Updated: Jul 16
I’ve been in marketing and communications for ten years and I’ve worked with businesses and organizations ranging from hotels, restaurants and retail stores to church groups, tourist bureaus and independent schools. While the details of a communications strategy change from one group to another, the approach is the same—and so are the mistakes they are making. Here’s what I’ve discovered in my work and how I recommend that you approach developing and growing your digital communications networks.
#1 Trying to do it all
The first and gravest mistake I see is when small organizations and businesses try to do it all. At first glance, it appears impressive. They are on all major social media platforms. They have a YouTube channel. Their website pops up quickly in a Google search. But as soon as you start digging a little, the picture begins to fall apart. That website has events listed from back in 2017 and the mobile version is, well, non-existent. The YouTube channel has a single grainy video listed from a guest speaker. Someone obviously tweeted a bunch about eight months ago but that person must have left the church because then the account went silent.
Your digital presence is the first impression you make. It’s no longer your building. It’s no longer your service on Sunday morning. It doesn’t serve you or your church if you have stretched yourself so thin from a communications perspective that you’re not able to maintain a regular presence on the platforms you’ve chosen or if your website is so extensive that you never know what needs to be updated and when.
Instead, I recommend that for your website, you pare it down to the information that is most necessary and that you can easily update. If you need to, move it to a website host that is user-friendly so that you or someone on your staff can easily make minor and regular changes to it without asking an expert or the web designer.
For social media, pick two platforms that make the most sense considering your congregation’s demographics, the people you are trying to reach, and the types of things you want to communicate. A communications consultant can easily help you figure out those things. And then set some goals: how regularly will you comb through your website to ensure it’s updated? How often will you post to Facebook or Instagram? What types of things will you post, where, and how often? Then put those things on your calendar or to-do list. They are important. Letting your accounts and platforms go dormant says to those who find you online that you aren’t reliable or that you don’t care. Pare down what you do so you can do it well.
#2 Thinking social media should come first
The second biggest mistake I see is when organizations and businesses decide to lean into social media at the expense of what is still the most important outreach tool: email. Email remains king when it comes to reaching an engaged and interested audience. When I first began working with clients, they’d often want me to get them set up on Twitter before even considering a weekly email to the hundreds of subscribers they already had. Before anything, you need a website. The very next thing you need to do is pool together the email contacts you have and begin communicating to them regularly, weekly even. These individuals, especially if they have subscribed to your content, have already communicated to you that they are interested in what you have to say, that they want to be in a form of digital relationship with your church or organization. Don’t let that go to waste. Marketing and communications guru and Christian author Donald Miller estimates that every email address given to you has a value of about $20. That might not sound like much but in the marketing and advertising world that’s substantial.
Sometimes I get pushback from clients who say that people don’t open their emails or they see people unsubscribe. First, your emails—and especially your email subject lines—need to be thoughtful and enticing. You need to write your emails with your congregants, your audience, essentially your customers in mind. What do they want to hear from you? And if someone unsubscribes, that’s okay. It just means that they’re not that into you and you can focus your efforts better on those who are.
Social media is important. But not at the expense of or as a replacement for email.
#3 Treating all social media platforms the same
I believe in the power of a digital presence especially using the social media tools that are available to us. The most common mistake new users make, however, is assuming that all social media platforms are the same. The thing that irks me the most is when an organization or a church sends out an email via a website like MailChimp and it automatically posts the email to Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram. The problem with that is that it is obviously an auto-post. The formatting is wrong, the tags don’t make sense, and it will inevitably get next to no attention. Why is that?
Because every platform is designed differently. They serve different purposes for different people. Now, I’m not one to say that your content itself must be different on each platform. I don’t think that’s realistic. I don’t even personally have the time to do that for my clients and my own businesses. But it is important to make sure that the way you present that content is specific to each platform. On Instagram, you’re going to focus the message around a gorgeous image representing whatever it is that you’re trying to communicate. On Facebook, you’re going to promote the actual link where people can sign up for the thing you’re promoting. You’re going to use Twitter to live tweet the behind-the-scenes details and maybe if you have a really young audience you’ll post quick videos on TikTok to build up excitement and momentum. This is why it is important to pick and choose your platforms carefully, because each one needs individual attention.
Beyond form and function, however, there is another more important reason your content should never be automatically posted across your platforms. This is social media. The whole point of it is to engage, to be in relationship. And that might sound weird, that might sound overly millennial, but I promise you that when done right social media doesn’t replace in-person connection but it certainly amplifies it and strengthens it. Most people now understand that much of our social content today is not entirely manual. You can easily schedule posts and admittedly today there’s a fine line between ads and other published items. If you’re blatantly auto-posting everything, however, without caring to engage, not only will others not engage with you but the platforms themselves will stop pushing out your content.
Yep, that’s a thing. Every social media platform has an algorithm that can detect when something has been poorly formatted or auto-posted and it will hold that post back. In other words, no one is going to see it even if they’ve liked your page or chosen to follow your content! It’s worth it then to spend the extra few minutes to tailor your posts to the platform and see how people are responding to them.
In short, don’t try to do it all; be strategic. Do what you can and do it well. Don’t invest your time in social media before or at the expense of a regular, thoughtful email campaign. And finally, don’t treat all social media platforms the same. Instead, think about what you want to communicate and tailor the formatting of your content to each platform you’ve chosen.