Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. —Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 NIV
To gain insight into the drivers behind the collective shifts in society, read Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, by Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew. These shifts impact communication and often drive technology and social change. I recommend that, as part of your efforts to understand how to communicate more effectively to your target audiences and fulfill their needs, you not only read and study this book, but also invest the time in reading Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Good communication requires speaking in a way our audience can appreciate. As a religious organization, we should be using digital technologies to fulfill our audiences’ needs, but to do that, we must first understand what those needs are (as discussed in the previous section), their unspoken expectations, and the forces for change that influence a generation. This section takes the 30,000-foot-view of broader trends that may also be acting upon your target audiences.
Generation Z and the Millennials have been leaving the Church at alarming rates; could it be that we simply don’t understand them? We know that people of any given cultural group are always the best suited to reach out and evangelize to their peers. I contend that the same is true with generations. Now, empowering and training members of the youth to reach their own does not permit us to abdicate our function as guides and mentors. We too must seek to understand and cultivate these relationships if we are to bridge the gap and secure the future of the Church in North America and promote the salvation of souls. Pendulum provides an analysis of the current shifts in society and their impact on marketing, technology, and communication. The Social Media + Big Data department of the North American Division has repeatedly used these techniques across a broad range of messaging campaigns, consistently yielding successful results. Even if you don’t have time to read the 200-page book, what follows is a summary of what you need to know to understand and utilize these communication techniques.
Pendulum takes Strauss and Howe’s four “generations” (Idealist, Reactive, Civic, Adaptive) and reduces it to two generations covering forty years that oscillate between the “Me” philosophy of individuality, freedom, uniqueness, and potential (peaked in 1983) to the collective “We,” working together for the common good, fixing society’s greatest problems, and adopting a philosophy of authenticity and transparency. Sound familiar? According to this model, we are currently in the upswing of the “We” that should reach its zenith in 2023. Both ideals are always present in society but shifts in dominance occur. Optimal balance is found between the two extremes, and either extreme has negative consequences.
The main point is that group behavior is predictable, and we can use this predictability to speak to the masses in a relevant way.
There will always be exceptions, and as the authors point out:
For deeper insight into the pros and cons of each swing of the “pendulum,” read the book.
To communicate, we must ask, “What is driving the actions and attitudes of the group?”
Determine how your mission, programs, product and/or message fits or can be positioned into this paradigm. You may need to reevaluate what your ministry offers to better align with what is relevant to your target audience. See the previous section on understanding your target audience.
Figure: 2.3 Values and beliefs that motivate society in “WE” and “ME” cycles (Williams 17)
Drivers of a “WE” vs. drivers of a “ME”
This shift can be seen in successful advertising campaigns that target a worldview/attitude instead of an age group.
In other words, instead of targeting people based on surface level demographics, they are speaking to a shared value that transcends age and race as discussed in the previous section.
In Pendulum, the authors point out a well-known example. “Remember L’Oréal’s famous ‘Me’ slogan, ‘Because I’m worth it?’ As society passed the tipping point of 2003 and the ‘Me’ became fully unwound, the old slogan was replaced with, ‘Because you’re worth it’” (Williams 172).
During this same period, the successful Army slogan “Be All You Can Be” (1980-2001) changed to “Army of One” (2001-2006) but didn’t perform well because it was “contrary to the idea of teamwork” said Frank Luntz, American political consultant, pollster, and public opinion guru (Ball). The current, more “WE” focused, slogan is “Army Strong.”
Figure 16.3 Mindset and values in society during a “WE” cycle (Williams 168)
Social media is a powerful tool for member care and service. Never before has “truth in advertising” been so important. The younger generations are the most connected, more than any before them, and they naturally turn to social media to voice their displeasure with a brand or experience.
“Your advertising [messaging] may fool one of us. But that one will tell the rest of us,” says Roy H. Williams (172).
Figure 16.5 Tips to create a serious Internet presence during a “WE” cycle (Williams 172)
Self-effacing transparency is utterly disarming.
“We want the truth, even if it’s ugly. Shrink-wrapped, sugar-coated, phony posing [of the 80’s through mid-90’s] is no longer acceptable” (Williams 163). Humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view is what the Adventist Church and its ministries need to embrace; we see the effectiveness of this strategy in the success of initiatives like Gorgeous2God. Gorgeous2God is a community of young Christian women tackling real issues from a godly perspective. True stories from the experiences of real girls are shared and communicated in a candid way that the Church has not embraced previously. Topics include rape, self-harm, sex before marriage, depression, abuse, and other “uncomfortable” topics. Recognizing the underlying cultural principles in a “WE” generation provides guidance and strengthens our abilities to reach our target audience with relevant content, increasing meaningful impact. As a result of continued audience-focused messaging and content development, Gorgeous2God has grown to over 45K followers on social media, with over 20K visitors to the website a year, countless interactions and hundreds of direct messages (as of July 2019).
Analyze your audience; consider the factors discussed in this section and the previous section to then shape your communications in a way that aligns with the drivers behind the current (broad) shifts in society. Position your ministry for success. You will always have outliers within your target audience, but utilizing this knowledge allows your ministry to fish more effectively and increases the potential for a larger catch.
Ball, Molly (January 6, 2014) “The Agony of Frank Luntz.” The Atlantic.
Williams, R.H., & Drew, M. R. (2012). Pendulum: how past generations shape our present and predict our future. New York: Vanguard Press.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Good communication is when you communicate in a way your audience understands.
You may feel like you know how to use social media platforms for personal sharing, but writing to achieve a marketing/evangelism goal requires much more thought and strategic planning. This section is designed to give you a framework for successfully defining your target audience and determining how to speak to them in a way that is relevant, encouraging meaningful engagements. It is essential that we not only communicate clearly, but that we also take the time to deeply understand our audience. It doesn’t matter if you know what you mean. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and speak to them accordingly. Speak to your audience in a way and with the words that enable them to understand and connect with your message. REMEMBER, EMPATHY FIRST.
