The State of Social Media, Part I

Editor's Note: Drew Goodmanson, co-founder and pastor of San Diego's Kaleo Church and a church web consultant, conducted a research project earlier this year on the state of social media for churches. In Part 1, Drew explains the research project, the scope of the findings, and the first of three discoveries that church leaders, business administrators, and pastors should note. In Part 2, Drew shares more thoughts on the second and third discoveries made from this year's research.

The social nature of media will continue to converge in ways we cannot imagine during the next five years. As church leaders, it is important to understand the state of social networking, and the directions of these participatory technologies. These tools may promise significant benefits to churches, who seek to build community, mobilize congregations, and offer greater interaction with unbelievers. And an understanding today leads to better action today and better planning for tomorrow.

To gain a full understanding, though, it's critical that church leaders learn both the benefits and challenges of social media sites. Earlier this year, Monk Development set out to discover some answers to these questions through a "state of social media" research project, surveying hundreds of church leaders about the social media sites they're using, what features and functions their church members seek, and what benefits and challenges they face using open source solutions or "church-only" ones.

We first shared the results of this research in a webinar entitled, "Church, Christians, and Social Networking" (you can watch an archived recording of the webinar). I'm the founder of Monk Development, a web consulting firm, and I'm also co-founder and pastor of Kaleo Church in San Diego. Cynthia Ware, who has two decades of pastoral ministry experience and a master's degree in new media, helped me present. She helps Christian leaders use their online presence to enrich and expand their ministry reach, and she actively speaks and writes on the subject.

Our work provided insights on three areas where social networking intersects with social media: outreach, discipleship, and community. While we can't predict the future impact of social media, Cynthia quoted 1 Chronicles during our webinar, focusing on the passage where the "men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do." Hopefully this information helps your church in that process.

Discovery No. 1: Facebook? Yes. But why?

In the research, 43 percent of church technology leaders said participation in social networking sites is one of the most effective online strategies for a church to generally use.

We reviewed the web analytics for more than 50 churches and found that 6 percent of all website visitors come from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. By far, Facebook is used most among all social media sites by churches. At last count, Facebook now boasts 350 million members; if it were a country, this would make it third-largest in the world, ahead of the United States.

When church technology leaders were asked about the social networking sites their church used, they ranked the options as follows:

1. Facebook

2. Twitter

3. Private Member Portal

4. Google Groups

5. MySpace

But beyond sheer size and popularity, it seems Facebook may offer churches a chance to draw a more engaged site visitor. People who visit a church website via Facebook view more pages (4 pages), than those who come as direct traffic (3 pages). These visitors also spend more time on a church's site (2 1/2 minutes) than direct visitors (2 minutes).

A few churches use Facebook as a central place of outreach and to gather new people.

One of these churches was started by Shaun King, pastor of a church plant in Atlanta. Operating on a small startup budget, the plant team launched as Courageous Church, and its leaders chose Facebook as their planting shovel. Armed with little more than a desire to get the word out, Shaun and his team used Facebook as the only advertising medium for starting the church. On opening weekend, 700 people showed up in downtown Atlanta. More than half of those who attended found out about the church's launch through their Facebook pages.

So successful was the Facebook strategy and campaign that Shaun sees little need to use anything else.

"We consider Facebook ads a lot more affordable than snail mail, and we love both saving the money a mass mail would cost us plus going green," he says. "We don't do Google Adwords, mail, TV, or radio. Plus, the very people we'd like to reach are on Facebook, so we meet them there."

"One of our most recent successes involved an experiment," Shaun adds. "Instead of the usual one-week campaign, we tried what we call a targeted blast. It's $500, but every single person who logs onto Facebook in Atlanta gets the ad on a Saturday, of course, the day most people log onto Facebook for fun—and the day just preceding Sunday services."

Beyond Facebook

Facebook is the 900-pound gorilla in the social media space. When we asked those people who are responsible for setting the web strategy and budget, 60 percent say they plan to invest more of their energy and resources into Facebook strategies.

In our conversations with churches, most say they use Facebook as a tool for church communication to existing members.

However, several church leaders say they do not plan to use Facebook and other secular resources because of a lack of privacy, a loss of control over data, and the inability to ensure inappropriate content is not associated with the church or its members.

One Christian alternative that seeks to target churches is tangle (formerly GodTube). Brian Buchek, tangle's director of business development, says he believes tangle's ability to screen all content posted is a value-add that many churches and ministries seek.

"We see ourselves as a hybrid model between a private church community site and Facebook," Brian says. "In addition to people being able to connect with others at their church, we connect people across churches everywhere."

Next week: "The State of Social Media, Part 2," looks at the ways churches are using social networking sites for connection and community efforts.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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