Social Media for Social Ministry

Late last week, I got the opportunity to demonstrate to my supervising Pastor some of the work that I’ve done to establish Christ Lutheran’s social media presence.

When I started my internship, I inherited a Facebook page that had been started by one of the previous interns.  In the past nine months, I’ve been intentional about posting things several times a week, sometimes utilizing a posting schedule to coordinate posting things every day or even several times a day.  While it’s still all in my head, I’ve developed a sort of social media strategy for our congregation in the mountains of Western Maryland.  I’ve brought the page from about 80 likes to over 130.  Our post reach ranges anywhere from 30 to 3000, with our engagement rate averaging around 8% of the post-reach.  Not bad from the limited research I’ve been able to do into understanding the metrics of marketing.

One of the things I specifically highlighted as I was showing my work was how I had paid to boost posts about our monthly free community meals, and how that had resulted in higher than usual engagement from people all throughout the community with no direct connection to our congregation.  A question of audience was brought up: “How many people who might need a free meal are actually on Facebook?”

I countered that he would probably be surprised how many of even our poorest brothers and sisters find time and opportunity to surf the web.

Now here’s the thing, gang, some of you will probably suggest I’m naive, but I’d also like to suggest that maybe I’m not.  I know that there are certainly hundreds of millions of people who have never even touched a device that would allow them to access the internet.  But at the same time, I am always amazed by the people I meet living in various stages and kinds of poverty who DO have access to the internet, even if it’s just an old iPod connected to free wifi at a public place.

And so, I’m inclined to believe that social media CAN be effective as part of an outreach strategy for those living in poverty.

Let’s think about the accessibility of some of the other most common methods of advertising.  The only television advertising most churches can afford is cable access, which requires your audience to have cable TV, a definite luxury.  Churches might be able to afford a decent amount of radio advertising, but, a radio advertising salesperson will tell you the two biggest times people listen to a radio is in the car or at work, times that may not be options for those living in poverty.  Financially, printed newspaper advertising might be the most accessible, but one has to consider that it unfortunately is a dying medium, and more and more people are seeing it as a luxury that isn’t worth even the $.50 or so it costs to buy a paper.

Meanwhile, an internet capable tablet costs $40-$50 at Walmart and wifi is free at millions of businesses and public places all across the country.  And honestly, for those living in situational poverty due to some sort of financial loss, are likely to hold onto something like a smartphone, a laptop, an iPod or something, because they see the internet as a lifeline.  And ignoring all of that, nearly every public library now has computers and internet access, with hardly a cost other than maybe a few bucks to get your library card.

Internet might be seen as a luxury by those who didn’t grow up with it, but more and more people see it as a necessity.  And to assume that those living in poverty are doing without it could be a major act of naïveté.

As I shared my ideas with friend and social media guru, Julie Stecker, Director of Communications for the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA, she saw a lot of truth in what I was thinking about.

She went even further saying that those who live in poverty RELY on social networking to find food, jobs, and housing.  “Before facebook, their networks relied on being in person, but social media means their networks can be way more widespread and easier to get in touch with.”

We’ve seen this in play when we advertise our food basket giveaways during Christmas and Easter; 25-35 baskets of food are usually all spoken for in less than a day as people quickly share the information with friends, neighbors, and others in need.  More and more, that sort of communication is taking place via Facebook or other forms of social media.

If the church can establish itself as a “native” of the social media landscape, that means something like a simple post about a monthly free community meal can take flight far beyond anything we might have been able to share on our own without facebook.  I think a portion of our “audience,” of our mission field IS on the internet and facebook, and if we’re finding ways to help feed folks who might otherwise not have had a good meal that day, it sounds like we’re on the right track.

…Just some food for thought for those considering internet and social media as a tool for their ministry.

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Posted on June 2, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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