This means that when we communicate in the digital space, we must speak the language of the platform and recognize the “cultural expectations” and “norms” prevalent in the space, as well as within the culture(s) of the people we are communicating to. Without careful research, our words and intentions can easily be taken the wrong way, inadvertently offending and pushing away the very people we are trying to reach.
As Christians, we want to reach and include everyone. This is our ultimate goal as disciples. However, from a specific ministry standpoint, this approach ends up reducing the relevancy of the message and spreads efforts too thin for significant impact. Afterall, a standard marketing rule of thumb states:
If you try to reach everyone all the time, you’ll end up
Each person, ministry, and local church is uniquely equipped and positioned to reach different types of people. Therefore, it is vital to understand who your audience is before you create content, write a single social media post, or spend any money on social advertisements. This section will help you learn how to effectively shape your messages and content to match your audience’s needs and reach them effectively, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, location, or situation.
Determine Your Target Audience
The first step in reaching your audience is to develop a clear picture of who you are talking to. Begin with surface-level demographic information. Use the criteria below and fill in the information for your ministry’s target audience.
Surface-Level Demographic Information:
Once you’ve determined the surface-level characteristics of your target audience, work down to a deeper level which will help shape your messaging and the kind of content you’ll create.
Create deep connections by identifying with
People no longer fit into neat categories, so we must connect with them on a more profound level, transcending the standard marketing demographics of age, ethnicity, gender, language, location, and interests. If you can dig deeper, your audience will be loyal to your brand because you resonate with them at their core.
The best way to do that is to investigate their needs, experiences, values, and perceptions. Conducting surveys and interviews is one key way to collect more information. Then start asking yourself questions that will help you to get inside the minds of your audience members. What motivates their actions? What makes them who they are? What do they have in common? How can I speak and write in a way that my audience will find relatable? What do they value? What do they actually need?
Examples of needs may include: a spiritually supportive community, affordable education, employment, affordable medical care, safe spaces for their children, mentorship opportunities, a better future, healthier relationships, self-improvement, Christian guidance on real-life issues, food security, or practical life-skills training.
Use the criteria below and write down possible answers for your target audience.
Deep Level Characteristics:
”Cultural Empathy” in the Digital Mission Field
As discussed in the previous section, the concept of “cultural empathy” is well known in the physical mission field and its principles should be applied to the digital mission field. We live in a world of intersecting cultures or communities, and, therefore, our definition of culture must expand. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple communities simultaneously. In order to identify the unifying threads between seemingly dissimilar people, we need to first unpack their many cultural influences.
These cultures are potentially endless in variety, but can include:
Now take the time to consider the potential overlap in cultures found within your church, community, ministry, or target audience. How might they influence behavior and needs? What unifying factors can you identify?
Internal v. External
Are you speaking to Adventists or non-Adventists? Your language may change based on the answer to this question. We must modify the way we communicate in order to effectively reach different audiences without creating barriers. For example, when we are talking to our friends we use certain vernacular that tends to be more playful and friendlier, but when we are talking to our boss or elders, our persona is more serious and professional. The same is true with evangelism and discipleship. We may commonly use certain words such as “Sabbath” or “haystacks” that could seem foreign or confusing to non-Adventists. The list below offers some guidelines on how to distinguish between internal and external audiences.
Audience Personas 101
When communicating to your audiences, visualize actual people—their interests, culture, wants, needs, and expectations—to refine your voice. You will probably need to create unique personas to represent different target groups within your audience. According to The Guardian, personas can be simply defined as:
A fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group or segment of your audience and takes into consideration needs, demographics, motivations, and environments.
Determining your audience personas can help you develop and write content that will be relevant and useful to your audience. The best personas are often created by simply talking to your audience, but social media insights, website analytics, and surveys can also prove very useful. Personas give a human face to a collection of information, and they allow you to classify groups for different messaging campaigns and programs. The best personas combine both quantitative and qualitative information.
Below is an example of a persona:
About Bryce: Adventist College Persona
Education: High school senior
Interests: Business, sports, camping, meeting other young people, discipleship training
Salary: $3,000 a year
Location: Berkeley, Calif.
Family: Adopted, married parents, no siblings, Hispanic
Goals: Finding a good paying and meaningful job, mentoring younger peers, finding a girlfriend, finding a Christian friend group
Challenges: Finding friends with similar morals, avoiding drugs/alcohol, food insecure, feels rejected by his biological parents and struggles to connect, struggles with religious doubt
Values: Fair justice system, the environment, good reputation, strong character, fairness, good citizenship, technology and flexibility, diversity, leadership training and experience
Fears: The unknown, poor work-life balance, affording college, student loan debt, getting a good job, rejection, finding purpose/meaning
Preferred platforms for Media: Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube
Messages applicable to Bryce: We are all adopted into God’s family. Our church/school/ministry is a place to belong and a place to grow. Connection to others, connection to God. Diversity and purpose. Mentorship opportunities and support for leadership training or education.
Social media personas are developed based on your target audience as defined earlier in this section. The key is finding out what those people want and need; the rest is simply compiling those qualities into a made-up person. As a Church, we need to constantly find ways to reach our audience for the kingdom in the best, most efficient way possible. Creating social media personas is a valuable exercise that enables us, as communicators, to step into others’ shoes and view life from their perspective. Personas help us develop empathy with our audience.
Use the following framework to develop your own personas:
Special Note about Generation Z
The Church and the wider Christian community has become increasingly concerned with reaching Generation Z, people born approximately 1997-2012 (Pew Research Center). However, the Church has not yet adapted to meet the needs of the generation before them, Millennials. We should be concerned, as these two age groups represent the largest divergence from traditional Christian values and lowest participation in faith institutions we’ve seen. To reach and retain these generations, we must reframe our approach based on their perspectives.
