Should Your Church Be on Twitter?

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Church staff attention and focus is a precious commodity. Every church staff person wishes they had more time. In the communication areas, although a  huge investment of time is required for social media, it often gets relegated to the time that’s left after everything else is done. Large churches may have a person (or teams) devoted to social media campaigns, but for most of us it is a line item on an already over-crowded job description. And it’s a lot of work!

Time is precious. Where we spend that time is critical. In my role as Media Director, I oversee Technical Production, Information Technology, and our Communications Department (which I have recently been framing as both Creative Arts and Public Relations).
Social media —how the church engages in it, where we put our energy, and what we bring to the conversation — are not small considerations.

I personally have been less engaged with Twitter as a user and have been contemplating our church’s engagement. There’s only so much in the time bank account. We must spend it wisely.

It always starts with purpose

No surprises here, but what is the purpose of your church? Your communications dept? Your communication strategy? Your social media strategy?
Like any other ministry, is your social media strategy focused internally or externally (communicating primarily with those already connected to your church or outsiders)?
What is the purpose of your church using Twitter?
Is there alignment between the strategy of your church and the strategy of Twitter that makes it a natural fit?
Is there alignment between your target audience and Twitter’s users that make it a natural fit?

The language, style, and conversation on each Social Network is unique. Churches excel at broadcast media. Social media is a different animal. As we consider Twitter for our churches, we should not be looking at it through the lens of a user but through the lens of a brand.

Is Twitter a worthy investment of time?

Ben Thompson at his Stratechery blog has always had some brutally honest and insightful critiques of Twitter. I’ve read almost every article, and he delivers poignant analysis on many levels. Without a doubt, he has shaped my views of Twitter. In his recent article, “Twitter needs New Leadership“, he continues to offer both worrisome insight and practical advice:

Twitter the service is so clearly indispensable, at least for some, but Twitter the company can’t seem to get it right

I find Ben’s analysis helpful —Twitter has fallen to 302 million monthly active users, and they now have (according to outside analysis) an estimated 697 million abandoned accounts.

While @usernames and #hashtags are plastered on advertising virtually everywhere, how much engagement is actually going on? After all, interaction is the “secret” to social media. In 2012, Twitter made the decision to limit the size of third party apps in an effort to increase the presence of their native app. Now, they are in a conundrum. If engagement only happens “in app”, then users must be logged in and active. It’s too easy to drift away. Their recent strategy, then, focuses on how to expand that engagement to “logged-out users” and provide additional value.

According to Ben, this is the exact kind of thinking that is leading them astray. Without understanding why they are losing active users any fix they employ will likely miss the mark. Ben describes their new strategy as “Yahoo-lite.” That’s not good at all and represents his prognosis of a slide into relative oblivion.
According to Ben:

What makes Twitter the company valuable is not Twitter the app or 140 characters or @names or anything else having to do with the product: rather, it’s the interest graph that is nearly priceless. More specifically, it is Twitter identities and the understanding that can be gleaned from how those identities are used and how they interact that matters. If one starts with that sort of understanding — that Twitter the company is about the graph, not the app — one would make very different decisions.
What Twitter Might Have Been

Don’t miss that point. If Twitter is about the graph and not the app, then the value to you as a brand is also in the graph and not the app. And don’t miss Ben’s overarching point.  It’s not just that they have failed to grasp their true value, and have a failed strategy as a result, it’s that the leadership doesn’t realize it:

Given that Twitter seems afraid to make even obvious changes to its core product for fear of messing up what they don’t seem to understand, I’m not particularly confident the current leadership team has either the vision or the internal credibility to lead such an [quick product iteration cycle] effort.

All of this underscores my trepidation with Twitter. It’s not just that they are making peculiar decisions, it’s that they are making those decisions out of an obvious misunderstanding of their true value and, at this point, it seems virtually impossible to correct.

How much time should you invest in a company that never solidified a Product–Market Fit? A company that alienated developers in 2012 with a decision to limit access by third-party apps?
A platform and company that cannot seem to get it right?

