By Jeff Gibson, Brandon Cox, and Chris Forbes
The use of social media is credited with energizing the revolution in Egypt. What does that say about the potential of social media to create a revolution for Jesus in your community, one that leads to transformed lives? And what does is teach us about using social media for outreach locally and internationally?
We’ve asked three social media advocates to share their insight into what your church can do, starting this week, to capitalize on the capabilities of social media.
Our panelist are Jeff Gibson, a public communications consultant and a volunteer leader in the Social Media Ministry at Saddleback Church; Chris Forbes, co-author of “Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits”, who pioneered social-media initiatives among Southern Baptists; and Brandon Cox, pastor and online community coordinator for Pastors.com. You’ll find plenty of practical suggestions throughout the conversation.
What does the revolution in Egypt say about the potential of social media, if it were used by churches to evangelize their community … and the world?
Jeff Gibson: Totalitarian governments when faced with unrest or criticism shut down social media sites because they know what Americans know, social media is the most trusted news source because it is self-controlled and conversational. Self-controlled because we choose when and how to participate; and conversational because our involvement develops the message.
For churches, if you want to truly know in very clear demographics who is listening, who is being reached, and who is in need, use social media. All of the skills that strengthen personal ministry will also create success in social media, while at the same time providing feedback at a level that is clear, concise, direct, and actionable.
Brandon Cox: If a revolution is possible in Egypt, or in Iran, then it’s possible within our culture as well. Social media connects us faster and farther than ever before. It reminds me of when Paul confronted Agrippa with the fact that “this thing (Jesus’ crucifixion) was not done in a corner…” Nothing can be done in a corner today. We have new tools, afforded us by God’s gift of technology, to spread a message through the crowd.
Chris Forbes: The revolution in Egypt also demonstrates how networks like Facebook and Twitter can by-pass the controls of censorship. Locally, I think this speaks to the ability of social media to be useful in outreach by the church within their community, reaching people who wouldn’t ordinarily come to church.
Internationally, it is a tool for keeping the spotlight on in places where persecution of Christians exists. Believers have the tools to advocate for the gospel and to intervene on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. These same tools can also be used to help nonbelievers who fall victim to human trafficking and in directing attention to disaster relief and raising resources for human relief.
What are your insights about the strategies and tactics used in the revolution?
Jeff Gibson: There is a high degree of reliance on social media because it is so trusted. In countries where monitoring and shutdowns are an unfortunate fact of life, like China, Iran, and Myanmar, the outcry was not as great as in Egypt where social media use was open and free until crowds started massing in Tahrir Square.
The more effort and talent you put into social media the deeper and wider you’ll reach as members and others grow reliant on your thought for the day, your Bible verse, your authentic question, etc.
Brandon Cox: I think it’s interesting that for the first time in history, the poor and oppressed have a way of appealing to the masses of the entire world for support. That doesn’t mean all the problems will be solved, but it does apply pressure to the oppressors.
Chris Forbes: The cyber-activists’ medium of choice used to be the weblog (blog), but since social media come with built-in networks of people, they are preferred because they are more likely to rapidly multiply and go viral. Socialized networks are also attractive to a rapidly expanding tech-savvy generation.
Research shows an exponential increase in the use of mobile devices and social media use in North African and Middle Eastern countries where the collective median age of nine key countries is roughly 23. They use YouTube and comments on Twitter or Facebook to instantly inform the world, to the point where major news organizations monitor these sites for the most breaking news. (Chris also has a blog post about that here.)
What specific steps should churches take this week to get serious about a social media ministry?
Brandon Cox: If they haven’t done so already, start with the basics. Set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page and use them in natural ways at first – communicating events, posting inspiring content, and starting relational interactions. And begin to study what is being effectively done with these tools.
Jeff Gibson: Commit thirty minutes a day to the project for seven days. After completing a few of these steps, you can continue to use the medium more or less for the same amount of time.
- Take ten minutes a day and read about social media experiences similar to those they are hoping to have — Pastors.com, Brandon A Cox, Tony Steward, Artie Davis are all excellent ministry resources that are inspirational and focused on challenges of communicating in social media.