Generation Z lives in a totally different world and interacts in a totally different way than any generation before them. When asked what the most important historical event in the USA in the last 20 years was, they responded, “The release of the iPhone.” Most older people would say the terrorist attacks of 9/11. (Adam Fenner, Director, Adventist Learning Community)
From Gen Z and Millenial perspectives, their answer makes sense given that technology and digital communications have completely reshaped society, how we connect with each other, how we shop, and how we live. They have grown up in an almost entirely digital world, and they relate to technology in a more integrated fashion than any other generation before them.
So who is Gen Z? What you should consider when targeting this age group:
What do Gen Z’s values mean for the Church? It means we must innovate for meaningful impact. If we don’t, we only have ourselves to blame for the continuous departures. Change is hard, and the Church is notoriously slow to adapt. Now is the time to act if we really are concerned for the salvation of the next generations. Institutions are not permanent. After all, in the words of W. Edwards Deming, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” The good news is that God never fails. He will always have a people, and He has called us to participate in His great work.
We must put our assumptions and judgements in the trash. Too often we create programs and content based on our own interests and passions or based on what we think people need, according to our own perspective and bias. Use the audience factors discussed in this section to make data-informed decisions about your audience, then create programs, messaging, and content based on what you discover. We’ll go into content creation in further detail later in the “Content Creators/Creatives” section of this guide. If you’re still not sure where to start, spend more time with your target audience and ask more questions. Find out directly from them what they need, what they feel will improve their lives, and what will inspire them to develop a closer relationship with God.
To reach people, we must become a student of their culture. No judgement, only acceptance and adaptation. No one should know more about your audience than you do. Strive to become an expert on the people you are trying to reach.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Traditional marketing and evangelism takes a linear approach, starting with attracting “leads” and eventually aiming to convert people into members. While this strategy worked for a long time, the world has changed dramatically in the past few decades. It no longer makes sense, nor is it effective, to group people together into one-size fits all categories and then take a cookie-cutter approach to encouraging spiritual conversion. In addition, the assumptions we make about people groups can often be misleading or even harmful. Therefore, we must fundamentally change the way we approach evangelism.
Understanding Modern Audiences
Your average person is just as likely to have moved several times, as to have continuously lived in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, and, perhaps, messy. But even for those who have never changed their geographical location, people are now globally connected through social media in ways that were unheard of just 20 years ago. What this means is that we now live in a world of intersecting cultures or communities. These cultures are potentially endless in variety, but we’ll unpack a few in the next section on target audiences.
The concept of cultural empathy is well known in the physical mission field. Evangelism experts know that the best way to reach a community or people group is to empower a member of that community to evangelize to their own. Or at the very least, speak the language of the people and show sensitivity and respect to their cultural paradigms. Non-native members of a culture group must sincerely seek to understand the community and reach them where they are in a way that is relevant. We have forgotten this principle when it comes to online evangelism and online communities. While digital evangelism or discipleship is a new concept for the Church, we can remember and apply tried and true bits of wisdom previously uncovered by experienced evangelists and geographically focused missionaries. Digital tools are a way to magnify the reach and impact of traditional and friendship evangelism, not necessarily replacing it. Digital platforms allow us to scale up our efforts in a low-cost way.
The apostle Paul admonishes us to “become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NASB 1977). To accomplish this in modern society, our definition of culture needs to be expanded. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple online and offline communities simultaneously. The old marketing strategies of putting people in target groups based on a few identifying factors is no longer reflective of reality.
People no longer fit into neat categories based on surface-level descriptors such as location, race, gender, language, and interests. We must connect with audiences on a deeper level based on unifying needs and core values that transcend standard marketing categorizations. Digital tools can enable us to understand the drivers behind the actions, beliefs, concerns, needs, and values of larger groups, better positioning us to serve them in a relevant way. If we can do this, our audiences will be loyal to our Church brand, because we resonate with them at the core of their worldview. We’ll unpack how to better reach, understand, and effectively communicate with target audiences in the next few sections of this guide.
To reach younger generations, we must take an integrated and holistic approach that considers the complexities of modern life and relationships. The components of the traditional model are not dead. Many of these steps are still in play; we just have more resources to reach and interact with people in ways that are relevant to their unique situation. Digital communications is a means to amplify our messages and spiritually feed people seven days a week. In other words, the linear model has given way to a multi-faceted process that can start and stop at various points, with many key entry and engagement points. When we take a holistic approach to understanding our audiences better and use this knowledge strategically to combine traditional with digital strategies, we can fish 24/7 in a much larger pond.
The kingdom of God is an all-day, every-day pursuit. His church should be the same online as offline. After all, church is not a program to watch, but a people to be. Success should not be measured by counting people in a building, but, rather, by whether or not we’re building a kingdom.
Digital Evangelism Modified Funnel
Another marketing concept we can use to understand the modern process of evangelism is a funnel, where every person is channeled toward the goal which traditionally has been “become a member.” While people can enter and engage at different levels of the funnel in multiple ways, movement toward (and beyond) this goal is the basic principle of the funnel model. Every single transition involves an ask, either implied or explicit. With every reduction in the funnel size, there is an implied exit of people. Every person has the option of moving forward down the chain, living at a stage for a period of time, or deciding to leave the process altogether. We must give easy calls-to-action and lead participants in a way that makes moving to the next step a no-brainer. Eventually the goal is for members to become active disciples who then become part of the funnel mechanism as content creators, distributors, or engagers as talked about in section 3. This is why this modified funnel fans back out at the base and loops back around. The foundation of this marketing paradigm is built on continuous discipleship and integrated strategies, utilizing a wide range of evangelistic strategies.
The Modern Seeker’s Journey
To help us better understand how the modern world of analog and digital experiences interact to move someone through their spiritual journey, we can consider a systems-thinking tool called journey loops.
“Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. The systems thinking approach contrasts with traditional analysis, which studies systems by breaking them down into their separate elements… According to systems thinking, system behavior results from the effects of reinforcing and balancing processes” (Margaret Rouse, Techtarget.com). A system is a group of distinct elements that are interrelated and organized to achieve a common purpose or goal.
