Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
I occasionally receive criticism online from believers who think I need to be reminded that Jesus is our rock, not worldly marketing best practices. However, understanding that any missionary effort must have its foundation in Christ does not negate our responsibility to educate ourselves in the most effective ways to reach people with the tools available. I have witnessed far too many situations where well-meaning people fly by the seat of their pants, don’t plan appropriately, leave all the details to Jesus, and pray everything works out okay. As a result, the impact of the event or campaign is not what it could have been. Think how much more effective we could be if we practiced good stewardship through proper organization, planning, and communication best practices. The Bible teaches us that a strong foundation is important, both for personal spiritual health as well as for effective witnessing. We should take this wisdom seriously and do everything we can to share the gospel effectively, leaving what we cannot do to the Holy Spirit. A wise person once said:
Don’t pray for the things you can or should do yourself. Ask God for the things only He can do.
A Strong Foundation Begins with Leadership.
Whether you’re a ministry, church, conference, or independent missionary, here is what leaders can start doing today to build a strong strategic foundation for sharing your ministry message:
Strategic planning is simply the process of being intentional and thoughtful with your digital communications.
Social Media & Digital Communications Audit
Begin by evaluating your existing accounts and platforms. Ask: “Are we using the right ones for our audience and mission?” and “Are there opportunities for consolidation?” Less is more. When you streamline your communication efforts, you will achieve greater impact.
Look at your data to determine who you are reaching, the effectiveness of your current strategy, and areas for best practice implementation. Look for issues with your foundation and start thinking about digital strategy goals, target audiences, and key metrics.
Define your purpose for being on social media and utilizing digital tools. Then frame your strategy accordingly, identifying key performance indicators for success. Many ministries and churches fall into the trap of reactive digital communications versus proactive. Reshape your strategy so that you are ahead of the ball. Develop and implement branding guidelines for all your digital communications (which should be an extension of your traditional media, like print) and make sure your team follows best practices.
The auditing process should help you evaluate your current system of communication and develop clear objectives for your digital communications, such as: to advance the gospel and positively influence your community. You and your team can then develop an ongoing approach that aims to achieve some of the key areas listed above.
Once you have a purpose, you can set goals. When you know what you are trying to achieve, you can set benchmarks for measurement. Then came up with a strategy and budget.
Examples of some goals may include, but are not limited to:
Performance Metrics (aka Key Performance Indicators)
Once you’ve identified why you’ll be using digital media and who you’re trying to reach, it’s important to implement measures for success. Identify the metrics that are the most important for your goals and decide how to track them. If you don’t have a lot of time, set benchmarks and track high-level numbers.
Types of Digital/Social Media Metrics:
For example, key performance indicators for ministry could include, but are not limited to:
Choosing the Right Platforms/Channels
Remember, to reach your target audience, you must go to where they spend their time online and use the language they use. Refer back to the “Understanding Your Target Audience” section to help identify the best platforms for your chosen target audience(s). It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by all the possibilities. To avoid that, start with just a few platforms that make the most sense for your ministry, your messages, your available human resources, and your goals. It’s best to pick a few platforms and do them well! A strategy that is stretched too thin will not get the results you’re hoping for.
Remember the “Rule of 7”
The “Rule of 7” states that a person needs to be exposed to a message at least seven times before they’ll take a desired action, such as register, RSVP, attend an event, request a resource, send a message, read an article, or participate in some other meaningful way.
Everyone, including our audience, experiences marketing messaging and content overload. It’s estimated that the average adult is exposed to over 3,000 marketing messages a day! Therein lies the challenge. To cut through the clutter, we must utilize a multi-channel, multi-platform approach. Also, consistency with your branding, as well a regular messaging schedule, will maximize effectiveness. Channel typically refers to the communication medium, such as radio, print, TV, or social media. Platform refers to different kinds of social media such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram. Truly effective communication strategies work across all channels and platforms to reach people where they are, conveying one consistent goal or message.
This is often referred to as integrated marketing and may utilize the following channels:
Social media should be part of a comprehensive communication strategy that incorporates both traditional media and digital, working together to maximize impact. In most cases, social media is not used in place of traditional forms of communication, but in addition, as a means of amplifying your message to a larger community.
For churches, you’ll most likely want to leverage in-person interactions and conversations, website updates, text messages, flyers, group messaging tools, podium announcements, emails, and your social media profiles. Together, all these efforts help communicate your church brand, and it’s important to consider how each of these communication tools reflects your message, mission, and, ultimately, Christ, following His example for drawing people to the gospel. Being strategic is just being intentional with how you orchestrate all the different ways to distribute information, and making sure to use effective methods of presenting that information. If you find yourself struggling to make your members informed about events and opportunities, understanding and implementing this multi-channel principle will help improve awareness amongst your congregation.
