Churches Should Look to Cast A Larger Social Media Net

Churches Should Look to Cast A Larger Social Media Net

Just putting a video stream out into the wild, can add up to where an initiative may never reach its potential and may even fail completely.

Even among most progressive church organizations, run by some of the most talented individuals, technical vision and adoption of powerful, new social media streaming channels can be slow and awkward.

Without vision, technology is merely a solution, looking for a problem.

Having recently consulted a church that had approached me, they had expressed a sincere desire to improve their online campus experience. Meeting initially with senior leadership, the mandate was clear: We want to expand our online influence, and reach more people!

In return, I offered the assurance that "this would be easy," and that we should be up and running quickly, perhaps in a few days.

My approach is to expand their streaming workflow by leveraging cloud hosted resources, with the goal of continuing to serve media through their existing platform (church website), while at the same time providing streaming services to major social media platforms.

I wasn't too worried, because this team "knows what they're doing." Their current video encoding technology was acceptable, they maintain excellent production quality, and are very tech savvy.

What could possibly not work?

My expectation was that a very successful, progressive, and relevant organization, who are literally attracting thousands of people each week, would have no problem expanding their stream to social media.

With incredible leadership, young talent, and a keen perspective on relevance, why wouldn't they run with this?

The Vision Must Drive the Technology

As a technologist, the task of streaming to multiple networks is not overly difficult. What I didn't realize is that ministry vision must always drive technical innovation.

Without vision, technology is merely a solution, looking for a problem. In this case, the senior leadership very definitively expressed a vision, while the facilitating staff are still a little behind, yet to get onboard.

There I stood, with a rock-solid technology solution, in-hand, trying to motivate a team who, while more progressive than most, still had yet to embrace the opportunity.

Set Personal Bias Aside

Social media networks, like Facebook, Periscope, Twitch, and YouTube, have all introduced powerful channels for mass distribution of video.

Unfortunately, not everyone has an understanding of the nuances and style of each network, and tend to have a bias toward their own personal experience with a particular network. An example of this would be "I'm more of an Instagram person" or "I like streaming to Twitch." This is why it is so important to establish a baseline agenda for streaming church services to social media.

Internally, resources who are unfamiliar with a network may shy away and try to diminish a solution. It is critical to get beyond our personal understanding and contextualize what our churches can do on various social media channels.

I am not proposing that it is particularly difficult, but an approach must be defined and validated.

Just putting a video stream out into the wild, without a team who understands the network, motivated by a ministry vision to connect with people, can add up to where an initiative may never reach its potential and may even fail completely.

That said, there are a couple of critical components that almost guarantee success:

Make Your Stream Relevant

Publish your stream(s) to social networks where they make sense. In the context of church, I would suggest using Facebook Live for weekly services. Demographically, Facebook provides the largest cross section of potential viewers.

While you may not reach as many young people in the 13- to 17-year-old age group, Facebook will introduce more people, overall, for mainstream content.

Inversely, consider publishing events and services for young people to Twitch and Periscope. These networks are more relevant to the younger generation, and will attract viewers who will appreciate more progressive, "edgy" content.

Make Your Stream Interactive

In all instances, staff people to chat and interact with the viewers. Technology makes it very easy to stream across multiple networks. People cause these experiences to be interactive, inserting a unique opportunity to foster personal connections and draw people into the vision extended (remember that) as part of the purpose of your church organization.

Select A Good Technology

I think it goes without saying that your stream needs to be excellent, to whatever extent possible, given your availability of resources. Most encoder technologies promote direct streaming to Facebook Live, YouTube and the like.

If you're a church, and you intend to stream to multiple destinations, it's critical to use a professional grade encoder, like a Teradek Cube or Matrox Monarch HD, but more importantly, your network environment must be able to maintain an individual stream to every social media destination.

Every stream that you add to your encoding workflow will require more CPU and network for transport. Publishing a single video stream, for your website, will require anywhere from 1.5 to 4 Mbps, conservatively, to maintain decent quality. Streaming to multiple social media networks will multiply that number, ending up with two to four times your current upload bandwidth utilization for a single stream.

If your church/venue can dedicate 12 to 16 Mbps of upload bandwidth, you can get away with encoding directly to every social media site, simultaneously. In most cases, this is a risk, calling for more aggressive solutions.

Leverage A Reputable Streaming Service

To minimize the need for additional encoders and the need to upload bandwidth for streaming, a media server can be hosted in a cloud environment, where broad network and computer resources are available at a relatively low cost.

A tech savvy video engineer may opt to stand up Wowza Streaming Engine, running on a Windows or Linux computer in Amazon Web Services, where video can be received from your church, transcoded, and targeted to your selected social media networks, as well as providing distribution through your website.

Turn-key streaming services are also readily available, which don't require experience managing servers in the cloud. Companies like Stream Spot, ChurchStreaming.tv and Stream Monkey offer robust streaming services and can help you direct your streams to social media networks. Wowza Streaming Cloud, a slightly more technical solution, enables you to configure your social media streams yourself, while providing a CDN backbone for distribution to your website.

Again, the idea is to send a single stream from your facility, where a streaming service conditions and targets all of your destinations, perfectly, resulting in much broader media viewership potential.

Applied with a solid strategy for relevance and interaction, your church will begin to develop a genuine online community, well-beyond a single point of distribution, which will ultimately accelerate the vision and purpose of your organization.

While it took me a great deal longer, working with a wonderful group of people, I was pleased that in the end, they deployed a social media streaming strategy and are presently streaming weekend services across Facebook Live and Wowza Streaming Cloud (for their website). In addition, their youth group has been publishing their weekly service to Periscope (and their website too), with rewarding and fun results.

However you choose to approach the opportunity, streaming to multiple networks is a blast!

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