The Future of Facebook, Congregations, and Meaningful Community

 

Does your congregation use Facebook?  If so, you’ll want to watch this Facebook Live discussion on the Future of Facebook, congregations, and meaningful community below.

  Make sure to subscribe to email updates so you can join the live conversation! Not on Facebook or just want recordings?  Subscribe to my Youtube Channel.

What did Zuck say to promp this conversation?   At the F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg shared a vision for the future of Facebook including an intensified focus privacy, encryption, ephemeral content, and connecting people with “meaningful community” via Facebook groups. The group focus is already rolling out. You’ve seen the changes if you updated your app.

As Facebook works to drive people into groups, we need to make sure your congregation has a Facebook strategy that takes advantage of this group focus and helps people successfully connect with your congregation offline, face-to-face.

Tracking these changes and discussing related strategies is something I’ll continue to discuss via social media and in my Leading Congregations Monthly trainings.  If you’re interested in this topic, make sure you subscribe to my email newsletter so you get notifcations for live chats, video releases (like the one above), and training topics.

This session was recorded May 10, 2019 in my Facebook group for Unitarian Universalist Leaders.

Here’s Zuckerberg’s full F8 talk:

Don’t let ANXIETY and UNCERTAINTY keep people from visiting your congregation

On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful do you think it is to visit a congregation for the first time?

What if it is a congregation you have lots of unanswered questions about?

Oh, that’d be about a 17!

It is my heartfelt opinion that people won’t visit a congregation until that can get their stress,  anxiety and uncertainty down to a manageable 7 to 8.

The average congregation has a community of potential visitors actively researching them online trying to do this.  They are trying to find enough information so they can visit with confidence and certainty!

Today people expect to be able to find answers to anything and everything online.  The more important the decision, the more information and confidence in the decision they want to have.  And when there is a lack of relevant information, people become anxious and uncertain.  More on that in my recent post 5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations.

People who are anxious and uncertain are less likely to visit congregations.   

You can help them eliminate the anxiety and uncertainty by actively doing one thing — ANSWER ALL THEIR QUESTIONS.  And you can do it online.

One of the students in my online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth asked:

“How do you know when you’ve provided enough information for your online visitors?  I want to answer their questions so they’ll visit, but I have no idea if I’ve done this.” 

This is easy once you understand that social media is designed for two way interaction.  You use social media to interact with your community of online visitors to share answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and to ask if they have additional questions.

Doing so, and the relationships developed though this interaction, will help people move from following your congregation online to participating onsite.

Try working through the following process.

1.  Answer All Questions

On your website share the information you think people need to know in order to decide your congregation is a match for them. Share everything they need to know in order to decide they are going to join.

That’s the new expectation, answers to ALL THE QUESTIONS people have before they visit.

Ask clergy, staff, dedicated members, longer time friends who aren’t members yet, and newcomers what questions need to be answered.

I recommend placing a summary of the top questions in a Frequently Asked Questions page.  First time visitors and newcomers love FAQ pages!  They are also easy to experiment with and to add content to without doing major website revisions.

2.  Share Your FAQ Page

As you are working to ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS,  share via social media that you are working on this.  You can post to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels that you are working on this and include a link to your FAQ page.

For people who have questions, this gives them the cue to seek out answers.   And most important, use social media to ask your community of online visitors what’s missing.  That’s the next step.

3.  Ask What’s Missing

As you are sharing your FAQ page and expressing your attempt to continually ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS,  ask people what’s missing.  Ask if they have questions.  Ask people what they would add.

You can even include a simple form on your FAQ page inviting people to submit their remaining questions.  You can include an optional name and email field.

If someone submits a question and includes their name and email,  make sure to email them with the answer, or thank them and tell them you’ll have the answer for them shortly.   Also make sure to keep an eye out for questions via social media comments and replies.

Example:

“This is a special invitation for all of our online friends and newcomers!  We’re working on updating our visitor FAQ page.  We know people like to get oriented online before visiting for the first time. We want to make sure we’re answering all your questions and making it easy to connect with our community.  Can you take a look at our FAQ and let us know if you have additional questions?  What do you need to know or affirm in order to move from following online to joining us onsite?  You can submit your questions via the form on our FAQ page, comment here, or message me through our Facebook page.  Thanks for your help!  ~ First Name, role in congregation.” 

4. Invite to Newcomer Event

After a round of sharing your FAQ page and answering peoples questions,  invite online visitors to a specific event for newcomers. Make it clear that this is the perfect time for you to come if you’ve been waiting to visit.