- Institute a straight forward posting format like “Inspiration + Application = story”. This model gets you thinking of a short inspirational anecdote, something for the reader to do with it, and an action step, a link to the larger idea (for instance, a blog or your church web site, comment back, etc.) – Should take about five minutes if you use this model.
- Figure out a good profile picture that captures what your ministry is and who you are, etc.
- Plan out three messages in advance, when you will post them, setting aside ten minutes throughout the day to check back and monitor comments, respond, etc.
- Take five minutes a day to go on other ministry and member pages and interact – this begins to build bonds and attract attention to your effort.
Christ’s love is as bright and warm as the sun. Join us at 5:00 and see http://ourchurch.com.
That is a great, simple invitation to services, that repeated once or twice during the week already takes care of two days posts.
Chris Forbes: Churches need to avoid thinking of social media as a program, and think of it as a relationship tool. Establish a profile and begin to learn the ropes. Social media doesn’t work unless the people using it are relational. I have more ideas in the e-book “Facebook for Pastors”, which can be downloaded for free.
As far as how to use social media like an activist. Here are a few ideas adapted from the “Taxonomy of Digital Resistance” created by Patrick Meier.
- Post videos of speeches and presentations that tell your side of the story.
- Write out your thoughts in blogs, Facebook notes, Tweets also.
- Create an online petition and get people to sign it to show their support.
- Host a vigil or protest and post feeds from it (videos, tweets, Facebook posts, pics).
- Join existing forums, including games and virtual communities.
- Stage a flashmob to attract media attention.
- Represent your voice in the comments on news, videos, images on major websites.
- Create mobilization resource files and share them on flash disks and large download sites.
- Use your smart phone wisely, communicate via SMS, develop a mobile webpage for your organization.
In 6 months, where should a church want to be in using social media? What goals do you recommend?
Jeff Gibson: Pay attention to the numbers of interactions: comments, likes, shares, retweets, followers who are responding to your account in original ways that reflect your message. This is very similar to the number of members who are active volunteers or ministry leaders – the sign of a maturing, healthy, and growing ministry. Experiment with your message to increase interactions.
On the other hand, don’t get hung up on numbers of followers, etc.: Healthy growth here will come if you have an outstanding rate of interaction. On Saddleback’s pages, we have found that followers and friends are attracted to pages where the interaction rate is around 1:1 on a monthly basis.
In six months, a good goal is a social media presence where it is second nature for your members to see your Facebook posts daily, go to your page twice a week, and comment, interact, etc. at least once every two weeks. This will get them acting evangelically — because interaction spreads your message to their friends — twice a month, in ways that are allowed by your members friends/followers.
Brandon Cox: After six months, a church that has jumped into social media should have a team of people who understand social media tools enough to join on-line conversations, extend the message, and see results in the form of changed lives. After six months, a church should also be more finely attuned to what’s happening in culture.
Chris Forbes: In 6 months a ministry can identify people they want to reach and build rapport with them. They can also become more aware of the key players using social media in their community and network with them.
Any cautions to consider?
Jeff Gibson: Be prepared to have some cherished ministry expectations challenged. Your mission may be to reach moms of school aged children, but through social media you may find that really, women over 55 are listening.
Second, the constraint on size of your message, usually 140 characters is either ideal or required, requires splitting up larger points into conversational size and focusing it for a response or action (i.e., click here, comment back, etc.).
Planning is a third challenge. A commitment of about twenty minutes per post is appropriate to formulate, plan, post, and respond authentically – which is key to real conversation.
Brandon Cox: Every new tool and every new technology will absolutely be abused, and if we’re not careful, we could be the abusers. If these tools expand our influence, then we are that much more responsible to how and what we communicate in our social media interactions and conversations.
Chris Forbes: Downsides of social media, as in any ministry where people interact, come from the potential temptations to waste time or get involved in sinful behaviors. Also social media can have the opposite effect of increasing the promotion of misinformation about Christians and the faith they hold. Missionaries and believers who reside in countries with little religious freedom need to practice extreme caution and security so their information and the identity of their contacts are not compromised.
Some additional resources –
Website: Fuel Your Blogging
Website: WordPress for Ministry.
Book: Twitter for Ministry by Brandon Cox
Book: Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits by Chris Forbes (co-author)