But with the busyness of life, how can you ensure that your audience prioritizes your messages? Your content must be read before it can have any kind of life-changing effect. It’s not enough to communicate often and in different ways. To stand out and be effective, your messages should communicate directly to the reader in a way that is relevant to their life or situation, framed in a way that meets their needs. Messaging like: “This will make your life easier/help you with a problem,” or “Here’s a chance to learn how to eat healthier/help the community,” or “Here’s an opportunity to gain some insight on that nagging question you have,” is strong, engaging content.
Another way to think about this is to seek to understand the motivating desires and core values of your community. Refer back to the “Understanding Your Target Audience” section of this guide for more information on this topic. Then create programs, ministries, and content that serves them. Too often we create the programs and content that we assume our audience wants, and don’t end up with the results we were hoping for. When we combine a strong communications strategy with careful research about our target audience prior to creating programs and messages, we can increase our chances of being successful. We’ll unpack messaging and content more under the “Content Creators” section of this guide.
Implementing an effective strategy requires repeated, consistent messaging from multiple communication channels to have an informed audience or membership. In addition, those messages must serve your target audiences in a meaningful way. We now have more resources than ever before to reach audiences and reinforce our message. But with all the digital clutter, it might take up to a thousand tries to reach someone just seven times! Therefore, it’s important to keep at it and develop relationships with those you are trying to serve.
Social media can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. For most Adventist entities, communications manager is just one of many hats an employee might wear—especially if you are a small team or just a team of one. If you happen to be a full-time digital strategist, you’re likely managing multiple campaigns and projects at once. Regardless of your level of expertise and available resources, there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything you need to do in order to stay on top of the ever-growing evangelistic influence of digital media. A streamlined approach allows you and your team to tackle multiple projects that must integrate an ever-growing list of communication channels.
We’ll unpack the details of a content strategy within the “Content Creators” section of this guidebook. For now, here are some fundamental tips for getting organized:
Schedule Content in Batches
Scheduling your content (and ads) in advance helps you focus on big picture items without the urgency of consistent posting. Plan out regular content in advance and make time to schedule it in monthly or two-week chunks. Then you can focus your attention on engagement, community building, data analysis, strategic planning, and other projects. This also empowers you to be more proactive in your digital strategy, as opposed to reactive—freeing you up to respond quickly to comments or address any unexpected issues or changes.
What’s appropriate to spend?
People often ask, “How much does it cost to promote online?” Well, it depends. The beauty of social advertising and other digital promotions is that it the investment is adjustable based on what you can spend. Digital channels (specifically social media) work very well for small budgets and non-profits. A little can go a long way, but it’s important to spend at least a little. As your confidence and familiarity with your target audience grows, you can increase your budget gradually. Often, your budget depends on the size of your goals and your purpose. A small local ministry may only need to spend $300 a year to reach the surrounding community, whereas a nationwide campaign would need at least $3,000 to create impact within a targeted audience. Before setting a budget, develop a strategy, strong messaging, and a clear objective. Then start with a small ad budget directed at your target audience. Track and analyze results. Evaluate your results against your ministry’s key performance indicators and optimize accordingly. Remember, if you’re going to take the time to put together a campaign strategy, take the time to track your performance. Otherwise you can’t build on what you’ve learned or improve for the next campaign, because you didn’t learn from the last one. Under the “Distributors” section of this guidebook, we’ll discuss advertising in more detail.
Don’t Give Up Too Soon!
Post reach and interaction will ebb and flow based on your audience’s personal preferences, attitude of the day, the news, that evening’s supper, or just the busyness of life. Keep posting. Keep interacting. Keep adapting.
When you initially revamp your digital strategy, the changes in post engagement should show immediate and positive results. But over time things may plateau or even dip, especially during the holidays. You’ll learn to see and anticipate yearly patterns. Keep pressing forward. Often efforts fail because people give up too early.
Social Media Best Practices Checklist for Ministries
As previously discussed, a strong digital strategy begins with a good foundation of planning. Social media represents a bold new frontier for mission and is a powerful communications tool. In order to fully realize the untapped potential of the digital mission field, each denominational entity, ministry, or local church is encouraged to download the latest version of the NAD Social Media Guidelines for an in-depth manual with resources and guidance regarding best practices for professional social media communication.
Whether you’re just getting started or conducting a social media audit, this checklist is designed to help you make sure your organization or ministry is maintaining basic best practices for social media.
Ideally, organizations should conduct a basic social media audit every six months as part of a larger digital communications strategy review. The digital mission field is dynamic and ever-changing, and the North American Division office of Big Data + Social Media is here to help you stay informed. Once you can check off everything on this list, visit SDAdata.org for more resources, tips, and tutorials to continue to enhance your digital evangelism and discipleship strategies.