Facebook Group or Page - Which is Right for Your Church?
Update: Since we wrote this article in 2017, Facebook has made changes that make Groups an even more powerful tool and make Group content favored by the Facebook algorithms that determine what users see. You can link a Group to your church's Page. Also, Facebook has since given Admins and Moderators better tools to use to manage Groups. You could create a Group (or multiple Groups) associated with your church's page around a particular topic or ministry of your church; and you could also maintain a general Group for your church, allowing members to form closer bonds and to support one another on their spiritual journey.
Maybe you aren’t quite ready to build a new church website. Whether you hire a professional or go the DIY route, it is not a project to be taken lightly. (See Before You Build a New Church Website for tips to consider).
In the meantime, what about Facebook? Can you leverage Facebook to improve your digital presence and cultivate relationships? After all, social media is designed to be social and the reach of Facebook is undeniable. According to Pew Research, nearly 8 out of 10 (79%) Americans who are online use Facebook, and 76% of those users check in daily. If we are in the business of helping people find God wherever they are and through our relationships with one another, then we need to be present on Facebook – because that’s where people are.
But how do you use Facebook in such a way that it is relational, invitational, and engaging - and not merely another broadcast platform?
And what is the best option for your church: Profile, Page, or Group?
Here are some tips to help you decide how to represent your church on Facebook:
A profile represents a person. Perhaps in the early days of Facebook, a forward-thinking clergy person or church communicator set up a personal profile that served as your church’s de facto presence. If so, it’s time to make a change. While it is important for your clergy to be engaged on social media (and a blog post for another day), a personal profile cannot do justice to your organization.
Page vs. Group
Which brings us to a long-standing question: which is better for your church, a Page or a Group? Each has it pros and cons, and much of it depends on your goals, your intent, and your community culture. Further complicating the decision are the features that continuously change and evolve on Facebook.
A page serves as the official, centralized voice of your organization. Although you may designate multiple people to post as Admins or Editors on your behalf, all content originates from you and those you designate. Certainly you may encourage visitors to engage with and respond to your posts, but posts by others will not show up to people who have Liked your page unless you intentionally re-post them. A page is public – anyone can Like your Page. It is important to remember that Facebook algorithms filter content so that not every post will be shared with every person who Likes your page, but anyone who hopes to see what you post can follow you by Liking your page.
Some other features of a Page:
- Logistical information – this is important information for those who are new to your organization. In the About your Page, you will want to include service times, contact information, and a link to your website.
- Location – you can establish your location, and if necessary, maintain multiple locations connected with your church. This also allows people to Tag your location when they visit. As a Page, you will be notified when someone does this.
- Description – this is your chance to let prospective visitors know who you are and what your congregation is like today. Unless you have a strong connection to Alexander Hamilton (and can hook people up with tickets to the Broadway show), do not use this space to detail the glorious past of your congregation. People looking for your church on social media want to know what it will be like if they show up on Sunday. Not how your congregation began in 1802.
- Instagram connection – you can link a Page to your Instagram account allowing you to manage both accounts from the same app.
- Set up Shop – if you have a PayPal or Stripe (or are willing to set up an account), you can set up online payment processing. While you might not have merchandise to sell, you could use Facebook to sell tickets for fundraisers or other events.
- Tagging – more so than on a personal Profile, Tagging is somewhat wonky on Facebook Pages, much of it having to do with whether or not someone has engaged with your Page, or, if it’s another Page you are trying to tag, or if you have Liked that Page from your Page (as opposed to Liking it from a personal Profile). While you may not always be able to tag individuals or other Pages, you will be notified if anyone Tags you or your location. You will need to decide if you want to allow Tagging on photos and videos you post. Because posts are public, allowing others to Tag may raise issues of youth protection. You may decide not to Tag children in your photos, but if you allow Tagging, someone else might Tag a parent of a child pictured.
- Vanity URL – when you create a Page for your church, the initial assigned URL might be a string of hard-to-remember gibberish. On your Page you can create a descriptive URL that is easier to remember and easier for users to search for. The challenge is finding a unique name – there are a lot of St. Paul’s Episcopal Churches out there, so my home church created a URL that includes the church name, the denomination and an abbreviated location - @stpaulsepiscopalpgh. Choose wisely because once you have created this URL, it cannot be changed.
- Boosts – you can boost Events or Posts on a Page, working to reach a target market (the details of how to do this are yet another blog post!).
- Analytics – you can track engagement with your Posts. This helps you to better understand not only which Posts encourage users to engage and respond, but also the types of Posts favored by Facebook algorithms. If it doesn’t have a picture or video, there is a greatly reduced likelihood that it will show up in the Newsfeed of people who follow your page.
