Churches Aren’t Paying Attention on Twitter: A Post-Mortem

Churches Aren’t Paying Attention on Twitter: A Post-Mortem

December 17, 2010 by

We recently ran the results of a brief Twitter experiment, and it wasn’t pretty. We asked 36 churches, all of whom promote Twitter on their website, a question on Twitter. Of the 36, only four replied. A paltry 11%.

So we took some time to talk with our resident social media expert, Justin Wise, to find out how churches could avoid this vacuum of silence. The following is my conversation with Justin:

When you see churches not responding on social media, what are the usual reasons for this?

Justin: To be sure, it’s never intentional. Churches never set out to neglect their social media efforts. And that’s part of the problem.

Because there’s no over-arching vision for a church social media strategy, it usually ends up in the “when there’s time” pile, i.e. “I’ll get to this when there’s time.”

Churches (and a lot of organizations) get swept up in the fad of social media without thinking through a long-term strategy. Someone on staff will get excited, grab a Twitter account or start a Facebook fan page, and then stall out. Once the “high” of getting the first few followers wears off, these social media become dormant and neglected communication channels.

In other churches, you’ll find an ambitious staff person who has taken the initiative for their church. They have started generating content on multiple social networks and are getting a great response. What happens next is someone higher up on the food chain will find out about it and want to control it. Or shut it down. Or turn it into an “info dump”, clogged with redundant church advertisements and announcements. Once that happens, social media fails to be social.

Yeah, I could definitely see how that happens. You mentioned Twitter and Facebook, and I know this experiment focused on Twitter. But what about Facebook? And others? Are there some social media channels where engagement is more important than others?

Justin: I think being aware of the nature of social media is the most important–that, of course, being social.

Think about the people you like talking to the most. Why do you enjoy speaking with them? Chances are, somewhere in that list, they’re responsive. They ask you questions, answer the ones that you pose to them and generally take an interest in who you are as a person.

Online communication happens the same way. The organizations who use social media the best are the ones who are responsive. They pay attention to They have Google alerts set up for their organization. They take that information and use it to interact with the people who follow their brand or, in our case, go to their church.

Does a timeframe matter? I think it’s important, but it’s not the most important. Gary Vaynerchuck says that as long as people can tell you give an, ahem, hoot, they’ll give you a lot more grace than if they never hear back from you at all. If it takes you a week to respond to a tweet, big deal. At least you’re responding. Apologize for the delayed response and move on. Once people know what to expect from your organization, you’ll be a lot better off.

Great points, but what about the churches that worry they don’t have the capacity for regular engagement, what do you suggest they do? If a church says, we don’t think we can respond within a week, or a month. We don’t think we can respond at all. What then?

Justin: I think that anyone, anywhere, in any situation has the capacity to be responsive on social networks. One of the biggest excuses people use to refrain from engaging in social media is the ol’ “I don’t have time” pitch.

I don’t believe that.

What people really mean is “I don’t think this is valuable enough to spend time on.” If that’s the case, be honest and own up to it. You find time for the things you find important. Bottom line. If statistics are any indication, social media is absolutely exploding in growth, popularity and complexity. This is now becoming a permanent fixture in our cultural communication patterns.

Practically speaking, you can take 10 minutes and schedule out your social media update for the week. Use tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to search for terms related to your church and interact for five minutes a day with people. Start a fan page and comment for 30 minutes to the people who take the time to post.

In my experience, time is usually never the issue.

You mentioned Hootsuite and Tweetdeck as tools. What methods do you recommend churches use to maximize the effort they put in to engage on social media?

Justin: I use a modified version of Dr. David Bourgeouis’s Internet ministry framework to guide my social media efforts. It’s as simple as People, Process, Technology. It governs and guides everything I do.

People. Who are you are you trying to reach? What are they like? Are they old or young? Blue collar or white collar? What are their online habits like? Are they on in the mornings, afternoons, evenings or late night? Simply put, what does the picture-perfect person who you are trying to reach look like?

Process. Once you initiate a social media presence, who is going to maintain it? How often will you blog? Who will respond to direct messages that your Twitter account gets? Who responds to questions on the Facebook fan page? How are your social media efforts guided? Do you have an organizational social media policy? If not, why not? If so, who is responsible for maintaining and updating it?

Technology. What blogging platforms will suit us best? Does it make sense for us to be on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace? Why? Why not? Are you going to pay for third-party solutions that accomplish the technology goals you have or attempt to build something in-house? Most importantly, do you have a rationale for every single piece of technology you’re using? If not, why are you using it?

