even mention shoes or clothing. They talk about inspiring things like hard work paying off or winning through adversity.

After all, nike is the Greek word for “victory.” So when you see an ad for Nike, you’re going to see someone moving towards victory.

Could you show your people what community is instead of asking them to join it all the time? Join what? They don’t even know what that is, much less if they want it! 

Don’t tell them to go on the mission trip, tell them about the bond formed with others who went and how that has changed their lives as well as the people you worked with.

Brands always find a way to talk about what their products can do for someone instead of the product itself.

Churches: it’s going to be awesome/epic/amazing/youdontwanttomissit! We’ll have food trucks and fun games and lots of prizes! Win a car! Win a cruise! We’ll give you straight up cash if you bring a friend! Oh, awesome worship too. Don’t forget the awesome worship everybody’s always looking for.

Ok, I’m picking at you, but I stand by the premise and I hope you see the difference. It’s hard to do every time, but worth the work.

Watch what brands use to communicate and engage

Pop Quiz: If a brand posts content to a platform where only 1% of their following will see it, do you think they will keep posting there? Of course not.

Yet we keep plugging away at the ol’ Facebook page instead of doing what brands are doing: use it to create an audience landing page for ads to drive deeper connections elsewhere. Whether it’s a group or an offer to click, brands are finding places where they can reach more of their audiences at a time and putting their efforts in there.

The church loves to fall in love with a method and stick with it way past its effectiveness. In 2020, we have to be willing to abandon something that isn’t working anymore for something more effective.

Would it make more sense for your brand to be most active on LinkedIn? YouTube? Instagram? Where are your ideal customers/followers hanging out these days? Go there and don’t look back.

Watch how brands spend money on marketing

Wes mentioned on the show that the average company spends 10%-13% of their overall budget on marketing efforts. I bet it’s more if they’re using print. 

So, if your church has a budget of $1 million, then at least $100k-$130k should go to marketing. 

But that’s not a hard-and-fast rule for us. We are different in that we’re a non-profit and all income is based on donations, so we have to be careful with that.

But I just want to give you an idea of what 1) we’re up against, and 2) how much it really takes to do what they do.

If you really want to learn how brands are running ads and spending money, go to their Facebook page and click on the Page Transparency tab. It will show you all the ads running, different versions of it, copy changes, etc. Great way to learn!

Watch how brands use data to determine spending and marketing

Brands don’t care how much your friend Eileen’s cousin loved their product in the blue instead of the red. They care about how many they sold of the blue vs. red. But churches don’t seem to work that way.

In my experience, churches tend to make major decisions on a feeling with a couple of stories that support that feeling. (And don’t you dare be the one that tells a story that goes against the first feeling). 

This is not how brands work. They look for what works best for the largest portion of their audience. They base decisions on what’s called a “persona,” which is a fictional character who represents the perfect customer they think they can sell to/reach. And if Eileen loved the blue but isn’t the ideal customer, they don’t really consider it.

Here’s an example from church world:

Bob, who is 64, thinks we should post more announcements on Instagram. 

First, what the heck is Bob doing on Instagram? Kinda proud of him. But second, he’s definitely not the target audience for our Instagram account. He’s 75 and the demographic there is 25-35 and female. 

But Bob is a good friend of the pastor and on the deacon board. So here’s the question:

Should we listen to Bob?

Brands: nope.

Churches: Yeahhh, well, let’s try to post a few more announcements.

No! Bob should not be influencing what we do on Instagram! He does not represent the largest group of our ideal target! And before you whip your Bible’s out to tell me about how we should try to reach everyone, remember Jesus didn’t want to heal that one woman because he came for the lost children of Israel, not the “dogs under the table?” 

TARGET. AUDIENCE. (Glad he reached them too. Otherwise, you and I wouldn’t have heard about it. But I digress).

Unfortunately, it happens all the time in churches. I’m sure it happens in brands too, but I seriously doubt it is to the scale and magnitude of decisions that are made this way in the church world. 

Use data to drive good decision-making with your social media strategy, not the latest story you heard or suggestions from random people in your church. 

Watch how brands integrate social media into their strategy

Brands and churches do have this in common: they both want to move people towards something. It’s just different things.

Brands want to move people towards a sale or better yet, to become a raving fan that advocates for the brand for free because their experience was so great. 

Churches want to move people towards a commitment to an in-person experience every week unlike anything else they know in their lives.

Hello, I’m Seth. Want to get married? 

That’s what that sounds like for us in 2020. What if the purpose of social media was to move a follower towards a “plan your visit” button? What if it was just supposed to reinforce your values? What if it was supposed to make you feel a certain way about going to church. Are those goals valuable enough to put time and effort into for your church?

They are for brands. Because brands know that if they can create a feeling about themselves when you think about them, you’ll show up to whatever they’ve got going on with little encouragement.

Chick-fil-A doesn’t advertise those “dress up like a cow and get free chicken” days to the broad audience. People just kinda find out about them. You might get an alert if you have the app or an email if you’re on that list, but you won’t see it on social media. Well, maybe Insta stories…but not much else. 

They don’t have to advertise those. People just line up for them because they love the brand (and come on, free chicken blessed by the Pope). 

What should we do?

Church leaders often bristle at the idea of looking to companies for advice on how to do things in the church. I get it. Often there’s a good reason for that.

This is not one of those times. 

Brands and churches are equal on Instagram. They are competing for the same things on Facebook or YouTube. 

And if you want your church to be able to convince your people that the best place to spend a week this summer is in Guatemala on a mission trip instead of a cruise or hanging out by the pool, you’re going to need to pay attention to how these brands are using the platforms to tell stories that people care about.

I’m ready. Hit me with your thoughts. Just not in the face, I have pictures later.

Everybody needs help.

I hear this question all the time from church communicators: How do I keep posting fresh, new ideas to my church social media channels? 

This PDF has 88 ideas that will help you get conversations started on social and bring value to your followers.

Join my very fun email list and I’ll send it to you within seconds!

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