I’ve often commented that tools don’t make the process when talking with church organizations about social media and communications in general. I think this issue has only been further compounded as the many options for tools have increased and continue to do so. To this end I feel like we’ve all lost track of the mission: reaching new people, keeping people informed, and interacting with both of the former. (Read=Lost people, members/attenders, and everyone in-between.) We don’t need new tools to innovate church communications, we need solid, proven ministry practices and processes.
Let me explain: When one is considering building a bird house most of us would probably just go to Wal-Mart and buy one. (Or which ever bird house mart you prefer.) But, for those who like a little more adventure, they journey into their basement and/or garage to actually build it. For these experts of the craft they follow a process something like this: Step one: gather what you need to be successful at building your bird house (i.e., plans, materials, tools, etc.) Ultimately, combining these things should result in a bird house. However, most of us also know that it’s how we combine these items that measures our level of success. For example, plans need to be for what you actually want to accomplish and simple to understand. The materials should last and not create unneeded waste, and finally the tools should help you accomplish the task not make it more complicated. (Anyone see where this is going yet?) The path to success is then to follow the right plans, assemble your materials in the right way, while using the appropriate tools. Simple, right?
So how does this relate to your church’s social media and overarching communications plan:
1) Plans/Processes/Procedures: Like building a bird house, you need good plans to know where you are going and how you are going to get there. These are much like our ministry processes. Lacking solid, documented ministry processes, you end up building a dog house when all you wanted was a simple place for a blue bird to call home. For the church today, this should come in the form of an all-encompassing communications plan. This plan can cover all things from branding, marketing, website, bulletins, mass mailings, podcasts, videos, and of course social media. It’s all related and important to keep aligned and all involved accountable to the plan.
2) Materials (Read content): should be what you need to accomplish the job and should be of good quality. (i.e., videos, podcasts, mailings, bulletins, etc.) We all want to ensure the work we do lasts, answers the task at hand, and ultimately glorifies God. If we don’t, then we may end up with a great plan and/or process, but then fail in the delivery for not taking the time to ensure that our messaging/content/communications actually make sense in the context of what we are trying to accomplish.
3) Tools (Read social media platforms/content management systems/etc): Everyone wants the shiny new tool that’s on sale at Home Depot (or Lowes if you like) but do you need it? Does it help you accomplish your goal or only look pretty, take up space, and cost a lot of money? Does it even do the task you need it to do? Have you ever bought a tool that claimed to do a bunch of things including the ONE thing you need it to do, just to find out it doesn’t even do the task you need it to all? Social media and content management can absolutely be daunting in this respect. Everything is “new” or “popular”, but before you jump into the fold you should look to your communication plan and see what you are trying to accomplish as a church. Which tool best fits your goals? Blanketing the market may be an option, but in the face of small or non-existent budgets some times targeting your approach will yield the best results. Learn the tools and match their benefits and reach to your communications plan for best results and then expand as you grow.
So, maybe social media isn’t quite like building a bird house, however often times I feel we are losing sight of our task, our target audience, and the intended end state by being blinded by the shiny new tool on the shelf that promises to do everything including slice my fresh bread before a meal. Knowing the task and how you are going to accomplish it is most important today along with delivering good and relevant content to those you hope to reach. Social media and content management tools are supposed to help accomplish the tasks and support the process, not BE the process, etc. It’s time we focus on getting things done and producing results by way of using the correct tools for the job. Social media/web2.0/shiny web objects of choice are just that, tools: Some are good for accomplishing what your church needs and others are just new fancy tools that do too much for their own good. Focus on your ministry’s mission, the audience, and your organizational goals and allow the appropriate tools fall into place to make the overall experience better. Don’t fall for what every pitchman has for you or what’s on sale at the front of the mega shopping center store this holiday season, or what ever some megachurch is using with great success. Bottom line: Tools, no matter how shiny and awesome they are, should never be the solution, they are only the means to accomplishing your goals. Make a plan, do your research and watch your ministry grow through good content and audience engagement.
