Recently the Liturgy website posted an article about using a Facebook page instead of a regular parish website.
There are a number of advantages to doing this:
- If posts "go viral" you can get exposed to thousands of people - your parish could influence more people than you ever imagined or will see in real life.
- Even if aren't super popular and are only seen by a few dozen people - that is more visitors that most church websites get in a week.
- Almost everyone knows how to use Facebook, or can learn with a little training: it's not as intimidating as even the simplest website building tool, so church-pages built with it are more likely to be updated.
- The social features (seeing what other people do, getting notifications when someone else comments) mean that something on Facebook can influence groups of people more economically than many other tools (one parish recently had 500 people from an ethnic community turn up to an even where about 50 were expected - all because someone shared it in the right language at the right time.)
- Church members can to connect with other church members via Facebook, and get to know them far better than they might do otherwise.
The article identifies one disadvantage
"if facebook radically changes the functioning of pages, then there will have to be a rethink by the parish."
But really, this should read "when Facebook radically changes ...", rather than "if". They've done it before, and most likely do it again, usually with little or no notice.
And there are other disadvantages, too.
- You have no control over the advertisements that Facebook displays next to your content, Some of them will be for products that you don't agree with. But people looking at the page won't always realise that - and on some level they are likely to associate you with the ads they see.
- If all your content is only in Facebook, and Facebook change the rules, then it's possible that you (or at least your audience) will lose access to it.
- You cannot guarantee Facebook will show updates that you post to all your followers unless you pay them to - and over time, the cost of doing this adds up. In fact, the more popular you get, the lower the proportion of your fan that your updates are shown to.
- If you allow people to comment about posts you've made, there is a risk that inappropriate comments will be made, too. Some will be downright offensive, and distressing for your staff and volunteers to have to remove. The more popular you become, the bigger this risk gets. And even though Facebook has tools to report and remove offensive material, some of it will stay on your page for between a few minutes and a few hours.
- Some people absolutely loathe Facebook and refuse to look at it. Others won't "like" your page because of the privacy issues - they may not want their "Facebook friends" (who aren't necessarily the same as their real friends) to know they're a member of your church. Or they may be worried that Liking you tells burglars that they probably won't be at home during your service times. Facebook gives you no more than a fleeting contact with these people, when they remember to look up your Page. So if you try to use it as your only on-line tool for communicating, you will lose touch with them.
- If the church-staff or leaders aren't regular Facebook users themselves, it's easy to forget to update Facebook. And because Facebook keeps changing their menus and controls, the "how to update your About" instructions from a few months ago might not work any more.
So should you have a Facebook page?For many churches in the Western world, the answer is a resounding "Yes". Facebook is as important in many people's lives as the local newspaper used to be, and it has some real benefits.
But this needs to be one part of an overall communications plan for your local church. (A template and process for this is coming soon.)
And you need to think about how to manage the Page properly, before you set it up. This includes appointing some people as Page administrators: Ideally you will have 3-4 people who work as a team in understanding and managing the Page.
Also, you need clear policies about:
- What content you will post about on the page
- Who is responsible for posting updates, and who needs to approve these.
- Whether you allow comments, what replies you remove, and when you turn comments off.
- How you will respond to comments.
Also - make sure that you set it up properly. A parish or church should be set up as a Facebook page (using the Create a Page link) - not as a personal account. Or, if you want to use Facebook just for members and not for outsiders, use a Group and require all group-membership applications to be approved.