These steps or loops do not necessarily go in order. A seeker can start at any point, skip sections, leap from loop to loop, and even backtrack. Each loop and experience feeds back into the other steps in the process to help reinforce the journey. I personally started in the “Think” (Consideration) loop, then the “Care” (Relationship/Service) loop and then visited a local church as part of the “Do” (Visit/Engage) loop. This causal loop system is not a perfect representation of the process, but it helps visualize what is actually happening in a complex system or, in this case, journey.
In today’s world where people are turning to the internet for answers, the first two parts of the journey are primarily spent in the digital space. Based on the person’s situation, they may or may not transition to an in-person experience, though that is always the one of the goals of this process. However, it’s important to recognize that experiences in the “Care” and “Stay” loops are just as relevant in the digital space. Therefore, we must seek to find ways to extend the Church experience online, because the in-person experience may not always be possible, at least in the short-term.
How the Modern Seeker’s Journey fits into the Digital Discipleship and Evangelism Model
Reflecting back on the Digital Discipleship and Evangelism model, we can see how the three roles or types of digital evangelists can work together to help guide a seeker through a journey of spiritual growth.
Distributors help push out content and messages to help initiate the “See” (Awareness) step and can also function within the “Ministry and Discipleship” loop, using digital tools and technologies to share content within their sphere of digital influence, which, in turn, contributes greatly to the “Research and Discovery” stage.
The role of content creators is to package the gospel message and teachings of Jesus into various digital-friendly formats, such as: video, blogs, images, podcasts, etc. The resulting content is vital to the growth and decision-making of a seeker within the “Research and Discovery” loop. This content, combined with the role of engagers, can serve as a catalyst to move a seeker to the “Do” (Visit/Engage) and “Stay” (Become a Member) steps.
Engagers are empathic individuals within an organization, or operating independently, who engage in online conversations for the purpose of building meaningful relationships, better understanding needs, and determining meaningful ways to serve others in the community. The engager role spans across multiple touchpoints in the modern seeker’s journey and plays a vital role in moving a person towards taking an action and, ultimately, to a faith-based commitment. Social media provides a unique opportunity for long-term member care that can enhance and strengthen the relationships your ministry cultivates with members and the community. We know that connection and relationships is what builds a strong faith community and keeps people in the Church. To that end, engagers are vital to the “Loyalty and Personal Connections” loop as well as the “Do” (Visit/Engage) step and even an integral part of securing a seeker’s long-term desire to “Stay” (Become a Member) of a faith community.
Every opportunity to connect is an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. Our digital voice may be the only opportunity a seeker has to see Christ’s love demonstrated in their life. We as a Church should strive to create connections and take a comprehensive approach to facilitating the seeker experience, treating people online as if we’re talking with them face-to-face. Their online interactions with you should make them want to experience your faith/mission in person. Then, when they to come for that onsite experience, it should be a continuation of the positive relationship that has been built with them online. There should not be a disconnect between how a person is nurtured in the pews and how they are treated online, or vice-versa.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
I am often asked if digital communications can really make a global impact when only around 42% (as of June 2019) of the world’s population is on social media. This question always reminds me of one of my first campaigns for the Church.
In the summer of 2016, I worked with “Your Best Pathway to Health” to help create community awareness for the free mega-health clinic that was coming to Beckley, WV, the heart of Appalachia. A quick search in Facebook Ads manager revealed that around 200K people within 50 miles of the convention center where the clinic would take place, were on Facebook. With a small budget of $200, I started a community awareness ad campaign targeted at those living within driving distance of Beckley. This digital effort was part of a larger multi-channel campaign that included newspaper ads, 30K+ hand-out flyers, and other traditional media.
Can We Really Reach Those People?
It is said that “familiarity breeds contempt” or, at least, presumptuous behavior. Soon after launching the campaign, I received a call from a long-time friend who felt very strongly that I was out of line to use Church funds for this digital campaign, and that I was out of touch with the realities of this community. After all, “this was Appalachia, and those people don’t even have running water and electricity.” After two hours of conversation, I still call her friend, because this was a teaching and learning moment. I had an opportunity to share the potential this technology offers for our mission, as well as gain a better understanding of the cultural paradigm I was up against (in terms of encouraging the Church to embrace digital strategies and the perceptions that may result). What she didn’t know was that I made a decision based on data and not assumptions about the “least of these.” In fact, she didn’t know that I had been raised in the same economic class she felt I was so disconnected from.
I asked her one simple question: do you know someone who is not on social media? She said yes. I followed up with something like, “If you saw an online advertisement about free medical treatment with no strings attached, and you knew they needed help, would you tell them?” Without hesitation, she responded, “Of course!” One question and response summarized my strategy.
What I had done was make a strategic decision to activate the sharing power of the 200K people who were online and, most likely, connected to others in the community who were not on social media. It’s human nature to share a good thing when we see it, especially with those we care about who need the services offered.
According to an extensive study conducted by the New York Times, 94% of people share content online because “they feel the content will improve the lives” of others. This act of sharing goes beyond the digital space.
“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him” (John 4:28-30, New International Version).
However, my ten years of digital marketing experience was entirely secular. I had never done an advertising campaign for a church project before, and consequently prayed a lot in the weeks leading up to the clinic. When the event began I was overjoyed at the testimonies of people who said their family member, friend, or neighbor saw an ad online and told them to come. According to the exit surveys, social media outperformed all the traditional advertising, and was second only to referral by friend or family member. Based on the anecdotal testimonies, word-of-mouth (friend/family) was also largely driven by the social media campaign. Click here to learn more about this case study in community awareness.
Social media is the modern School of Tyrannus, a place where the ancient Ephesians gathered to engage with new ideas, pass the time, share thoughts, and participate in discussions. Paul spoke at the School of Tyrannus in Greece for two years (Acts 19:8-9), essentially getting the gospel to go viral in his day. (A podcast about Paul’s influence at the School of Tyrannus by Dee Casper, Brand Evangelist, ARTV, can be found HERE).
“This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10, New American Standard Bible)
Paul stayed in one place, and yet his teachings spread. How did this happen?