People are first because they matter most. Process is next because, aside from people, you need this locked in place before anything else. Technology is last because even though it’s important, it’s not the most important. It’s third for a reason. Technology is not a cure-all, it’s merely a support tool to accomplish the goals you’ve already set.

I love that, such a simple way to make decisions. That’s about it, Justin. I really appreciate you sharing some of your expertise. Any parting advice to churches that we haven’t covered so far?

Justin: Have fun, get involved, go where the people are. Social media are here to stay. That debate is over and done with.

Lastly, if you’re a pastor of a church and you’re wondering, “Where in the world do I start with all of this?” Fear not. That responsibility does not need to fall on your shoulders. Find someone in your congregation or staff that gets this stuff and empower them. Work closely with them to establish and measure goals and let them do the rest. You’ll breathe easier and the online world will thank you, eventually, for your voice!

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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8 Responses to “Churches Aren’t Paying Attention on Twitter: A Post-Mortem”

  • Craig
    December 17, 2010

    I thought this was really an eye opening article. I think churches are trying to be hip and promoting these ideas, but they aren’t really using them. I also messaged a few churches through twitter and I only heard back from one that was on my list of followers.

    Don’t promote it if you don’t use it!

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    • Justin Wise
      December 18, 2010

      Craig … I’m left wondering how/when churches will see social media as a viable communication channel.

      We spend time/effort/resources on things like bulletins, billboards and brochures, but don’t take the same time and care with social media!

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  • Stacy
    December 17, 2010

    I think the thing to also consider is, if you develop a list of any size, it can quickly become overwhelming to keep track of all the tweets that fly by.

    I suggest setting a side a specific amount of time once or twice a day to really look at people’s tweets and send out the retweets or make comments. (You gotta share the love, otherwise you’re just shouting at each other.) Setting time constraints will help you be more responsive without feeling overwhelmed. I’m working on this and getting better at it.

    Also, just set up an alert for DMs and mentions, so you can respond immediately to questions and such without hovering over your twitter feed. I use Echofon for FireFox and it’s been a life saver for my compulsive habits.

    I don’t work for a church, but I am in marketing. I figure the communication concepts are similar.

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    • Justin Wise
      December 18, 2010

      Stacy … You’re spot-on. These principles aren’t just for churches, they’re for all organizations that want to communicate clearly.

      In fact, I think the Church has a lot to learn from the marketplace on how to communicate effectively. For instance, the Internet service provider we use here is constantly scanning Twitter to look for their name. If there’s a problem, they know about it. And they fix it, using social media tools, and fast.

      What could the Church learn from that?

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  • Arthur
    December 17, 2010

    OK. For months I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this. I couldn’t figure out HOW to effectively use blogs/twitter/fb to reach our community. Then I read this “People. Who are you are you trying to reach? What are they like? Are they old or young? Blue collar or white collar? What are their online habits like? Are they on in the mornings, afternoons, evenings or late night? Simply put, what does the picture-perfect person who you are trying to reach look like?”

    That answers my question. My church is in a rural area in South Texas. Most of the people I am trying to reach are illiterate and impoverished. They don’t even own computers much less have any “online habits” that I can monopolize on.

    I’ve felt like an idiot for a while because everywhere, everyone I talked to, talked exclusively about online ministry. I’ve been “working the streets”, I’ve been reaching my community. I’ve just been “lacking” in the online department. But as this states… I need to identify my target audiences online habits… they don’t have any! HA, I feel relieved.

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    • Justin Wise
      December 18, 2010

      Arthur … What a freeing conclusion! Exactly. Sometimes, most times, it makes sense for us to be online in some way, shape or form, connecting with our people. But, in your case, sometimes it doesn’t!

      I have a friend who works in a similar situation in a church out West. Total blue collar town. Needless to say, most of his church members aren’t on Twitter … They’re in the factory! So he switched his online strategy to doing a blog. Now church members can connect with the pastor whenever their shift ends, have time, etc.

      Great thoughts. I’m wondering, though, there must be something you can do in the online world for your church, isn’t there?

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      • Arthur
        December 24, 2010

        Justin Wise

        Absolutely… The relief comes from the fact that I have been beating myself up for not having a website, twitter account, and a blog. I still plan to utilize these tools, but now I don’t feel like such an idiot for not being on the train as of yet. I plan on utilizing these tools to get our testimonies out to the rest of the world. God has been doing some GREAT things at our church and it’s not fair to the rest of the world to keep it all to ourselves.

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