Don’t Develop A Social Media Strategy For Your Parish

Like most I’ve been working with various social networks and media for several years now.  I’ve heard many people talk about developing a “Social Media Strategy”, and something has just never sat right with me in regards to that phrase.  I was asked to write a “Social Media Strategy” recently and was really having a tough time because there was just something about that phrase.  So I went look for some help.  I picked up a book the other week, Social Media ROI by Olivier Blanchard.  Right in the beginning of the book he makes a very important point . . . social media are things, and you don’t develop strategies around things.  Strategies are developed around functions such as communications.

The difference between social media and social communications is that the former indicates the infrastructure, whereas the latter indicates the activity within and across it. (page 7)

Finding where this social stuff (networks and media) falls within organizations (including our parishes) has been confusing for a lot of people.  Mostly it’s the web or IT people it goes to because “they know computers”.  In reality, all of it is about communications which is where it will ultimately find itself for many organizations in the near future (many are already figuring this out).  That’s the strategy to focus on and develop . . . a social communications strategy.

One of the examples Blanchard also uses puts this into even better perspective.  At one point in time the telephone was new.  Organizations didn’t develop strategies around how to use the phone.  They developed strategies to leverage the phone to improve their communications.  The same is true for social media.

A social communications strategy is what you should develop, in my opinion, and it should contain the following components:

  1. The purposes and roles it plays within your parish communications.  This is basically 3-fold:
    1. Informational – communicating information out more efficiently and overcomes barriers to existing communications (i.e. heavy reliance on print).
    2. Evangelizing – opening the doors to your Church wide for the world to see (i.e. pictures, video, engaging in conversation, etc.).  As I like to put it . . . come and see.  And this should evangelize insiders and outsiders.
    3. Service – I’ve talked before about our online endeavors having a “customer service” component to them, and social plays a role in that.  A phone call compared to an email compared to a message through a Facebook page are all the same.  We’ve just provided more avenues for people to reach us.  Yes, I know the argument . . . “I don’t have time!”  Yes you do.  If I email you rather than call you there is no difference in the time you’ll spend serving me.
  2. Who is responsible and for what
    1. List out the things you do with your social stuff.  You should be posting daily, following up on comments or messages, search for what’s going on at your Diocese and the community around you.
    2. Decide who is going to do that.  And it can be a few people.  Don’t just think it’s the “web person” either.  Some web people are not good at being social and communicating with others.  If someone else is good at that part (upbeat, positive, creative, etc.) then let them handle it and partner with the web person for design needs.
    3. How are they going to do it?  This part is where you’ll find you actually have the time because this is about planning.  Create a calendar and theme your posts for each day.  Look at what’s coming up and plan your posts in advance.  You can schedule posts in advance but make sure you are on top of any changes that come up.  Choose news sources you will look at.  Set up a social management application such as Hootsuite.   Set up Google alerts to watch for news.
  3. What services are the best fit to use.  A lot of social services are great, but not every social service will benefit your parishioners and enhance your communications.  This is the “latest and greatest” pitfall many run into.  I love checking out new services under my own personal profiles and am always thinking of ways it might fit into our mission.  Not all do or not enough to really warrant investing the time and energy into them.  For example, there is a popular new little video service out there that everyone is raving about.  I’ve tried it and I see some benefit to the short video thing.  But there is another service we are already established on and is equally (if not more) popular with our audience that also offers the short video thing and therefore we’re using the one that is already working for us.
  4. How you will adapt to change.  If we have learned anything over the last few years . . . change isn’t going to stop and it’s going to come faster.  Our parishioners are doing things differently in regards to communicating.  Their expectations will continue to change.  And we need to take advantage of these new opportunities, but that means being open to change and being aware of it.  Get involved in online communities such as Catholic New Media & Tech of Google+ started by Domenic Bettinelli.  Watch for tech news which is everywhere now.  And watch and listen to what others are doing around you both in other parishes and your parishioners as well.  I had recently planned to focus on Twitter and Facebook for a week long event.  During the event a colleague was seeing people showing each other pictures on Instagram.  So we shifted and boosted our Instagram usage during the event and joined in showing them photos we caught.  It was a huge hit and continues to grow every day as we’re using it more and more to enhance our messages (see Come and See: Getting the Most Out of Instagram For Your Parish).

The point of all of this is that it’s time to put social media and networks in their proper place within our parishes.  They are a part of communications, and I guarantee that if you start strategizing how these social technologies serve within your communications you will find it far less intimidating and start getting the most benefit out of it all.

How do you view social media and networks in your parish?  Are they off by themselves or are they truly integrated into your communications?

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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • sonofbosco

    Excellent Excellent Excellent
    It’s what I’ve been trying to tell people for a while now! Now I can send them this awesome article! Thanks Brad!

    • Brad West

      Thank you and I hope it helps. Thank you for all the great work you do. You are an inspiration.

  • Sr. Susan Wolf, SND

    As you rightly point out, Brad, social media is a communications tool. This tool is already being accessed by many parishioners. Parishes can use it to connect to them and as you say educate, evangelize and serve. One of the big challenges we face is that communications are not that well planned, executed, or integrated in most parishes (at least not in my experience)–so suggesting that social media should be part of the overall communications plan does not give it much hope. While I agree that social media should be part of the communications plan, I also think that it can be part of any and every ministry plan.

    A good social media manager, who is tied into the ministries of the parish and the other communications vehicles i.e. bulletin and announcements can facilitate movement towards integrating communications and maybe someday even an overall communications plan–but that will take some doing.

    It is more likely that a parish will have some sort of ministry plan or plans i.e. social justice, evangelization, faith-formation, etc. than a communications plan–so I think we need to start there.

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