Ephesus was an important port for trade and commerce (like the internet), attracting people from all over the Roman Empire. People would come and hear what he had to say, go home, and tell others what they’d learned. In today’s terminology, they hit “Like” and “Share” on social media, and their friends and family were exposed to Paul’s teachings of the gospel. Social media has the potential to do this on a much larger scale. By reaching the connected, we can reach the unreachable.
In other words, if approximately 42% of the world’s population is on social media, it’s highly likely that they know the other 58% of the world or know someone who is connected to someone who is not on social media. You get the idea.
What starts in the digital space, isn’t confined to the digital space.
We must put our assumptions about those people aside (whoever those people might be), and work with who we can reach.
Evangelism experts tell me that the best way to reach a community or people group is to empower a member of that community. Your average person is just as likely to have moved several times, as to have lived and died in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, perhaps messy. Even for those who never change their geographical location, they are globally connected to people through social media in ways that were unheard of just twenty years ago. What this means is that we now live in a world of intersecting cultures and communities.
The city of Ephesus experience is now reflected in every major city in the world and online.
I, myself, am a mid-western transplant to the D.C. metropolitan area. There is still no cellphone reception in my home town. My parents access the internet and phone through satellite. Until recently, our roads were unpaved, and my family was on well water. I go home once or twice a year and call my parents regularly (when the satellite phone is working). I had never heard of Adventism until I went to college; now my parents are closely connected to two Adventists (me and my husband). During our conversations and interactions, I share my experiences and new ideas. While my home town is not as remote as some other countries or communities that still exist in the world, the concept is the same. We can reach people online who have migrated to the digitally connected parts of the world. These people probably maintain ties to their home communities in some way, and since they are from that community, they are in the best position to share the gospel within the cultural norms, language, and expectations of those communities. When they visit their friends and family, they can share the gospel just like the ancient citizens of the Roman empire did back in the first century.
This is how we can obtain global impact through digital communications. It’s the same strategy that Paul leveraged, but scaled up by modern technology.
According to Pew Research, the most racially diverse Christian denomination in North America is the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are truly a global movement that has yet to realize the full potential of modern technologies. Our challenge is not to just reach those who are online, but to also activate the online and offline sharing power of those we connect with. The membership of the Adventist Church is perfectly positioned to reach the around the world to every nation, tribe, people, and tongue with the gospel message.
And for those isolated communities with, assumed, no access to the outside world, give the Holy Spirit a little credit for being able to carry the message the rest of the way.
If the message went global in Paul’s day without the help of modern technology, let’s not assume limitations on the Holy Spirit in our day.
We aren’t expected to accomplish this mission alone, but we are called to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV). The world now includes the digital space. We need to dream bigger when doing God's work. Can you imagine what would happen if each of us committed to sharing the gospel online for two years? And remember, it's not like we have to physically go somewhere, or even leave the couch for that matter! Who knows where God will lead us when we step out in faith.
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
When you Google a well-established organization, you’ll find more than just their own website in the search results. You might also see:
To maintain a credible, influential online presence, it pays to expand your SEO strategy beyond your own website.
Any link to your website from a page, file, site, profile, social media account, etc., that is not part of your website itself, is referred to as a backlink.
When backlinks are legitimate, Google regards them as evidence of your influence and credibility, which ultimately benefits your ranking in search engine results, making your organization much easier to find. However, in the recent past, creating a bunch of spammy backlinks was a common “black-hat” SEO trick that organizations used to improve their SEO. Then Google refined its algorithms to better interpret natural language and develop a clearer understanding of search behavior, effectively shutting down these fake backlinks.
These shady backlinks would come from places like websites devoted to posting links to other sites (at a price). They could also come from blog comments, social media posts, duplicate social media accounts, or other places that had nothing to do with your website.
Be warned, fake backlinks will now get your website penalized in search results. This means seekers will have a harder time finding you. If your organization has made this mistake, specific work must be done to remedy the situation. Contact email@example.com re: Help, I’m blacklisted.
The Practice of Backlinking: Tread Carefully!
Bottom line: backlinks should be earned, not created.
The reason a genuine, legitimate backlink is so highly regarded by Google is because your content must be considered useful enough and respected enough for another website to link back to your site.
You’ll notice that this SEO guide is full of backlinks to websites and articles we feel are worthwhile in your pursuit of this knowledge. To earn these backlinks, those businesses continually created high-quality content and presented it in a way that we feel is helpful or relevant to our target audience: you, the reader.
Backlinking is a prolific topic within the SEO community forums and blogs, but we recommend saving it as one of the final considerations in your SEO strategy. If you’re focused on building quality content, adhering to SEO best practices, and developing a digital strategy for content distribution, you should end up earning backlinks organically over time. Therefore, it wouldn’t need to be an early item on your SEO to-do list.
That being said, here are some off-site strategies you can use to bolster your backlinks through various brand-building best practices. Consistent activity, conversation, and promotion of quality content can pay off in a big way.
Off-Site Touch Points:
Your social media profiles can show up as search result listings if you keep them active and up to date. Just having open accounts won’t generate much effect, but if your audience engagement is high, Google is more likely to take notice.
NOTE: Even if you don’t foresee much activity happening with certain demographics native to particular platforms, it’s a good idea to set up an official account (reserve your handle) on major social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube. This way, no one can create a profile using your organization’s name and brand, and cause confusion among your audience.
One way to set up an evergreen social media account requiring little upkeep is to fill out the profile as descriptively as possible, then mention where the action is and direct users there. For example, a little-used Facebook page could say, “We’re happy to connect with you! To get up-to-date information, go directly to our blog at [link].” Or, “Thanks for stopping by! To find the latest information about our organization, check our Twitter feed.”
We felt that Pinterest needed to be mentioned separately from other social media platforms. As the popularity of Pinterest continues to grow, many ministry organizations can benefit by creating “pin-worthy” content. These pins can count as backlinks, especially if multiple users are pinning your content.
