Church of the Highlands’s Social Media :: An Interview

katie_parker_700_307_80I met Katie Vogel last year when I started to hear God calling me to vocational ministry. Since day one of knowing Katie I’ve truly admired her wisdom and heart for ministry, as well as her spiritual walk. 

Today I’m so excited to share her words on my website. I had the opportunity to meet with Katie on a beautiful Thursday afternoon at Church of the Highlands Grants Mill campus. In this interview, I was able to ask about her personal experiences with social media, her audience’s experiences, and her hopes for the church’s social media in the future.

What would people be surprised about what you do?

People don’t think that social media is time intensive. Sometimes people ask me how I fit social media into 40 hours/week. There’s a lot more that goes into it than what meets the eye, so I think people would be surprised to see how much work it is to keep up with engagement and to have a strong presence. It takes a lot of intentionality and the person behind the platform being present in order for the church to have a strong presence on social media.

What surprised you most about your job?

I was worried that I would get disconnected from people because [doing social media] you’re staring at a computer screen instead of doing ministry face-to-face, but I find myself burdened for their prayer requests and praying for them personally. I am grateful for not losing the sensitivity to people.

Also, like I said before, the time intensity and how long this job takes was surprising, as well as what can happen when you neglect it for even a day. Things can spiral out of control really fast, so you want to take really good care of your platforms.

How do you see God working through social media at Highlands?

IMG_4728“Sharing” on social media is a huge part of what God’s doing at Church of the Highlands. We have tens of thousands of users sharing stories every month, so the Gospel message being spread is what’s happening on our social media. Also, on the home front, there’s just people being encouraged and faiths being grown and testimonies being shared that spur on people’s faith. You’ll see somebody have a prayer request and another user jump on and say, “I’m standing with you and believing with you for an answer in this.” I think it builds an atmosphere of unity and encouragement.

How has your job helped you grow in your spiritual walk?

It’s challenged me to not be defensive and to remember that the negative people are people. They’re not just trolls, they’ve most likely been hurt by something. The Lord has challenged me to actively love all people, not just the ones that are friendly and who are ministering on the page as well. He’s working on me in that recently. I’ve realized that the negativity is most likely birthed out of a place of pain unless they truly are just there to be a troll. Often times people will lash out of a place of pain. I’ve learned that if I’m just ignoring them and deleting them and not engaging them, I’m not doing my part.

How do you envision this part of your ministry growing and changing in the next few years?

Right now it’s just one person, and I see it becoming more of a team approach. I see us teaching the voice with which we speak and having people be able to post and like and respond more than just me. Who knows what we can do? We’re just really open to whatever the Lord wants to do.

I only get overwhelmed during big events. The rest of the time, I feel like I have enough time to do what I want to do in terms of keeping the socials afloat. I don’t have that much time to think ahead, so I think having another person on our team and being able to divide and conquer would leave more time to brainstorm and to plan ahead for series and things like that. When it comes to ideas, I’m the one that’s thinking and doing, but if I ran an idea by you, you would be able to add to it and make it that much better. I’m hoping the team will grow because we’ll be able to do more.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Staying fresh and having new ideas is the hardest part of my job. I think it’s easy to get yourself in a rut with social media. You find something that works and you just always do that. Finding ways to break the mold and do something new and different is a challenge, but it’s definitely not impossible. When you have a lot to do and you need to keep things going, it’s easy to choose four kinds of posts that really rock and stick with those. That’s where I found myself even a few weeks ago, so I met with creative people all throughout the church. We sat down and said, “the sky is the limit with ideas, let’s just do this” and we were able to come up with some great behind-the-scenes ideas for Periscope and shake everything up a little bit and have more fun.

What is the most rewarding?

What’s awesome about social media “marketing” in the church is that we have the opportunity to encourage people all day long. That is such a rare job and it’s amazing that someone would pay me for this. I get to pray for people and encourage them and make them laugh and inspire them and that is the coolest thing to me. It’s really rewarding to sit down and encourage people who are reaching out, perhaps because they have no other outlet.

How do you receive feedback from your community?

We use Sprout SIMG_4727ocial to receive it. We can see how our posts did through the reports section. I read everything that ever gets posted on our pages and Sprout helps me do that. I love seeing our people respond, and it definitely motivates me to create posts that draw out more response. The people of Highlands love to rally around a good cause, so it’s really fun to be apart of that and see what inspires and moves them.

What common mistakes have you seen in ministry marketing?