But what about the data?

Analysis is useful, but how does that help us know if we should be on Twitter? Even if the leadership is misguided, some people seem to be using Twitter effectively.

According to the Pew Research study, Demographics of Key Social Networks from January 2015, here are the demographic breakdowns for the various social media platforms:

  • Facebook—71% of adult internet users/58% of entire adult population
  • LinkedIn—28% of adult internet users/23% of entire adult population
  • Instagram—26% of adult internet users/21% of entire adult population
  • Twitter—23% of adult internet users/19% of entire adult population

In every social network, 18–29 yr olds make up the biggest percentage of users.
87% of 18–29 yr old internet users are on Facebook.
37% of 18–29 yr old internet users are on Twitter.

According to a Go-Globe Infographic, smartphone users have on average 7.4 social/communication apps on their phones. It’s a safe bet that most Twitter users are also on another social network. [UPDATE: According to this Pew Research Study the number of Twitter users who also use Facebook is 91%.]

Social MEdia Matrix

The value of Twitter is the real-time engagement between users and brands. Facebook algorithms serve a status update to more users as the post gains traction. The more people who like/comment/share, the more the post gets pushed to more Newsfeeds, and on and on. Not only can posts be in the Newsfeed more than once, they can also show up days later.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a constant running stream, in chronological order. If you miss it, you miss it. The more people retweet, the more streams it shows up in, but it is all in real-time, controlled by the users.

Conclusion

Here’s the bottom line: Twitter has always struggled to find it’s identity. That does not look like it is going to change. Twitter is dying a slow death, and it will only pickup speed from here. The decisions leadership are making are ultimately destroying what value the service has.

If it’s a matter of potential reach, we’d be better off investing elsewhere. At a minimum, we could say that our potential reach with our limited resources is perhaps better served elsewhere.

Of course, each church has to answer the Twitter question for themselves. If real-time communication is important to you, and the aggregate of that real-time communication is something you can leverage, and the analytics of your users interest graph can assist your ministry efforts and Kingdom building; then Twitter is a valuable tool.

I hope you see the inherent parallel in this post. It’s no wonder that churches are running blind in using Twitter when the actually leadership of Twitter is running blind.

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One additional completely random side-bar point

Jumping back to Ben’s Stratechery blog, this point jumped out to me (seeing as how I love talking about change and challenges):

Facebook seems to be updating or testing new designs for its various products on a nearly weekly basis, while it feels like Twitter’s product hasn’t really evolved in years (in stark contrast, I might add, to the composition of its executive suite).

That’s an interesting insight into change and organizations. I guarantee you something is changing — the organization or the people in an organization. Which side of that fence do you want to be on? Chew on that for awhile!

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4 thoughts on “Should Your Church Be on Twitter?

  1. Mike, in terms of reach and future planning, here’s something to consider. Based on my unscientific observation the 18-29 demo data for Facebook may skew to the higher ages in that range.

    My youngest two daughters are active social media users. The 20 year old uses Facebook about 50% the time, with Insta (40%) and Snapchat (10%–because of its nature) increasingly taking market share. Her last Tweet was July 2012. Here’s the thing–she reads FB because “there’s more new stuff on it” but she posts more to Insta. I see that repeated with other young adults in my life.

    The 16 year-old has to be told to check her FB account. Even then, she won’t do it unless I tell her why. She uses Insta almost exclusively. Is she an outlier? Maybe. But she says her friends are like her.

    1. Good feedback about Instagram and teenagers, Clark. I think you are right, though I have no additional data to add to the discussion. Pew Research, in what I was able to find, doesn’t drill down to actual engagement. I was only able to see “open accounts”, which is significantly different.

      The trend of social media actually overtaking general internet use is disconcerting to me. Having companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google curate the info they show me vs. access to the free and open internet seems to be a step backward.

      As the younger generation stakes their claim in digital space and continues to influence how information is shared, I am watching to see how this develops.
      It’s a big deal for the Church.

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