This topic has been coming up a lot lately. I wrote about it a few weeks back: Social Tools Do Not a Process Make. A lot of people are overly focused on technology as a solution rather than a tool that can be used to re-enforce good policy, procedures, etc. (Read=Process) Fellow GovLoop-er, and communications consultant, Steve Radick has mentioned this a few times in his blogs as of late as well.
One can argue that “2.0 technology” is so “large” or “innovative” that it’s a game changer, but this is a standard technology argument that is as old as the world it’s self. One must recall the definition of technology to understand my point: (According to Merriam-Webster) Technology=”a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.” By this definition technology isn’t a “thing” it’s a how and this is important to understand in discussion. Changing how we do something requires good process, methods, and/or knowledge. Lacking any of these things technology typically serves to only make things more complicated instead of easier. (As stated, how many projects can one point to that has suffered this reality?) Thus, we suffer from the reality that technology can be a double edged sword if not applied correctly to resolve a problem and in fact can end up causing more problems than it was implemented to resolve. (If this is the case, then by technical definition you have already failed.) This is the root problem in technology innovation: We can be motivated to change process due to some shiny new object that promises world peace, when all we really needed was a tool/technology that makes our processes better.
So, I leave you with this: 1.) Innovation for the sake of innovation is typically doomed to fail as it doesn’t have a problem to solve. 2.) If lacking solid process, methodology, and/or knowledge technology will typically lead to frustration rather than solutions. and 3.) Tools/Technology: no matter how shiny and awesome they are, should never be the independent solution, they are only a means to accomplishing the mission/goal.
Technology does make our lives easier, but only appropriately applied technology to existing (and solid) processes change the world we live in for the better. What we need is a “Process 2.0” driven work place, that uses the right techonlogy for the job and appropriately engages people while solving problems.
If you aren’t following the work of Jason Calacanis (Mahalo, ThisWeekIn, etc), the short answer is you probably should. Like many others at the tech forefront and the many start up guru’s of the West Coast, Jason is one that loves to share his ideas, his work, ideas with others, and simply just provide information that helps people get where they are going. But enough about how awesome Mr. Calacanis is (even if he is beyond awesome..) The point to my entry today is to draw attention to an awesome social media impact assessment tool/engagement measurement tool that Jason passed along to the masses just this week and in the wake of finally having a way to keep track of your Google+ impact on the world. (Yup, I said it..You can actually get Google+ stats now.) So, what is this magical tool? ThinkUp.
Okay, so now what? Well what have we covered so far? 1.) Jason Calacanis is someone you should follow/friend/etc. He’s got the goods. (if you want a full feed, add Robert Scoble as well.) 2.) ThinkUp is a free social tool that helps you digest your social media actions on the interwebs. That second part is the one that is probably most important here. ThinkUp allows you to track your social footprint, your digital footprint, digital engagement, or whatever buzz term fits your existence best. (I’m not here to judge, simply to pass along the awesomeness.)
Right, so: ThinkUp. Basically, ThinkUp is an open source beta that allows users to keep track of a cross section of social media accounts/tools to see what types of impact/engagement they are having on the rest of the world. Everything from tracking twitter accounts, facebook accounts, and now Google+. To catch your attention I have provided a few screen shot examples that demonstrate just what the tool can do. But if seeing some static screen shots just doesn’t do it for you, check out the live twitter demo! Whitehouse Twitter.
..Want to track your tweeks, replies, retweets, traffic, etc? Yeah, there IS an APP for that..
..The White House apparently averaged roughly 600 new followers a DAY in September..
Not sure about anyone else, but this looks to be an outstanding option to start trying to keep track of traffic type stats and in formats that are very straight forward use and manipulate. The latest version even does geo-location of content being tracked, when and if available.
Bottom line: it’s open source, it keeps adding features, and seems fairly simple to use. So, what are you waiting for!?
(Note: if you are already using this awesome tool, let us know what you think and how you’re using it!)
