Everyone wants to know to grow an audience on social media and there are just as many social media gurus out there that will try and sell you on what works. I’m not a guru, just a seasoned practitioner who has been in the game, learned from my experience, and has a passion to help people use social media to reach more people with their message.

For the last five years, I’ve worked with churches of 500 to 100,000 people in weekly attendance, large non-profits, New York Times best selling authors, Billboard Top 20 artists, and everything in between. While each of them had their own unique challenges and goals they set out to accomplish they all had one thing in common: a desire to build a legit following on social media.

Every organization that has a message they believe in wants to have a following on social media that is legit. But where do you begin? What’s a better way to grow your audience? How do you define success? Well, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that can help.

Realize Social Media Isn’t Everything

Social media matters; yes. But ultimately, it’s not everything. Social media, at its best, is a complement to your overall digital strategy, which includes your website, email list, and anything else your church or organization does online. In a way, it’s a vehicle to get people somewhere. So where are you driving them? Your efforts with social media shouldn’t be in a silo; disconnected from other marketing and communication efforts you’re doing. It should be an active presence that’s integrated into everything else that you do. So before you get too focused on social media, press the pause button and look at everything else you’re doing, and see how social media can play a supporting role in everything else that you’re doing.

Social media, at its best, is a complement to your overall digital strategy.

Know Who You’re Talking to and What You Want Them to Do

Understanding who your audience is should be one of the first places you start before you think through what you want to say to them. Who is your primary audience on social media? Where are they? What matters to them? What things do they care about? The more you can identify who you’re talking to, the more strategic you can get about what you’re going to say to them. For a church, the best place to start would be looking at your own congregation and surrounding community. What are things that matter to your community? What are their online habits like?

Start Small

With social media you don’t have to be all things to all people—meaning you don’t have to be everywhere. Every organization’s audiences have different relationships with social media. So for some, Twitter may be where to go. For others it’s Facebook. Some are Snapchatting away, while others are dominating on Instagram. I always think it’s best to start with one or two platforms that make the most sense for your organization and start to experiment. And let your church know where to find you on social media: make it present on screens before service, in printed materials, buttons to follow on your website, and links in your email communication. See where you gain traction and invest your energy accordingly.

Every organization’s audiences have different relationships with social media.

Quick Tip: 1 in 5 webpage views in the US today is Facebook. The average age on Facebook is getting older. But for most churches, it will be the prime space where nearly everyone who is in your congregation is already present.

Content is King

Great content wins on social media. Content that is relevant to your audience and timely will make all of the difference. Don’t sit down in front of your computer and say, “Hmm…what should I tweet today?” Have a plan and develop a content calendar. There are many great resources online to help you get one put together, but in essence, think through every day of the week and what key messages would be important for your congregation to hear… What would help support everything else your church is doing on a communications front… And what are key things you want people to do? Then, map out a plan that you can follow each week based on the answers you discover. Invest the time to think strategically about what you’re going to say and have a plan to develop great content around it. Give people something to talk about. Create valuable content that people will want to share with others!

Don’t sit down in front of your computer and say, “Hmm…what should I tweet today?”

Quick Tip: Timeliness matters. If things happen in our world or in your community, leverage social media by speaking into that conversation. One of my clients is a Christian organization that focuses on social justice. Recently, when the 21 Egyptian Christians were murdered, I made a graphic with all of their names and a short post to remember to pray for the persecuted church. I posted in on their social media accounts and that single post reached over 450,000 people.

Consistency is Key

On social media, consistency is next to godliness. As mentioned above, having a content calendar is a great way to maintain consistency and ensure that you have content being posted on a regular basis. One thing to remember here, too, is that when you’re posting, it doesn’t always have to be about you or what you want people to do. Knowing who your audience is and what matters to them will allow you the freedom to share all kinds of content—not just content that’s related to your organization. Keeping a consistent and familiar voice online will help deepen the relationship you have with your followers.

On social media, consistency is next to godliness.

Quick Tip: I worked with a worship band that would only post whenever they were releasing an album or on tour. They had about 35,000 followers when I began working with them. We created a content calendar and made a plan to be consistently posting content that would matter to their audience: a mix of photos, worship lyrics, Bible verses, links to articles, and more—all centered around worship and worship leading. Over the course of doing this for 8 months consistently, their Facebook page grew to over 140,000 without any paid advertisement, post boosting, or any other schemes or tricks. Great content, over time, grew their audience. The next album they released made iTunes Top 10. In large part they attribute its success to the fact that their audience on social media was 3x as large as it had been previously.

Talk Back

Can you imagine talking to someone and them staring at you and not responding back? Unfortunately, a lot of churches and organizations do that on social media. They’ll take the time and painstakingly create great content and post it consistently. But then they miss one of the key elements of social media: the social part. Social media is meant to be a conversation, not a broadcast platform. Churches are in the relationship business and know that if a person walks in to your church they should be greeted. If people call, a phone should be answered. If they email, it should be responded to, etc. In the same way, if they respond on social media, it should be acknowledged. Whether you write back, favorite, or like their comment, people need to know that someone out there is listening. Engage back. Write back. It will make a world of difference. It doesn’t matter how large or small your church is, engagement is what will make or break your presence on social media.

Social media is meant to be a conversation, not a broadcast platform.

Focus on the Right Numbers

By default, looking at the numbers of new followers and fans is usually the way most people will go about measuring the effectiveness of their social media efforts. And while they are a great indicator, there are other numbers out there to consider too.

Twitter and Facebook have great built-in analytic tools and other services like Buffer, Hootsuite, and Sprout Social help you dig even deeper. A few key elements I consider when measuring effectiveness are:

Total Impressions of Content – In total, how many people did your content reach?

Engagement – How did people engage with your content? How many likes, favorites, shares, and retweets did it get? One of the best ways to organically grow your audience comes when people interact with it, engage with it, and share it with their friends.

Website Traffic + Email Sign Ups – How did your social media efforts increase traffic to your website? How many new subscribers did you get? How many video views?

Attendance – For churches, I also like to look and see how social media patterns flow with attendance patterns. Are you seeing a blip in the radar or any correlation between the numbers social media shows you beside attendance numbers?

Remember, what gets measured gets managed. So all good social media managers develop great ways to measure what’s getting done. The best way to know if you’re effective on social media isn’t simply by looking at your follower count. It’s looking at what your followers did with your content.

The best way to know if you’re effective on social media isn’t simply by looking at your follower count.

Quick Tip: I am working with a church right now that has a Saturday night service. They leverage the crowd on Saturday night to help spread the word about what’s happening to the rest of the church and to their friends on the weekend. Following every service, the pastor gets up and reminds them that while people are going to bed Saturday night or waking up on Sunday morning they could see something posted from their friends on social media that could spark their interest in coming to church. Over the last four months they’ve seen an increase in attendance that closely follows the increased impressions of social media content on the weekend.

Go Back to Why

A church’s presence on social media is about more than gaining more fans and followers. In many ways, social media is a return to how what we now call the Church began. People had an encounter with Christ that they couldn’t keep to themselves. They heard a message about God and the Good News and His great love and they shared it with their friends. Those friends shared it with their friends, and the message spread. Jesus told us to go and make disciples. And do you know what the early Christians were called? Followers of the way. A lot of what we see today with social media is going back to the very ways and means that we saw the early Church grow: people sharing and connecting others to something that changed them. That’s what this is all about. One of my favorite verses to sum all of this comes from the Sermon on the Mount…

A church’s presence on social media is about more than gaining more fans and followers.

You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. – Jesus, Matthew 5:14-16, The Message

The key reason why you should want to build a legit following on social media is to see more people following Christ.