Make it clear you’ll welcome them,  there will be snacks, coffee, key staff and leaders will orient them to the congregation,  additional questions will be answered, etc…

In your FAQ you might include a question “When is the best time to visit for the first time?” and say that you’re always welcome but your newcomer event on UPCOMING DATE (with link to details) is the ideal time and explain why.

Of course, you need to keep that event information and date updated, but your visitors will appreciate the clarity.  Here are answers to all the questions and this is the date I should visit for the first time.

5. Pay Attention at Newcomer Event

At your newcomer event, pay close attention to how comfortable people are and the questions they have.  Use your learning to ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS you can online.

As you you work through these steps multiple times — maybe quarterly — you should see more people coming to your newcomer events with greater comfort and confidence.

In fact, if you’re rocking this process,  people will be coming with a sense that they already know people.  You can use video, photos, and podcasts to clearly communicate who you are, what your congregation is like, and to connect with people before they ever step foot onsite. I share lots of strategies for doing this in my course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.

Over time these events will be increasingly focused on affirming what has already learned online and helping people quickly make connections and form friendships in the congregation.

That’s it!

Proactively answer all questions, share the answers, use social media to actively engage with and support your online visitors, and then invite them to join you.

I’m always looking for great examples of newcomer events and ways to help visitors build friendships.  What have you done that’s worked well?  Share your success story in a comment.

5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations

This article is cross-posted on my blog for congregational leaders and is excerpted from my online video course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.

With approximately seven-in-ten Americans now using at least one social media site (Pew Internet), faith leaders can’t afford to ignore the impacts of digital culture.

Here are five ways social media is changing the process of connecting with and joining congregations.

 1. Visitors do extensive research online

People research congregations and their faith traditions extensively online.

In our digitally oriented culture, if you are going to buy or choose something, or make an important life decision,  you do your homework.

You do a Google or other search. You watch videos, read reviews, and do everything you can to educate yourself so you can make a well-informed decision. People interested in a congregation default to a similar process.

 2. Before visiting, people participate remotely

After their initial research, many people choose to follow the congregation for a time on social media.

Observing and participating remotely through Facebook, Twitter, audio podcasts, and other channels helps to determine if the congregation is a match for them.

Whether it takes weeks, months, or a year, at some point (hopefully) they will learn and experience enough to say, “YES! This is the congregation for me. I belong here.”

3. A higher degree of certainty is required to initiate an onsite visit

This calls us to use social media for more than an outreach.  We need to use it to meet people where they are — online — and to proactively help them with their process.

If we want people to visit,  they need access to information, have questions answered, and receive some affirmation that they are going to fit in.

Once someone is confident that the congregation is likely to be a great match,  then they’ll visit.

4.  High-stakes visits verify the match

After weeks, months, or a year of interacting with a congregation online, it is a big deal to visit onsite and see if people like them.  Will they?  Won’t they?

This isn’t a regular “let me check this place out” visit.  This is the moment of transition from ONLINE participation to ONSITE participation with very high hopes and expectations.

This sort of visitor needs affirmation and to connect with others almost immediately.

5. Visitors need immediate affirmation and connection

How long do you think a visitor will hang around waiting to be affirmed and connect with the community before they give up and leave?

In my trainings, I tell congregational leaders to play it safe and assume they need to offer this affirmation during the first visit.   Because if you don’t, it may very well be the only visit.

Now everyone’s different and you may have more time, but not much more.  It is essential to affirm visitors quickly and offer clear next steps for connecting with your community.

There are many ways we can use social media and online communications to offer this affirmation and start the connecting process before the visit.  We can start the process online.

These changes create a wide range of challenges and opportunities for congregations.  In my next post, I’ll share some of the ways congregations can start to respond.

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Related Training

Interested in this topic? My new course Church Social Media and Membership Growth is a 3-hour on-demand training sharing the top strategies from my day-long seminars.

Readers of this site can enroll for $10 now through March 15th. That includes life-time access and a 30-day money back guarantee.  Just use the links on this post to get the full discount.        

Peter’s video on “Welcoming Newcomers” with song by Joe Uveges!