Consider the opportunities here. Ideas for kids’ Sabbath school, Pathfinder activities, Bible verses, healthy recipes, crafts, church holiday decor, youth events, and more could be very popular on Pinterest boards.
Learn more about creating “pinnable” content.
If you are a brick-and-mortar organization, online directory listings count as an online presence booster. For best practices in creating helpful directory listings, see section VIII on local SEO set up.
Similarly, review sites such as Yelp can show up as search results listings, so you’ll want to carefully manage your accounts and reputation. Refer back to section VIII on local SEO for advice on filling out your profile as well as responding to both positive and negative reviews.
Google no longer puts much weight on guest posts or publishing articles in online magazines. However, this type of backlinking can still be great for brand-building and establishing E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness). In the long run, these efforts do support your SEO progress.
Digital Strategy Specialist and founder of Digital Pew.
There are a ton of social media channels that exist and new ones are sprouting up every day, but the end all be all is the behemoth we know as Facebook and Instagram. Currently, Facebook has roughly 2.06 billion users worldwide, Instagram with approximately 700 million active users every month.
Platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter and others have huge user bases as well, but the flexibility and powerful marketing features that Facebook is equipping users with has paved a way for in-house marketers and organization leaders to get their message in front of their audience in the most effective way possible.
Now organizations have an incredible opportunity to help lead out and strategize their non-profit’s online marketing campaigns by becoming better users of Facebook.
This isn't to say that a volunteer can replace the resources or knowledge of an agency - if you want professional results, trust and partner with an agency to help you get there - but rather, for smaller projects, maintaining your online presence and supporting your business or non-profit’s efforts using social media.
Becoming a Facebook Power User also means that you are able to vet the people who you plan on working with and bring your valuable insight to the strategy being developed.
It might take some time, some practice and some studying, but becoming a Facebook Power User is not impossible and with a little bit of sweat equity you can start developing, launching, executing and measuring your own campaigns!
Let's get started - the first step is to...
If you have a website or blog, you need to have your Facebook Pixel setup. Having Facebook Pixel setup on your website or blog is as essential as setting up Google Analytics - it's just a must!
Not only you can see incredible insights on how your audience behaves outside of Facebook, but you can retarget the ones who interact with your content more often.
This is excellent for a number of reasons - that's pretty obvious - but often times business and non-profit marketing leaders will miss this crucial step in their strategy and go months, dare I say, years without having any of this information.
Don't miss this step, setup your Facebook Pixel.
Here is a comprehensive guide on how to do it.
And here is the kind of information you can get from having it live...
Complete this step before going ANY FURTHER! (Just trust me on this)
Explore Your Facebook Page's Insights
By default, Facebook provides Page Administrators (people who own or operate a Facebook Page) a ton of insight into how the page is performing and audience reach at a granular level. With Facebook Page Insights you can not only see how far your Facebook Page reaches, but also when your audience is the most engaged, what kinds of content they like the most and more.
Your Facebook's Page Summary dashboard for example provides a bird's eye view on what is going on with your Facebook page. You can see how many Actions, Page views and Page Likes are happening as well as how far your posts are getting to your audience (Post Reach).
From the insights I can see when my audience is the most active, what post types they are most engaged with, and which of my posts they interacted with the most organically vs. paid.
Even with a quick glance, you can see how powerful looking at this information can be. Making content and posting it without any idea of what your audience is responsive to can result in lost time and energy, not to mention money if you're spending money on content creation.
Discover your Audience using Insights
Knowing your audience is one of the most important things you can know as a leader in your organization. Whether you are looking to nurture your current audience or reach new people to bring them into your organization or get your message in front of them, you need to know them and understand them intimately.
Before I start any campaign, whether social media marketing or not, I always do as much research as I possibly can so I can understand who I am speaking to and what they need to hear.
Using Facebook's Audience Insights tool, you can do just that. Their incredible suite of features allow you to do a deep dive into your audience with powerful information about;
There are literally hundreds of different ways that you can research your audience using Audience Insights - you can even see what pages your audience likes more than others, giving you incredible control of how you market to them.
'Do' use Ad Manager - 'Don't' Boost
Let me clear this up, using Facebook Boost isn't a bad thing and can actually be a great tool. However, that tool is too often a crutch to Facebook Page Admins looking to pump out a quick advertisement to get results or at least the illusion of results.
If you want to launch a Facebook Ad Campaign, start with the Ad Manager, not with boosting a single post.
Boosting a post can have a lot of advantages if your content is performing well, but if you want to have a strategic approach to how you spend your advertising dollars, setting up a Campaign, Ad Set and Advertisement within Ad Manager is your best bet.
First, some basics on boosting...
When you boost you are limited to the audience (unless you are intentional about setting one up) the placements you can use (more about that in the next point) and the content that you can promote.
If you ever boost a post and then look in Ad Manager you will also notice that it is linear once it is setup: Campaign, Ad Set and Ad are all the same thing, a straight shot all the way through.
Click here to learn more about why you shouldn't push the Facebook Boost button.
Edit your Placements
With Facebook Ads you can customize where your advertisements will appear to your end-user.
For example, you can choose to only display your advertisement on your audience's Newsfeed and Sidebar, or even limit it to the 'Audience Network' that Facebook makes available.
You can also exclusively limit your advertisement to Instagram or an Instagram Story even - really there are a ton of different options and customizations available that you can use to get your message in front of your audience.
Placements are often one of the most overlooked customizations that Facebook Ads have available, but can significantly impact how your advertisement appears to your audience and interacts with your brand.
Facebook also recently announced that their Audience Network is expanding and customization options exist for users looking to Exclude Audience Network members or specific categories that they don't want their advertisements appearing on.
Here is a quick breakdown of the different Placement options:
Promote on Instagram
While I say this with a grain of salt, not knowing every single market and industry, the fact still remains for many campaigns - Promoting on Instagram is a must for your campaign, especially if you're using images and video.
