If you've ever driven through a wooded area at dusk, the phrase "deer in the headlights" is no simple expression.
One second the road is clear; the next, this huge, muscular animal is in your headlights. Too afraid to move. Too close to stop.
Many organizations--faith-based and otherwise--are the proverbial deer in the headlights. Social media is barreling down on you, and you don't have time to flee. The social media car, however, isn't veering.
In fact, most congregations have been struck and are at least dabbling with social media. But many remain troubled by basic questions: How do we control it? How do we manage it? Rather than starting with these two questions, which require complex answers, I recommend three different questions. They don't require complicated analysis. All three are answered with a Yes or No. But the answers reveal a wealth of information about where you are, and how to move forward.
So let's take a quick quiz: Ready? Go!
Question 1: Looking at your existing social media channels, are you following everyone (or as many as you are able) of your congregation? (Yes or No)
Why It Matters: Social media is just that--social. If you are not following your parishoners, you are using social media channels as a one-way street. You can send out information that you find important, but you aren't seeing information about your community that your members find important.
Question 2: Thinking about your online habits, are your church's social media channels integrated into your work (i.e., they stay on and you check them at the same rate you check e-mail)? (Yes or No)
Why It Matters: Social media works best when you respond. Just like e-mail. If you aren't monitoring and responding to the social media pages of those in your community, you are missing a critical opportunity to discover what people are saying about your community and learning what those in your community are learning and sharing with others.
Question 3: Do you regularly review and make adjustments in your social media habits based on your parishoners' responses and posts? (Yes or No)
Why It Matters: Think about real-time, face-to-face conversations. When you start talking with someone, you use your aural and visual senses to decide how the conversation will develop. If the person you're speaking with is using sober tones and looking down, you aren't likely to start talking about how wonderful everything is in your life. Instead, you listen and sympathize more. If someone is excited, you don't burden them with a heavy question. The same is true of social media. Sending out material that no one responds to and never changing suggests to those who follow you that you're tone deaf. Staying on top of people's reaction is critical to your success.
So how'd you do?
If you answered positively to all three questions, you're set and making full use of social media. No deer-in-the-headlights moments for you! Forge ahead!
Less than that, and there are some fundamental steps you need to take to ease your anxiety about social media. Start with the questions you can't answer affirmatively, try doing them for a couple months the way I've described, and then re-assess your feelings about social media.
Martin Davis is founder of Sacred Language Communications and specializes in helping congregations and faith-based organizations leverage social media to strengthen their communities through improved mutual understanding and discussion. Contact him at mdavis@sacredlanguagecommunications, or call him at 540-498-5994.