Church marketing online has evolved a lot over the last 15 years. The internet all at once became more accessible and more sophisticated.
If you are a church marketer, the biggest mile marker on the path of internet history, has been the rise and fall of Facebook.
For users like my parents, it’s easy enough to find information online, without needing to really know more than “Which button opens the internet?” For users like me, though, YouTube added a button called “Stats for Nerds.” A lot of this evolution is thanks to Facebook’s rise, creating an easy-to-navigate substitute for the rest of the web.
I can recall a few big points of evolution during that time: First there was Myspace, which ushered in the era of Web 2.0, a concept that evolved into modern social media. Next, we were introduced to the “Internet of Things” phase, as Google Home and Alexa began to connect our refrigerators and thermostats.
But if you are a church marketer, the biggest mile marker on the path of internet history, has been the rise and fall of Facebook.
Is it actually fair to talk about the fall of Facebook?
Is Facebook really in decline, when it still claims to have 2.37 billion users, over half of which still log on daily? Facebook, though, certainly is behaving as if it were in free fall.
Over a year ago, we experienced the “Facebook Apocalypse,” which was a declaration from CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg that something was wrong. He went on to admit that Facebook was part of the problem, and that they were going to change everything in response. Since then, they have doubled-down on that message at every turn.
Later that year, Facebook launched a TV spot called “Get Together” which proclaimed, “the best part of Facebook isn’t on Facebook.” This was part of a trend of recent ads, where Facebook sort-of apologized for its being burdened by scandals, while it continues to contend with its site being full of misinformation, along with being less-than fun to use. Rather then simply talking about the benefits of Facebook or the quality of a new feature, these ads clearly were part damage control.
Most recently, Zuckerberg posted in a new blog in March 2019 about what he saw as his concrete vision for the future, summed up in the section of his blog, “Private Interactions as a Foundation.” In it, Zuckerberg plainly says, “In a few years, I expect future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp to become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network.”
Based on all of this, even if Facebook isn’t going away as a company, it’s preparing to enter new territory, one that seemingly will focus on private contacts, instead of public broadcasts, on Messenger instead of Newsfeed.
Private versus Public
Public broadcast is a marketer’s bread and butter, so to shift to the dark waters of the private side of Facebook, leaves a lot of room for speculation. There are a lot of questions on what this change will really look like, but we can gather some idea from Facebook’s recent algorithm changes.
A move to stop Engagement Baiting stopped a great deal of direct language that had been used as a marketing call-to-action. Language such as “Like this post” or “Share with 10 people” will now demote your post in organic rankings on the site.
Since Facebook is somewhat secretive about these practices, it’s hard to tell exactly where the line between baiting and legitimate communication ends. For example, is it OK to ask people to share your live broadcast or is that baiting? Either way, it’s something we need to keep in mind and that tells us something about Facebook. They don’t want users to be overwhelmed by companies and groups shouting action items at them.
A few years ago, Facebook had to make a change to disrupt the feel of their ad images. Marketers were then designing ads that felt like supermarket Sunday specials, “SAVE 20% - BUY TODAY” in big red letters over a busy picture. This felt like an assault of spam, so Facebook began to demote ads that felt this way, opting to prioritize image ads that were designed to feel like organic content.
In a nutshell, Facebook doesn’t want content to feel like commercials. Instead, they want us to seamlessly fit into personal conversations. We can’t treat our posts like announcements on a community bulletin board. Facebook sees all posts, whether ads or not, as content. Therefore, all posts must be entertaining, relevant, and personal.
This is a nice sounding goal, and while it’s certainly user friendly, for churches and other organizations trying to create an organic audience, it requires a real change of thinking.
Not that long ago, to be in a local band, you had to learn to either sing or play an instrument. That’s it. Rehearse a little and maybe get $50 per gig.
To be in a local band today, you have to learn to play an instrument or sing, write songs, learn to record in a digital audio workstation, or DAW, arrange your Multi Tracks, legally clear your samples, upload tracks to Spotify, brand yourself with a great original logo, get booked to play, set up a PA, direct a music video, create a website, build an organic fan community on social media, and silk screen T-shirts for this month’s Patreon bonus. Even after all that, you still only get $50 a gig.
To be a church marketer, you used to have to post your website content to Facebook. That’s it.
What Facebook is now asking of us is basically to create original videos, both live and cinematic, along with creating original graphic designs daily, while being in constant contact with our audience, and to never make a direct appeal that feels like a commercial.
To which I say, is all this actually worth it? Are we actually getting back what we are putting in or are we doing more and spending more to keep pace?
Life … After Facebook
In 2015, almost 90 percent of my church was on Facebook. It was without a doubt the best place to focus our attention.
It’s fair to say we got used to this convenience of having the vast majority of our audience all in one spot. Starting around 2017, we began to notice a significant section of our congregation, though, moving away from the platform. While we were still expecting everyone to hear from us on Facebook, more and more people were missing our message. While they may still have an account, they aren’t checking in as often. We had gotten so used to Facebook being the best value for our time, we had been shortchanging all other communications options.
Life after Facebook, I think, will look a lot like life before Facebook.
Instead of being the place to communicate, it’s once again become just another place to communicate. Before Facebook really took hold, our church had a Myspace page, a website, weekly print media, email, mailers, and we also tried to get the attention of local papers with ads and press releases. Then, for a few years, all these things took a back seat to Facebook.
Why diversify if you can reach everyone in one place? Now that the audience in my area has again broken apart, it’s time to critically examine if Facebook deserves the time it takes. It will still be a large part of our marketing, but should it command as much time as it does, to the exclusion of other options?
This is one of many questions each community should answer: Is adapting to Facebook’s change going to make sense for my church? Will it be worth it to transition from online advertiser to online community manager?
Finally, is your goal on Facebook to bring people physically into your building, or is it to be influential online with people who, due to location, are unlikely to ever visit your facility in person?
Your answers depend a great deal on both your community and how much you are willing to invest in keeping up.
At some point in my life as a musician, I decided I was happy just playing bass, and not treating a local band as a global brand. On Facebook, building a page is not always the same as building your church. At some point, you may get more out of keeping it simple.