Your challenge in using a Page to represent your church on Facebook is that the public-facing nature of a Page may not be conducive to engaging people in deeper, relational conversations. Furthermore, if you hope to amplify underrepresented voices, it will be harder to do so on a Page unless you grant access to a lot of people to act as Admins or Editors to create content. The upside of a Page is that you can use the sophistication of Facebook’s marketing and advertising tools to target and reach people who are disproportionately likely to be interested in your message.
A Group is a great way to facilitate conversation and engagement among your members. The first decision you will make is the Privacy setting. There are three choices: Public (or Open), Closed, or Secret. In all cases, members must be approved by a designated Admin or Moderator. Public Groups allow anyone to request membership; Closed and Secret Groups allow membership by invitation only. When setting up a Group, make a practice of inviting members rather than automatically adding people. Many people find being automatically added to a Group intrusive.
There are valid reasons you might consider a Public or Closed Group, however it is probably unlikely that you would consider a Secret Group. While both Public and Closed Groups can be found by searching, only content posted in Public groups is visible to non-members of the Group.
Some uses of a Closed Group might be a digital discussion space that benefits from some privacy, such as for members to share prayer requests. Specific interests in your church might be served by having a Closed Group, such a book discussion group. Closed Facebook Groups are also helpful for any ministry involving minors in that information about children and youth would not be shared publicly.
A Public (or Open) Group might be a way to facilitate a broader community discussion around a specific event or issue, particularly one whose reach is beyond your parish community.
Some features of a Groups:
- Member-created content – if you are looking to increase engagement and connectivity among participants, this format privileges all members of the Group. Unlike a Page, where only Admin or Editor-posted content is shown, in a Group, any member may post content that will be seen by other members. This creates a far more organic environment for conversation than a Page.
- Sticky posts - If you are an Admin or Moderator, as on a Page, you can highlight certain important posts by making them “sticky” – this means they will always be shown at the top of the Group content feed. While this doesn’t change the more free-wheeling discussion aspect of Groups vs. Pages, it does give you a way to highlight certain content.
- Events – like a Page, you as an Admin or Moderator, can establish upcoming Events that are either Private to the group or open to the Public. It is important to note that privacy settings cannot be changed once you set up an event. Also, as of now, you cannot use Facebook Ads to boost an Event in a Group; nor will you have extensive analytics to track engagement with the Event.
- Tagging – Tagging in a Group works similarly to the way it works on personal Profiles. Members can Tag other members who allow it.
- Description – a good description will make the job of an Admin or Moderator much easier. A clearly defined group, “A place for members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to share prayer requests” for example, is helpful. Although appropriate usage or appropriate content of a Group might seem obvious to you, unless you clearly define it, you can’t assume others will share your definition of “appropriate.” For example, certain humor and business solicitations might be perfectly acceptable in some Groups but not welcome in others. By defining the intent up front, you somewhat reduce the likelihood that a member will use the Group inappropriately.
- Group Rules and Membership Questions - like a good description, Group Rules and Membership Questions maintain the safety and civility of all members of a group. Group Rules aren't meant to be harsh or restricting, rather they help define the boundaries and intent for how the Group is to be used and by whom. State rules positively rather than crafting a list of “Don’ts.” Use Membership Questions to determine who is attempting to join a Group and their connection to the Group. Group Rules can also be used establish norms for the group. For example, you might clarify that "Like" can be used as a way to acknowledge a prayer request and to signify “I’m praying for you” rather than be interpreted as "liking" the fact that someone is facing a challenge and requires prayers!
- Moderation – in every Group, there will come a time when an Admin or Moderator must address a member who has posted something hurtful or inappropriate. You need to consider how much time you have to spend monitoring content; and be prepared for content that requires intervention. This may take the form of a “back channel” pastoral conversation with the offender – preferably in person or other one-on-one basis. This may require that you delete a post or comment or turn off comments on a post. This should always be accompanied with some damage-control language explaining your actions. Having a set of guidelines for content is important so that the difficult choice to police someone by deleting their content is objective rather than subjective. Facebook has also improved the Group Moderator tools to facilitate Group moderation.
Whether you choose to represent your church with a Facebook Page or a Group, or a series of Groups, or some combination of, there is no denying that Facebook represents a new opportunity for community. Rather than see it as a distinct community or space that supplants traditional church gatherings, consider Facebook as a way to extend your existing “face-to-face” community and relationships into the digital sphere. Wherever two or three are gathered – whether physically or digitally gathered – God will be present.
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.
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