Facebook’s New Policies and Your Church

Since the very beginning of Facebook, any change to the site has caused many of it's hundreds of millions of users to get upset. Why do I have to have two profile pictures now? What's with the new layout? Why can't I just go back to the glory days of Facebook, you know 4 years ago before my mom got on here?

In spite of these objections, Facebook continued to grow and has more than a billion users as of last month. That means that roughly 1 in 7 humans has and uses a Facebook account. Recently, you may have noticed a subtle difference in your Newsfeed. Whether you realize it or not, you aren't seeing everything that your friends are posting. Alongside that, if you a a keen observer, you have seen the emergence of posts marked “Sponsored”. This is due to Facebook's new scheme to make money off of you. The new system has been well documented here and here. In short your post are only reaching about 15-20% of your people. Now as a person sharing photos of your cat, it's no big deal if the awkward kid from your college dorm doesn't see it.

But if you are a church or any other ministry that uses Facebook to communicate to your people, this is a game changer.

No longer can people become a fan of your churches page and be guaranteed to receive prayer updates, scheduling changes, and adjustments to Wednesday night's dinner menu. Where Facebook was previously a fantastic way of communicating with your Generation-X and Millenials, now you are only reaching 15-20% of your people. Unless you pay Facebook a hefty fee.

So how can you adjust to this? What are some ways to help maintain your churches presence in social media with your people.

1. Make your churches page into a “Group” page not a “Fan” page. Fan pages are used by people who “like” your church's page. Fan pages are easy to set up and run; they are easy for people to select into by “liking” the page. Groups are a little bit more cumbersome and difficult to run. Typically people have to find the group and ask to join it. Then an administrator must grant them access. However once joined, the group shows up in the persons sidebar (right side of your Facebook homepage) with a small number indicating the amount of activity within the group that they have missed. It also allows you as an administrator to see how many members of the group have seen any given post. This allows you to know what percentage of your people have reached with your message.

2. Heat matters. For whatever reason, things that more people are liking/commenting on/sharring have a higher likelyhood of showing up in other peoples newsfeed. That's why pictures of a political candidate with the caption, “Like if you think this guy won the debate” show up in your news feed all the time. It has 236,982 likes and more comments than that. Encourage your people to “like” and “share” big anouncements and important things.

3. Consider adding a social media budget to your churches financial picture. You have a line item for mailing things out, right? Why not have a “social media” fund, so in the case of a big outreach event or an important announcement, you can pay Facebook to sponsor the post. It's inconvenient. It's not what Facebook used to be. But it is the way things work now. If you have/want ministry involving people under the age of 40, they still use Facebook. Daily.

4. Don't get too comfortable with the way social media works. It will change. Facebook used to be the perfect mix. Tons of users, easy to get your messages out. Now as that is changing and other venues are gaining users, it may be tempting to jump ship to Twitter. Just wait. Twitter already has “Promoted Tweets” and is a company that wants to make money. For better or worse social media is a moving target. For 50 years churches could print up a newsletter and mail it out; perfectly reaching everyone on the list. Social media is not the mail. It is not static. It is changing and evolving. By the time you read this, something in this post will be outdated.

Facebook's policies have changed and there is no longer any free lunch to be had. But really, there never was. Facebook has been and will continue to be a tool to reach people in your church and communicate with them, but it is not the ultimate thing. At the end of the day, social media is no replacement for good, old fashioned shepherding. You know the kind with elders sitting down over a meal to know, feed, lead, and protect the sheep. However you face the evolving world of social media, never leave behind the Biblical mandate to disciple people “in real life”.

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About futonreformer

I am a pastor in the PCA serving in Myrtle Beach, SC. I am a sixth generation Tampa native and I love the Rays and Bucs!

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