No need to write a long drawn out discussion here on the pros and cons of Google+ as we have all spent a lot of time “discussing” said topic. However, I did stumble across something awesome last night and wanted to share it with the believers and non-believers: Start G+ (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hbgcgahdbgbdenffckohanhob…)
Start G+ is a Chrome extension that provides almost everything everyone has grumbled about in the last few weeks:
1. Gmail Inbox Indicator
By now most are probably like me, someone who actually likes Google+ (Transparency), are probably starting to grow a little wary of the number of blogs on Google+ that talk about how awesome or un-awesome (it’s a word..seriously..) it is. Okay, fair enough, I have written my share on this topic and comments until my fingers were getting blisters from attempting to dispel ignorance and stupidity (yeah..there is a difference, look it up, you’ll feel slightly more intelligent for having done so.) However, every now and again I actually have stumbled across an article and/or blog that makes an interesting point in the use of the technology. What a novel concept I thought, mostly to myself, an article that actually is talking about the use of the tech and for actual benefits. (Engagement type benefits no less.)
For today’s discussion, I want to focus on a Mashable article (5 Ways Journalists Are Using Google+) as it has taken a position from an actual group of end users and discusses some interesting things that have found their way out of the bottomless pit of random egotism and otherwise useless junk we tend to find on social outlets. I mean seriously, do we actually care what people have put on their Facebook wall or tweeted about for the 15th time today? Meaningful content is becoming difficult to separate from the general noise of social media. Anyway, I digress.
The Five Ways:
“Talking About Google+”: As the article points out, this is a no brainer. Google+ is new, shiny, and ripe with controversy surrounding issues like privacy, functionality, and how it’s not Facebook. Not much to be said here, news is news. Love it or hate it, new tech is always going to leave plenty to talk about.
- “Hosting Audience ‘Hangouts’” (TV/Web News): This is probably one of my favorite points the author talks about. A news organization in Columbia, Missouri hosts ‘Hangouts’ in Google+ while on the air. This allows viewers to log in and interact with staff, etc while they are on the air. Staff can then use the discussion and content from the ‘hangout’ to answer viewers questions and/or mention someone’s point of view. (Granted this is similar to tech like UStrea, Justine.TV, etc Google is taking it to the main stream.) Want to talk about social engagement? *BAM* Social engagement.
- “Engaging Readers” (Written News): I’ve enjoyed this concept already personally. A handful of reporters I follow are actively engaging their friends/followers as they post articles. This is not a “fire and forget” environment like their primary news organization’s website. Reporters are engaging their readers for feedback, open discussions, etc. (Don’t believe me? Follow +Dan Patterson of ABC News)
- “Analyzing News Coverage”: This is similar to “Engaging Readers” mentioned above. Reporters are starting to use their stream to have discussions about their content instead of just stating journalistic “fact” and moving on. News that is interactive is always more interesting to me. You can watch stories evolve and get multiple input from people all over the World. This allows for a more inclusive world view on developing stories and may provide input you may never had considered.
- “Showing Personality”: Okay, so this one isn’t really Google+ specific. However, I think is a great point to mention when talking about journalists interacting with people. You can see their personality, how they think, and as an end user of their content you can understand their perspective on issues. This is important in the news cycle and to active news junkies.
So, as stated when we started: These concepts probably could be applied to any tech in the space right now, however Google+ for some reasons is the break out leader in journalists using the medium in order to engage their audiences and push content. It will be interesting to see what adjustments, if any, Google makes as this becomes more so the case. (Or if other social media giants will make adjustments in their tools to attempt to gain a piece of the growing news based organization pull Google+ is amassing.) Say, what you will, but I promise you if you take a close look: It’s most journalists, media specialists, content providers, etc that are filling up the Goolge+ streams right now and the engagement is very high so far.
Now it’s time to stand by and watch agile development in its beauty go to work during this beta and watch how it impacts other forums as well.
Stay Classy Washington!