The gospel did okay before Facebook, and will do just fine without it. But plenty of churches and organizationslike mine have found Facebook to be an incredibly useful tool for getting the word out about Jesus and His people. We’ve devoted time, energy, and even financial resources to gathering a community of fans who read posts, click links, and pass things along to friends.
Now however, Facebook is changing in ways that are bringing the pain to brands of all kinds, including churches and Christian organizations. In short, they’re changing their algorithm so that the content posted by pages doesn’t get seen by many fans. (Hat tip to Jim Gray for the links.) You may have assumed that you see 100% of the updates from any page you’ve liked. It hasn’t been that way in years since Facebook’s normal layout shows people what they deem “top stories” as opposed to all the most recent updates from your friends.
Pages have been posting updates that only get seen by 30 to 40% of their fans, at best. More recently that percentage has dropped to 10 to 20%. And it’s eventually going to be 1 or 2%. One of our daily devotional posts used to see about 1,500 eyes and get about 20 to 30 likes. Now one of our devotionals will still get 20 likes but only see 500 eyes, and it’s about to get even worse. Why? It’s simple. Facebook wants brand managers to pay to sponsor or “boost” their posts to be seen by their fans.
Is that fair? It depends on whom you ask. At the end of the day, it’s all up to the people who own the business called Facebook, but most brand managers feel quite cheated right now because they paid Facebook for advertising to help them get fans and now are having to pay again to get their content in front of those fans. Our church has sponsored some content since we’ve been using it, but the posts we don’t sponsor just don’t travel as far as they used to.
While Nike and Nabisco figure out what to do from the perspective of corporate brands with large marketing budgets, my concern is with churches and nonprofits who don’t necessarily see a financial return on their investment (at least not directly from the sales of products or services). Here are my best solutions for churches to consider.
1. Don’t put all your eggs in Facebook’s basket.
This has always been true, but it’s even more true now. Don’t count on any third-party, freely offered service to drive all of your online promotional effort. Companies change policies all the time and change happens faster now than ever. Facebook has become wise to the fact that companies that make money pay that money to marketing firms who use Facebook’s free platform to earn more money. Facebook believes it’s time to get their cut. Who can blame them?
2. Diversify your social media presence.
For the moment I’m still convinced that Facebook is the most important platform for social media marketing, but that’s only because of the broad demographic of people that use it. People of every age, in every locality, of every political preference and marital status use it. And, it’s a place for every kind of content (text, link, photo, and video) and every genre of content (news, entertainment, personal posts, and pointless but funny things too). So if you want to reach every kind of person in your community, Facebook is still the primary place to start.
Having said that, it is definitely time for churches to think about using Instagram to reach people through imagery, especially younger people. Twitter has a pretty active community among media types and leaders, news producers, and professionals. LinkedIn is still heavily used by corporate workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders in business. Each offers a different medium for the posting and cross-posting of content. Don’t try to do it all, but do more than just one thing.
3. Give more power to the people.
What’s the point of having fans to begin with if the goal isn’t ultimately to empower those fans to carry your message further into their own respective friendships and relational circles. We tend to think about the reach of our church’s Facebook page, but there is significantly more influence available to the church when you realize how many members (whether dozens or thousands) are engaged in social media. Usually, their credibility is higher with their friends than your church’s brand anyway.
So take the time to educate people about how to share their faith and their church online. Having read about these most recent shifts in Facebook’s direction, I put together a post for our Facebook page that has been handy in empowering people with our message and tips on how to spread it.
We also circulate some basic how-to articles on using social media via a page on our website dedicated to the cause, such as our post on 10 Ways Anyone Can Use Social Media to Help Grace Hills (which you’re welcome to steal, edit, and use for your church too).