What if churches contracted with social media specialists who not only published tweets and Facebook posts for them, but engaged in dialogue with people online and analyzed the effectiveness of their social media efforts? The Boston Globe today profiles a small consultant business that provides that service to the restaurant industry and, in the meantime, provides some lessons for churches’ social media.
What Front Burner Social does is assist restaurants in connecting actual and potential customers on social media, extending crucial word-of-mouth marketing online. Most restaurants are staffed to the minimum necessary to serve food and don’t have a dedicated marketer on staff to send out tweets and post photos to Instagram, never mind have the expertise to provide ROI analysis. Such work can be vital to success, which is why some restaurants to an outside consultant to do the work of creating posts, measuring results, and finding the “voice” of the restaurant, creating a personality that customers can identify with. The article provide the example of a restaurant about to have a busted Saturday night because of an impending snowstorm. A few strategic tweets and suddenly the place is bustling with locals willing to walk through a little snow.
“The big mistake that most inexperienced marketers make in social media is to blast messages out into a digital void where no one is paying attention and no one cares,” said Boches.
Ain’t that the truth? It’s what most Catholic parishes do, mostly because they just don’t have the time or expertise for anything else. Social media becomes an extension of the bulletin, just sending links to print content on the website, occasionally linking to an interesting article online.
What parishes need is a communications strategy, which is in fact an evangelization strategy. That communications strategy would grow out of a pastoral plan for the parish, a plan for advancing the Gospel over a two or three year span. The strategy would map out messaging over the liturgical seasons, messages that all ministries would find ways to incorporate into their work. These would be campaigns complete with their own internal goals and clever tag lines and the rest. For instance, for Easter season, the campaign might be built around the idea “From the tomb to the Upper Room: Journeying with the Apostles from despair to missionary zeal.” That’s just off the top of my head, but you get the idea.
From that would grow the social media strategy, including both scheduled posts over a period of time as well as organic relationship building, and of course measurable goals. Those goals aren’t just numbers of followers, but clicks to the web site from social media, clicks from non-followers who clicked on re-shares and re-tweets, email addresses collected from followers onto mailing lists, responses to invitations to events, and so on.
If it sounds like I have a complete idea of what this looks like, I don’t yet. I’m still thinking of what this all involves. But one thing I’m realizing is that most parishes have neither the expertise on staff to do all this nor the funds to hire someone full time. There is an opportunity here for Catholic social media experts to step up their game, to learn from the best practices of industry as reflected in the linked article, and to offer their services to parishes.
Both restaurants and parishes have parallel goals. They want to reach out to both “regulars” and “newcomers” to keep the regulars connected, to entice the newcomers to try them out, and to help both become part of a community that grows to a critical mass with a buzz that brings in even more people.
I’m just scratching the surface here and would love to continue the conversation with others around this topic. In the meantime I need to start studying social media metrics and analytics.