I can cite countless examples where I've had the exact same image content on both Instagram and Facebook, and without a doubt Instagram performs much better with a smaller audience than Facebook. Considering that Facebook is becoming increasingly strict with how they show content to their audiences now.
In the example above, we can see an almost 2000% better performance on Instagram when compared to Facebook for the exact same content. It's also worth noting that the Facebook page for this account has 17k+ 'Fans' and on Instagram there are roughly 3k+ followers.
Instagram has about 17% of followers that the Facebook page has, yet it performs astronomically better.
This isn't an uncommon thing - skipping out on Instagram could cost you valuable traffic and engagement if not done correctly.
Measure Performance (Daily)
Something that is often forgotten, even with successful campaigns, is to measure your campaign's success (or failure) on a daily basis, gauging how things are performing.
If you are aware of what is performing well and what isn't, you can improve on the areas that are giving you the most value while changing your strategy or approach on the things that aren't.
Here are some simple questions that you can ask and some basic formulas you can use to see how your posts are performing and how your advertisements are performing (these are subjective based on my experience, so take it with a grain of salt):
Evaluate and Optimize (Repeat)
This is the shortest and most straight-forward point that I can make - constantly watch what you are doing and find ways to do it better.
Use data to drive your decision making but allow your instincts to have their place in the scheme of strategy - your gut feeling shouldn't be entirely discounted and the data will rarely give you 100% of a reason to do something.
Reposted with permission from DigitalPew.
More Resources on Facebook Advertising:
Rachel Lemons Aitken
Communications Executive of the Greater Sydney Conference and Founder of the Digital Discipleship.
Before we answer the question, what is Digital Discipleship, we must ask, are we on the answering end of the searches taking place online? Are we providing hope in the comment section? Do our videos and websites answer questions? And are our social media accounts making people feel like they’ve found a digital church home?
On average, Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second. 2.5 billion people use either Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger or the Facebook app. And Youtube processes more than 3 billion searches a month. Digital Discipleship allows us to have a strategic and influential voice in online conversations.
It’s clear we have something to say, but are we putting ourselves out there? And when we do venture to say something, is it being heard?
Disciples in the Age of Gifs and Memes
Digital Discipleship is a movement to make disciples and inspire people to grow in discipleship.
This mission remains the same as the call to discipleship over 2,000 years ago. The objectives haven’t changed, but the environment is noisy.
The audience we are trying to reach is inundated with a fire-hose-sized flow of information. Everyone online is an “expert” with something to say. And all of this is before we factor in on-demand TV like Netflix, Hulu and Stan providing endless entertainment at our fingertips.
When we’re playing with the big boys, and we need to come prepared.
We know that the compelling story of Jesus is necessary and more relevant now than ever before. And while Digital Discipleship allows us to talk to large, targeted groups in unprecedented ways, it’s imperative that we become more savvy in our methods in the online space.
Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me."
Christ’s method is still applicable in the age of memes, gifs, FaceTime and Whatsapp chats, but now we must cut through the noise. We must win the hearts of people in a new environment.
Just as John the Baptist was “a voice of one calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord,” we too are calling out preparing the way for Christ’s return.
In order to avoid having our voices drowned out we need to pump up the volume, be more strategic in our call and engage the right people. And we are uniquely positioned to do this through Digital Discipleship.
Digital Discipleship 101
I want you to think of this as your Digital Discipleship primer.
From here, you’ll be able to dig deeper into other subjects and learn how you can get involved, support and even set-up your own Digital Discipleship ministry.
We’ll give you an overview of Digital Discipleship, how it works and lay out a vision of what it can become.
Most importantly, we hope you’ll feel compelled to join the conversation and add your voice to the collective loud cry about the never-ending love of Jesus Christ and His soon return.
How to Join the Conversation
The internet is a huge place.
Imagine it as a large, crowded room with everyone jumping in to have their say. With this picture in mind it’s almost inevitable that our voice could get lost in the noise.
The message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and more broadly Christianity, has spread around the world – taught in marketplaces, shared from friend to friend, preached in churches, whispered about in catacombs and witnessed secretly in homes.
It has been communicated most effectively when spoken to people in their own language.
The Language of the Internet
The internet is like a country with its own language and culture. It may not occupy a geographic space, but it has its own social norms. There are ways to jump into a conversation and be heard and understood.
To start off, there are four levels at which Digital Discipleship can be executed:
We’re going to start by breaking down each area because each one requires a different way of communicating.
Digital Discipleship at Different Levels
The beauty of Digital Discipleship is that it leverages both the size and the intimacy of our church. It’s powerful both when executed at the entity level and when it engages the individual member.
1. DIGITAL DISCIPLESHIP AT A CORPORATE LEVEL
When we speak about the Corporate Level of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we’re talking about the General Conference, Divisions, Unions, and Conferences.
Each have roles they are uniquely positioned to do, such as:
2. DIGITAL DISCIPLESHIP AT A CHURCH LEVEL
The church is the strongest building block of our organisation and through Digital Discipleship there are many opportunities to benefit the church, the members as well as those who are being reached.
The church is uniquely positioned to do many things, such as:
Many individuals feel compelled to start ministries to address specific community needs in service to the church. Because of the targeted focus of these ministries, they are uniquely positioned to participate in the Digital Discipleship ecosystem by:
In traditional media, the big boys can make the most noise – whoever can outspend their competitors is most likely to win.
However, the digital space has become the great equalizer. Individuals within the Digital Discipleship Ecosystem are well positioned to have influential voices in a crowded space! We have seen this time and again as videos go viral, as people share their lives and as they evolve into becoming online “influencers.”
Individuals are uniquely positioned to:
The Digital Discipleship Ecosystem
Throughout the article, the term Digital Discipleship Ecosystem has been referenced several times. One of the most exciting parts of Digital Discipleship is the way it works as a system.
As you saw in the section above, it can work at the corporate level, the church level, as ministries or even as individuals but it’s when the system works as a unit that it’s truly powerful.
The Digital Discipleship Ecosystem is made of content creators, distributors, engagers and curators. To explain the system in context, we’ll reference the parts in conjunction with their levels.