One of the highlights of my years of  guest speaking at Unitarian Universalist congregations happened October 5th, 2014! I was leading the service at High Plains Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado, Springs speaking  on “Friendship in the Digital Age.”  This was during a service after a weekend training on UU Social Media and Growth.  Following my message for all ages, the amazing UU musician Joe Uveges improvised a song reinforcing my message.  You can watch both the message and performance in the following video.  We joked about going on tour together — anyone up for a UU Growth-a-palooza and Sing Along conference?   Enjoy 😉

Note that the message for all ages was about how hard it is to come in to a congregation as a newcomer. This is a very funny message on how to introduce yourself to newcomers.  In it I use a paper smiley like face with googly eyes but with an awkward expression, no smile — call it an anxiety face.

It has eyes that can move around which surprises people. I often ask the kids what the persons name is and this time the name offered was Gumbo.  I did say I didn’t think we should call all our visitors Gumbo, but that’s the name in the song.

Connect with Joe Uveges online:
http://www.joeuveges.com/
https://www.facebook.com/JoeUvegesMusic

#UUsGetSocial workshop schedule and recording

UPDATE:  You may access resources and recordings here.

I’m excited to announce that the four-part #UUsGetSocial workshop series at the UUA’s General Assembly conference is going to be video taped. It will not be live streamed.

If you’re going to General Assembly, I hope you’ll join us. You may find the full program book online here. If you’re going to be at GA and have a smart phone or tablet, make sure to get the official UUA GA event app.

Workshop Schedule

204 #UUsGetSocial: How Congregations Can Deepen Engagement Online
Thursday 10:15 am EST
RICC Ballroom BC

260 #UUsGetSocial: Updating Your Web Presence: Tools and Tips
Thursday 4:00pm EST
RICC Ballroom BC

306 #UUsGetSocial: Reaching “Nones,” Activists, and Spiritual Seekers
Friday 10:15 am EST
RICC Ballroom BC

408 #UUsGetSocial: Digging Into Facebook, Twitter and Video-Making/Sharing
Saturday 10:15 am EST
RICC Ballroom BC

The Hashtag

If you are on Facebook or Twitter, you can search for the tag #UUAGA to pull up all associated tagged posts and Tweets.  Search for #UUsGetSocial, click these links to give it a try:

#UUsGetSocial on Facebook
#UUsGetSocial on Twitter

Connect at GA!

I’ll be at General Assembly all week, including during ministry days, so make sure to connect.   Besides helping to lead this series, I’m going to be talking with clergy colleagues about a new series of social media learning opportunities specifically for parish ministers on making your public ministry more public.  Yes, if you are a professional minister being paid to do public ministry,  I think it is critical that you have a strong online identity — YOU, not just your congregation.  Oh yes, I’m talking about using clergy personal branding as a catalyst for Unitarian Universalist growth.

Look for our Leading Congregations ad in the program book. It shares contact information for contacting  me and Amy at General Assembly, plus an invitation to subscribe to our newsletter.  I’ll be sharing new social media educational offerings and resources via the newsletter following GA.  Don’t miss out!  Some offerings are going to have limited participation, and I’m going to share invitations with subscribers of our newsletter first.

Hope to see you at GA!
Peter Bowden

3-day UU Social Media intensive next week!

Peter and daughter enjoying porch/rocking chairs at 2011 Star Island Lifespan RE Week


Friends, just received these details for the three-day option we’ve created for those who want to attend the mid-week portion of my social media track next week.  A few people still trying to join us for this  Tue — Thur option  featuring sessions on Facebook, Twitter, and online video for UU congregations. The following details are from email sent out this morning by the conference organizers. Hope you can join us!  -Peter

Can’t make our full conference?
Join us for a mid-week 3-day UU Social Media intensive!

Tuesday, July 17 – Thursday, July 19
Peter Bowden, leader of our week-long social media track, has adapted his program to allow for a Tues to Thurs option—featuring sessions on Facebook, Twitter, and online video.
Interested? Register ASAP!
LRE Registration Fee: $30/day
Room/board charged as personal retreat.
For pricing, details, and to register, visit:
starisland.org/overnight/personalretreats


Interested in attending other days?
We’re working to maximize participation and fill our remaining open seats! Let us know.

The following is the full program description:

Social Media for Ministry & Outreach
Social media is fundamentally changing how people form relationships, consume information and make important life decisions. This has significant implications for congregations. For our ministry to thrive in the 21st Century, we must understand these changes and learn to use the communication tools of our time with skill and integrity. With a focus on ministry and outreach, we will explore major social networking tools including blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube (video). After rave reviews last year, we are bringing Peter back to lead another round of his social media intensive for congregational leaders. This year will include even more material on integrating video into our ministry with all ages!