I think people still assume that we are living in a billboard world – a world that is receptive to the kind of messages you see on billboards – but the world is looking for a social aspect to all marketing and otherwise they’re turning their brains off. If you’re not adding a social aspect to your social media and you’re just allowing it to be a billboard – a place where you post a graphic and just leave it there – then no one cares and no one wants to engage with you. I think that’s what most church social media is missing. People connect with people. They want Instagram photos to be windows to a world that they can look into and be apart of and interact with. Too often, things become way heavy on the graphics side and it’s not creating a window into any environment or any person’s life. It keeps everyone at surface level and tells the happenings of the church, which you would know if you drove by the building and saw it on the sign outside.

What are your thoughts about Periscope? (i.e. has it been influential for your ministry and, if so, how?)

We are just getting started with Periscope and are realizing more and more that people love behind-the-scenes stuff. Periscope is something you have to be careful with, especially with church, because everything truly is live and anything can happen. It’s important to know the environment in which you are scoping and being aware that anyone could come by and say anything and it’s live and it’s heard. It’s important that you have a good bearing on what’s going on around you. You have your location services on because that’s how you get the most interaction and people in your area are watching, but they might not know Jesus. You’re totally making yourself vulnerable to people that hate God. In that comes the responsibility of being a very on-top-of-it social media manager and blocking people immediately. You have to have that conversation with your leadership and see if it’s a risk you’re willing to take.

I think Periscope is the ultimate social media because it’s livestream. How much more social can you get? If we can find a way to do it well and we aren’t afraid of having to be careful, we can do something with it.

I think it’s more interesting to people on the inside of the organization than on the outside. That’s one of the reasons that the behind-the-scenes aspect works so well; it’s your home team that’s watching. It’s more taking care of your home community than the outside on Periscope. Highlands loves seeing our team livestream and it makes them feel apart of it, which they are. Including them in those moments is a lot of fun.

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Loving People Through Marketing

I’ll never forget the day I sat down and shadowed the Social Media Coordinator at Church of the Highlands.

I went as an inquiry to figure out what her job looked like and to get a feel for if it was something that I wanted to pursue as a career, but she gave me so much more insight and more value in the conversation I had with her than a list of facts about a job.

To sum up my experience, she gave me a different perspective for what the heart of social media for a church or ministry is supposed to look like.

It wasn’t so much about the importance of advertising the events on time, or making sure that everything was done correctly, that followers were increasing at a certain speed, or posts were going up a certain amount of times per week; her heart was focused on something more eternal: making sure that she was loving people online.

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As she was telling me this, I kept thinking how I had never thought of it that way. I’ve always thought of it just as a “social media platform,” a space to advertise information. To gain a new perspective on the way God can move through something that the world has been so focused on the past few years and to realize the opportunity to speak to all the people that we want to tell about ministry in the place they already are was a game changer for me.

The fact that we can delve into that and comment on or like what’s happening in our community’s day-to-day is an opportunity that, if we’re not careful, we will miss out on.

Post encouragement to your community. Share with them truth in the middle of their week. Comment on a picture showing a rare off-day with their beautiful family. Let them know you’re thinking about and praying for them as they mourn the loss of a loved one. Like their status about getting the job they’ve been praying for.

Here’s a great example of a ministry that posts encouragement for their community on Instagram:

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No matter if you’re a big church or a small church, a big ministry or a small ministry, it means something to people. When you reach out and let them know that you’re living and loving alongside them as a community, you begin to mean something more to them than a place they go on Sunday mornings.

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So what does all of this look like when you’re advertising an event or wanting them to know what’s going on with a certain part of your ministry?

Enter storytelling.

It looks like making people that have already experienced these events and parts of your ministry feel included and important to the purpose of what you’re advertising in your space. Whether it’s a women’s conference at your church or upcoming sign-ups for a service opportunity, utilize the stories that God has given you through people in your church. Let them tell how God moved them and grew them through the experiences they had. Not only does this give you an opportunity to encourage those people and make them feel great about what’s going on in their life and letting them share with people through such a huge platform in a big way, you’re also going to get to show people who may not have experienced those things yet, or who may be on the edge of deciding to sign up or dive in to that part of your ministry, a glimpse of how their life could be changed for better.

Maybe someone is holding on to excuses that the enemy is putting in their mind of why they shouldn’t go to a Bible study this week. This may allow them to see how God changed a person who struggled with the same excuses and give them the extra push to sign up.