Content Creators are our creatives. They are masterful storytellers, talented artists and skilled graphic designers. They take biblical concepts and stories and provide interpretations and depictions that capture our attention and take us on a journey. And in addition to artistic talents being celebrated in this area of the Digital Discipleship ecosystem, we must also recognize those with technical abilities, such as those who code, create systems and design platforms. Their diligence makes our interaction with information smoother and easier.
Here are some examples of content creators at various levels within our church.
Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule?
It says you should spend 20% of your time creating content and the other 80% of your time promoting that content to make sure it gets seen.
We haven’t done a study lately, but we don’t think that rule has traditionally been applied in church communications and promotions.
Within the Digital Discipleship ecosystem, content has a better chance of getting seen if it’s circulated within the ecosystem.
Content distribution is another way of saying content promotion. In some ways it can be seen as a form of digital door-knocking. And there are many ways to do it.
This stage of the Digital Discipleship Ecosystem is all about the conversations we have online. It’s the keystone in the Digital Discipleship process. What are you saying when you engage in conversations, comment on photos and chat in groups?
Those who have a platform and they gather content to then share it.
As a church, we struggle a bit more within this area of the Digital Discipleship ecosystem. And because we exist in a crowded, noisy space, this area requires more savviness than we’ve often exhibited in the past.
Click here to read the full, original article. Re-posted with permission from digitaldisciples.info.
To learn more about Digital Discipleship and Evangelism, check out our helpful guide.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
In other words, don’t be like Bob and push that button, because you could be limiting your options, wasting your ad dollars, and curtailing your desired results.
It’s tempting. It’s easy. You can push that blue boost button right from your phone, and you imagine that you’re expanding the reach of your post beyond your wildest dreams. Well, you’re not really. Let me explain.
If you’re new to social advertising, boosting a Facebook post is appealing because it’s easy to access and simple to set up. But if you’re on a limited budget and looking to maximize your results within a target audience, boosted posts are not the way to go.
This blog post will discuss why you may end up wasting your precious ad dollars when you boost, the enormous value Facebook Ads offers your ministry through other, more effective campaign objectives and targeting, and the rare situations in which it’s okay to push that boost button.
The Facebook Ads platform is king when it comes to social advertising, and it can be your secret weapon for delivering your message effectively to your target audience. Whether you’re a tiny ministry or a for-profit Fortune 500 company, Facebook’s advertising platform delivers unrivaled value (as of May 2019) in terms of precise targeting, customizable advertising, and affordable buys for any budget. It offers more psycho-demographic information about your audience than any other advertising platform, including but not limited to: interests, behaviors, household income, age, gender, religious or political beliefs, relationship status, occupation, age of children in the home, etc. The possibilities are almost endless. However, the boosting interface (remember that blue boost button?) strips these targeting options down to a minimum and limits your ability to combine and exclude targeting filters.
While boosted posts make advertising easy for the newbie, most of the boost advertising options are purposefully limited. You will not be able to leverage the full power of Facebook Ads targeting with optimized results. Facebook Ads manager offers more than 17 marketing objectives that are not available in the boosting interface. Choosing the right objective for a highly targeted audience produces a winning combination that will stretch your ad dollars while maximizing results. Conversely, boosted posts frequently cast the net too wide for small budgets to create impact among a desired demographic.
To summarize, here are the three reasons to avoided pushing the boost button:
When is it a good idea to click the boost button?
To achieve good results with your social advertising campaigns, you must embrace good advertising practices. That means doing social advertising the right way: through Facebook Business or Ads manager. It is a very user-friendly tool, and the results will make the learning curve worth it. As Christians, this is also embraces good stewardship. We should take the time to learn how to use the tools at our disposal in a way that optimizes the funds we have been blessed with to do God’s work.
To view all of Facebook’s targeting options, check out this useful infographic from Wordstream.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Feel free to adjust to your community needs. Depending on your audience, you may want to consider a more casual tone.
We’re excited that you have decided to join our online small group/discussion forum. To make this a positive and safe environment for all, please consider the following guidelines and recommendations that will help us get the most out of our shared experience.
Appropriate action will be taken when these guidelines are violated. A warning may be given but is not guaranteed; in severe cases, violations can mean removal from the group. Community members should voice concerns and report behavior that violates the guidelines to the administrator via private message. The administrator reserves the right to remove inappropriate comments or content without notice.
By joining this community, you are considered to be in agreement with the terms and conditions listed above.
As the mediator/leader for this online group, I commit to:
For more social media policies and guidelines, click here.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
A model for everyday ministry to real people and how to use social influence for kingdom building as it was demonstrated through the life of Jesus Christ.
During His three-and-a-half-year ministry, He:
Credit: Digital Discipleship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church
modified by Jamie Domm, Digital Strategist for the North American Division
In this model:
Individuals who are seeking to serve as digital missionaries can fulfill all these roles on their own or work within a network of digital missionaries to optimize reach, build community, and share content. By creating an ecosystem of digital missionaries, they can capitalize on each other’s areas of specialty through mutual collaboration and shared social influence. A group of digital missionaries can learn as a group and adapt to changing technologies, increasing their ability to address relevant topics in a timely manner.
Organizations can provide structure for content creation that reflects the official mission and branding of a ministry. An organization should also develop a system for distribution internally and externally, as well as determine ways to tap into the reach potential of its members. Ministries can also set up teams of engagers who work within the brand structure to strengthen the relationships within the church community and/or who are trained to act independently as disciples, developing relationships outside of the Church for the purpose of evangelism. These organizations can also interact within the larger organizational structure of the Church to create a multilayered ecosystem of content creators, distributors, and engagers.
Each organizational level both creates and distributes content through their digital channels: up the chain, down the chain, and to the external audience. Each formal organization should also have a team of engagers to interact with the online community. In terms of the local conference and churches, the role of the engager will need to go beyond the digital space for in-person experiences.
The function of each layer of the Church can be summarized as follows: