By Brandon Cox
The gospel did okay before Facebook, and will do just fine without it. But plenty of churches and organizations like mine have found Facebook to be an incredibly useful tool for getting the word out about Jesus and His people. We’ve devoted time, energy, and even financial resources to gathering a community of fans who read posts, click links, and pass things along to friends.
Now however, Facebook is changing in ways that are bringing the pain to brands of all kinds, including churches and Christian organizations. In short, they’re changing their algorithm so that the content posted by pages doesn’t get seen by many fans. (Hat tip to Jim Gray for the links.) You may have assumed that you see 100% of the updates from any page you’ve liked. It hasn’t been that way in years since Facebook’s normal layout shows people what they deem “top stories” as opposed to all the most recent updates from your friends.
Pages have been posting updates that only get seen by 30 to 40% of their fans, at best. More recently that percentage has dropped to 10 to 20%. And it’s eventually going to be 1 or 2%. One of our daily devotional posts used to see about 1,500 eyes and get about 20 to 30 likes. Now one of our devotionals will still get 20 likes but only see 500 eyes, and it’s about to get even worse. Why? It’s simple. Facebook wants brand managers to pay to sponsor or “boost” their posts to be seen by their fans.
Is that fair? It depends on whom you ask. At the end of the day, it’s all up to the people who own the business called Facebook, but most brand managers feel quite cheated right now because they paid Facebook for advertising to help them get fans and now are having to pay again to get their content in front of those fans. Our church has sponsored some content since we’ve been using it, but the posts we don’t sponsor just don’t travel as far as they used to.
While Nike and Nabisco figure out what to do from the perspective of corporate brands with large marketing budgets, my concern is with churches and nonprofits who don’t necessarily see a financial return on their investment (at least not directly from the sales of products or services). Here are my best solutions for churches to consider.
1. Don’t put all your eggs in Facebook’s basket.
This has always been true, but it’s even more true now. Don’t count on any third-party, freely offered service to drive all of your online promotional effort. Companies change policies all the time and change happens faster now than ever. Facebook has become wise to the fact that companies that make money pay that money to marketing firms who use Facebook’s free platform to earn more money. Facebook believes it’s time to get their cut. Who can blame them?
2. Diversify your social media presence.
For the moment I’m still convinced that Facebook is the most important platform for social media marketing, but that’s only because of the broad demographic of people that use it. People of every age, in every locality, of every political preference and marital status use it. And, it’s a place for every kind of content (text, link, photo, and video) and every genre of content (news, entertainment, personal posts, and pointless but funny things too). So if you want to reach every kind of person in your community, Facebook is still the primary place to start.
Having said that, it is definitely time for churches to think about using Instagram to reach people through imagery, especially younger people. Twitter has a pretty active community among media types and leaders, news producers, and professionals. LinkedIn is still heavily used by corporate workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders in business. Each offers a different medium for the posting and cross-posting of content. Don’t try to do it all, but do more than just one thing.
3. Give more power to the people.
What’s the point of having fans to begin with if the goal isn’t ultimately to empower those fans to carry your message further into their own respective friendships and relational circles. We tend to think about the reach of our church’s Facebook page, but there is significantly more influence available to the church when you realize how many members (whether dozens or thousands) are engaged in social media. Usually, their credibility is higher with their friends than your church’s brand anyway.
So take the time to educate people about how to share their faith and their church online. Having read about these most recent shifts in Facebook’s direction, I put together a post for our Facebook page that has been handy in empowering people with our message and tips on how to spread it.
We also circulate some basic how-to articles on using social media via a page on our website dedicated to the cause, such as our post on 10 Ways Anyone Can Use Social Media to Help Grace Hills (which you’re welcome to steal, edit, and use for your church too).
4. Spend money on Facebook advertising.
As agitated as you may be with Facebook’s decision-making process, I still believe that using Facebook’s highly-targeted advertising platform is way more cost effective and has a much higher return on investment than most traditional print advertising models. And, it’s relational. There’s tremendous power in seeing that my friend liked something that I might also like, and that’s how Facebook ads work. You can get as specific as advertising to single Moms, age 37, within a 5 mile radius of Bugtussle, Kentucky who have indicated an interest in hair growth stimulants for gerbils.
5. Use your Facebook page as a destination point.
Up to this point, I and other social media strategists in the kingdom have advised churches not to see their Facebook pages as destinations, but merely as the distribution point for their messaging. We’ve said that people are generally going to see your updates in their news feed, not on your page. While that’s still essentially true, there is now more value than in the past in sending people to your Facebook page, or to individual posts on your page’s timeline via their permalink. In our weekly church newsletter, I always post a link to our “” and ask people to share it when they’ve watched it. I also post all too-long-for-a-tweet updates on Facebook, then tweet the link to the post on Twitter.
6. Keep preaching, serving, loving, and sharing the gospel.
Do I believe social media has value in spreading the gospel? Um, yes. I wrote a book about it. But I say in that book that it’s not about the technology itself. Facebook is a recent invention. Media (truth, information) has been spreading socially (via relationships) since the garden of Eden. So keep doing what we’ve been doing for 2,000 years – sharing Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God.