What better marketing is there than showing what God’s already done in someone else’s life to allow others to see what could be done in their lives, too? Don’t be afraid to ask people their stories. More times than not, people love to tell what joyful things they have going on in their lives and to have the opportunity to share it.

Here’s an example of one Church of the Highlands posted on Facebook recently:

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Use the stories God’s written in your church and ministry. Your people have stories to tell and they’re all beautiful. Use them to grow God’s kingdom, even if it looks like advertising for a women’s conference or a service opportunity. God gives people stories to be shared and it’s a huge opportunity for the Church to use them to make people’s visions clearer of what God can do in them and to offer hope.

I hope this post helps your vision of what loving people through marketing looks like! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the box below!

Learning Your Audience

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As marketers, the most essential step for knowing how to reach our audience is to know them. As ministers, we need to know our congregation and community in order to connect with them on a deep level.

As ministry marketers, we have the opportunity to love people through our words and our actions in advertising and conversing about our ministry that God has given us to do. You may wince at the previous sentence, being that “love” and “advertising” sound contradictory and odd in the same flow of words. And that’s fair, but that’s the great thing about this whole ‘marketing in ministry’ thing; we are able to show the love of God in spreading the word about what He’s doing through our church or organization (& no worries, we’ll dive deeper into this love-and-marketing pool soon, so stay tuned).

Just like a friend or a family member, your audience/community needs to be known to be loved well. To connect with people most effectively, we must know what grabs their attention, what their normal week day looks like, what stage of life they’re in, and what they’re passionate about. Think about the questions you may ask someone to get better acquainted with who they are, and ask those of the people you’re marketing to.

Below are four main aspects of your people you should know to connect and market to them well:

1. Who are they?

When you send out a post on social media, who is seeing it? Is it a community of college kids who take interest in movies and concerts? Is it a group of young parents who have young families? Find out their demographics: their age, their family position, their life stage, their career, their location, etc. Get a general idea for who you’re talking to so you can communicate with them more effectively and love them better.

2. What’s going on in their lives?

Once you know the basic information about who you’re marketing to, dive deeper and find out what’s going on in their day-to-day lives. The smaller your organization or church is, the easier it will be to connect with more people on this level, but any size ministry can do this in some capacity. If you’re a businessperson, you may know these as ‘touchpoints.’

Is there a couple that is celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary? Is there a family member that is sick? Is someone’s life being changed through an event going on at your church? Is there a person in your community online that is celebrating joy in the little things through a picture of coffee in their cozy living room?

The point here is that we can connect with our people through big and small ways. Reaching out and making people feel loved can be done through something as simple as a short comment or a like on a picture. Show your community that you’re following along with and care about what’s going on in their ordinary days.

3. What times of day are they engaging socially online?

Times of online engagement are important because we want to be intentional about communicating most effectively to our communities. We don’t want to send out a message of encouragement or important information about an upcoming event when the people that we want to see it aren’t online.

Because of the way Facebook works in algorithms and reach, timing is essential to our social media plans. In addition, the lifespan of a tweet on Twitter is a matter of seconds. We must search for the most appropriate times to post our content so it’s seen by the largest amount of our followers as possible.

These times can be found through a number of ways (and we’ll explore these later), but the easiest way for Facebook is through Insights.

4. What do they love to see on social media?

From shadowing a social media coordinator at my home church and doing social media for a church myself, I’ve learned a few things about what people love to see on social media. And that’s people. And stories about people.

An example of this may look like taking a picture of one of your church members who is on the serve team and telling the story of how God has worked in his or her life through that opportunity to advertise for your serve team meeting that week. This would give that member an opportunity to tell their story about what God’s doing in them and the church the opportunity to show the social media world real-life change through real-life people. Stories engage people and connect with them on a deeper level, especially if it’s a story they relate to.

There are other things your community will love to see on your social media in addition to stories. There are two main ways that you can determine what these are, and those are trial-and-error and to simply ask them.

The community at Redstone Church where I intern loves for us to post our #SundaySetList, which is a list of the songs sang at church that Sunday, so they can listen at home. What does your community love to see? Is it weekly encouragement? Is it #MeetTheTeam where you post about a different member of your serve team each week?

Don’t be afraid to try new things and to ask your congregation what they like about what you’re already doing and what they’d like to see more of!

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I hope this post has given you a better idea of how to learn your audience. For more tips on ministry marketing, stay tuned! Until then, feel free to write below with any comments and questions!