“Are you listening to me?”
When these frustrated words come from your wife’s mouth, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you stop and give your undivided attention. At least, I know that now. A few years ago, just coming off our honeymoon, I wasn’t so wise. But, as every husband reading this probably guesses, it didn’t take me very long to learn that important lesson.
Healthy relationships require two-way communication and listening is a critical part of that equation. It can’t be all about what you have to say. Conversations take two. When you listen, it shows others that you care and you’re better equipped to do your part in the relationship.
With social media, the method looks different, but the communication principles are the same. Our love for sharing our daily lives with thousands of friends and followers stems from our desire to be heard. To reach your audience, you must go further than simply posting what’s new with your organization—you must listen to others.
If our churches are going to truly engage our communities online, we must be quick to listen and slow to speak. As I look at ministries who are active on social media, I notice there seems to be quite a lot of talk about us, but little engagement with others. This screams one thing to me: we aren’t listening.
Social media should look more like a conversation than a church bulletin board. While it can be a tremendous tool for spreading the word about your events, that can’t be the focus. Wherever people are, there’s opportunity for ministry. And if we will be intentional to listen, there are a lot of possibilities for actually touching lives through social media.
Here are six simple ways to listen better:
Get Involved On The Right Networks
It seems like new social networks pop up almost daily. While it’s impossible to be active on all of them, it’s easy to manage a few important ones. The current trend for social-savvy churches is to be active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But I recommend spending the majority of your efforts on the platform that your community uses most.
Follow Local Trends
Social networks make it super simple to see what locals are saying in your community. I recommend regularly researching the popular hashtags for your city and its surrounding areas. This may come by a hashtag like #YourCity or by simply searching your city’s name. We like to use Hootsuite’s dashboard to create an all-in-one terminal that displays all the new posts related to our area across popular social networks. This way, we’re in the loop when community events are promoted on Facebook or even when people new to the area tweet about their new city. It’s also really helpful to follow local businesses and organizations.
Promote Your Church’s Hashtag
I’ve learned that when you create a culture where your congregation is familiar with your church’s hashtag it really gives them a voice. Encourage your attendees to ask questions about your sermon, post what stuck out to them in their small group, or even share what Jesus is doing in their life. As they use your church’s hashtag, you’re able to easily review all of these, then respond and/or repost as necessary.
One of the easiest ways to spark two-way conversation on social media is by posting a simple question. “What are your plans for the weekend?” “The Superbowl is this weekend. Who are you pulling for?” “Where is the best place to eat in <your city>?” People really love chiming in on light-hearted questions like these. To go deeper, you can ask questions based on your topic for Sunday’s sermon. Try a few and see what works best for your audience.
Respond To Comments
Once you have people responding to your posts and questions, be sure to recognize them. Responding to comments and retweets communicates that they have been heard and that their interaction was appreciated. An easy way to keep the conversation going is by asking them a follow-up question to their comment. Even if someone disagrees with your post, reply with something similar to “thanks for adding to the conversation.” Each interaction matters.
Friend and Follow From Your Personal Account
I recommend taking your organization’s social media reach further than your church’s Facebook page and Twitter account. Ministry leaders, as you connect with people inside and outside your building, personally add them as a friend on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram. I’m constantly amazed by how well people receive this. It shows them that your church is made up of real people—just like them.
More than anything else, listening on social media comes down to being intentional about truly connecting with people. A friend request or a follow means nothing if you aren’t actually building relationships with people. To get the most out of social media, toss out the gimmicks and focus on people.