Social Media: the next best thing to being there
For every one of the 1,300 young people and adults who gathered in Oklahoma City for the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE), there were legions – like me! – stuck at home who wished we could be there.
Fortunately, the energy and excitement of the event was captured and shared across multiple social media platforms by a dedicated team of 4 teen leaders and 2 adults, working closely with Wendy Johnson, Officer for Digital Formation and Events for the Episcopal Church. Churches planning to use social media to share an event could learn a lot from the discernment and intentionality of the EYE social media team!
Before the Event – Deciding on a Goal
Before identifying messages, strategies, platforms, roles, schedules, or audiences, the team wisely took a step back. Working together, they pursued a shared understanding of the culture of social media. From these discussion, they honed in on one essential question: what does social media evangelism look like?
With that question as a clear guiding principal, the EYE team moved forward in common understanding and purpose. They determined that social media evangelism depended on storytelling. Seeking out, capturing, and curating the stories of EYE, before, during, and after the event would allow them to weave an overall collaborative story from myriad individual stories.
Next, the team identified their core audiences, split between those who were aware of EYE and those who might be hearing about the event for the first time. Potential social media audiences included:
- Bishops, diocesan staff, and other interested individuals across the church
- Event participants, their parents and families
- Friends and social media followers of participants who might be completely unfamiliar with EYE or the Episcopal Church
The team then identified the social media platforms they would use – Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook – and crafted a social media schedule. Posts pertaining to logistics and reminders were created in advance and scheduled so team members could be more flexible during the actual event.
During the Event – the Voice of EYE
One of the key responsibilities of the EYE team was to partner with other media providers such as the Episcopal News Service, the communications office of the Episcopal Church, and the event audio visual team. This coordination proved to be a larger task than expected, but the EYE team responded masterfully, aided by their common understanding of purpose and focus. Furthermore, the team lived into their role as evangelists, serving as “the voice” of the event – they gave interviews for various podcasts and articles, and made sure to take a ton of pictures.
During the event, the team coordinated their activity using the GroupMe app and daily in-person meetings. They monitored the use of the various social media platforms, and witnessed the following trends:
- This platform was great for sharing “in-the-moment” experiences of participants.
- Participants enjoyed the geo-filter, which the team had created in advance.
- Team members were personally responsible for posting snaps on the “EPISCOYOUTH” account.
- Although only one person could be logged into the official account at once, the team used the “Our Story” feature effectively. This allowed people who were following the EPISCOYOUTH account to post their own snaps, making it a great tool to aggregate content from many contributors and a way to capture a variety authentic voices from the event.
- The team posted a lot on Instagram, but determined that they could have posted less frequently (mid-day and evening, for example).
- The team was surprised to see that traction on Instagram continued after EYE had ended as participants continued to post and share using the designated hashtag #EYE17. This certainly lived into the idea of evangelism!
- Twitter was effective for sharing logistical information and announcements during the event, and one of the EYE team members live tweeted a plenary session; however there was not a whole lot of action by participants on this platform.
- Primary engagement on Twitter was between youth ministers and priests who weren’t there; and some of the engagement was not necessarily helpful for understanding the event.
- This platform was primarily used to engage parents of kids who were there – there were lots of “I see my kid!” comments and social shares. More evangelism!
After the Event – Points of Growth
As in any event, it was helpful for the EYE team to consider what went well, what was unexpected, and where points of growth existed. Some conclusions:
- Curation – quality versus quantity is always a debatable point, especially for an organization that posts infrequently other than during large events. The question of how not to overwhelm social feeds with the inevitable barrage of event content is an important one to consider.
- It would have been helpful for the team to have more conversation about event social media versus personal social media usage, considering that the approaches can be very different .
- The team was challenged in trying to leverage posts made by participants attending the event. They found that pulling content from other peoples’ feeds was difficult and time consuming. Even when using hashtags to locate good content on Instagram and Twitter, there was no efficient way to capture it and re-share it.
- The team had no real way of providing direction and instruction in advance of the event to participants. A social media guide distributed during the registration process might have helped to establish hashtags, accounts to follow, etc.
- An initiative inviting people to “write your path to peace” didn’t get the traction the team had hoped. They determined that it relied too much on people making the effort to respond. The team determined that the initiative might have been more successful had it been actively facilitated. Episcopal Migration Ministries shared images on Instagram of participants responding to the question “Why should refugees be welcome?” by writing their answers on buttons. Rather than asking people to create and submit their own images, EMM provided the buttons, posed the question, and took the photos. EMM curated the social media content on their account – and that content was then often re-shared by participants. The EYE team realized that taking advantage of captive audiences – at a conference booth or waiting in line for dinner – is a good opportunity to encourage people to create content that they might not have the motivation to create for themselves.
Overall, the EYE social media team did a great job living into their primary question: what does social media evangelism look like? They thoughtfully answered some important questions in advance:
- Why are we here?
- What is our approach
- Who is our audience?
- How are we going to participate?
And while circumstances evolved during the event, the EYE team was able to respond to the unexpected by drawing on the structure they had established and their shared understanding of their goal of evangelism.
Whether your church is planning an event for 1,300 or 130, studying the process and best practices exhibited by the EYE social media team is a great place to start!
Check out EYE on social media:
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/episcoyouth/ (#EYE17)
Twitter https://twitter.com/EpiscoYouth (#EYE17)
- Lisa Brown
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.