Develop high-quality social media content

Develop high-quality social media content

By Fr. Larry Rice C.S.P., c

More than ever young adults are engaging with vocation directors through social media. Thus it’s important that content be strategic and high quality. Pictured here on her cell phone is Lisset Mendoza of the Dominican Learning Center, taking part in NRVC’s June 2016  Vocation Ambassadors Program.

MOST VOCATION DIRECTORS TODAY realize they should be present in social media because this is where their target population receives and sends information. But once you’ve moved into this world, how can you organize what you’re doing, and what kind of material should you be posting? What is the strategy behind it all?

An important element of developing a social media strategy is focusing on content. Particularly for those who didn’t grow up in a world dominated by social media, there is a temptation to focus on technology, tools and channels of communication. But the real secret to successful social media usage is in attention to content.

Content is the point of social media. It’s what you’re posting, providing, linking-to, or generating. And you have more content than you think!

It’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed when starting out in social media. The more distribution channels you’re using, the more material you need. People refer to social media as a “stream,” and for good reason: what you post this morning will be gone by this afternoon. To keep up with the flow, it’s critical to think carefully about a strategy to guide your use of social media and to develop a routine that keeps the content coming.

Purposes of digital content:  What are you trying to do?

For a vocation minister, social media is useful for the same purposes as for everyone else: making friends, sharing life experiences, keeping in touch, etc. But vocation ministers have more specific needs that will guide their creation of content and determine how that content is shared. Here are some of the reasons for being in social media.

1. Get attention

Before you can communicate effectively, you need to get the attention of your potential audience. Today more than ever, the world is filled with media of every description vying for peoples’ increasingly limited attention spans: print media, TV, radio, social media. The tremendous growth of social media has increased the competition for people’s attention, but it has simultaneously brought unprecedented opportunities and lower barriers to entry into the communications landscape.

So the first step in planning your digital content for social media is to find ways to stand out from the crowd. Consider the things in your own social media stream that grab your attention. Observe the postings on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that attract the most comments, likes, and shares. Look online to see what topics are trending. You’ll see that three characteristics stand out.

First, social media today is largely driven by visuals. Text-only postings fade into the background, while interesting photos and graphics jump off the screen. In order to post regularly with visual content, vocation ministers (or, better yet, their teams) need some basic proficiency with graphic editing software such as Photoshop or Acorn,  to make postable graphics, overlay text over photos, crop, and re-size content.

Lighthearted photos, such as this one of the author, make it fun for people to follow you on social media, and they counter stereotypes that religious life is stern and humorless.

Second, humor works. Social media posts that make people smile are posts that people will share with their friends. Also, generous use of humor helps counter the pervasive stereotypes of religious men and women as stern, judgmental, humorless, and prudish.

Third, timeliness is important. Because of the here-and-gone nature of social media, it’s vital to post on current events: papal trips, religious in the news (even if it’s not your congregation), professions, ordinations, and other congregational gatherings and events. To generate timely social media content, a vocation minister’s best friend is the community’s director of communications or media relations.

One principle that drives our use of social media, and an important aspect of the need to get people’s attention, is that for young adults good use of social media is a marker of relevance and authenticity. Any person or organization without a social media presence is seen as hopelessly out-dated, frustrating to communicate with, or worthy of suspicion. The two most frequently visited  sites on the Web (after Google) are YouTube and Facebook. If we’re not making ourselves visible on social media, potential vocations will not find us.

2. Communicate your message

The second task of social media is to communicate your message. It’s worth asking: do you know what your message is? It may be embodied in a mission statement, motto, or scripture passage. For a vocation minister, our message should be directed to young adults who might be open to a religious vocation. The content of that message should answer the questions “Who are we?” (our charism), “What do we do?” (our mission), and “Why do we do it?” (our spirituality). Understanding these three kinds of messages, the nature of our social media postings becomes much clearer. You may not post about each of them every day, but ideally you are answering each of these questions at least once a week.

3. Drive traffic

To “drive traffic,” in the language of social media, is to use social media channels to direct people’s attention to sources of more information or deeper engagement. Twitter may limit you to 140 characters in a posting, but you can use that to link people to your website or Facebook page. As you are directing people to your website, make sure the site is well done and provides visitors with a good experience. Is the site up-to-date? Is the web content accurate? Is it easy to navigate? Does it have a modern look and feel? And importantly: do you have a suitable “landing page” for vocations? This is critical, particularly if you are buying Google ads. Google won’t display ads that link to a bad landing page. Fortunately, Google provides free consultations to make sure your site is up to snuff.

You should also be using your social media posting to drive traffic to your video channels on YouTube or Vimeo. Facebook prefers to host your videos themselves, but you will still want to post links to your videos in more than one location to maximize your exposure.

Your social media postings can also drive actual, physical traffic to your events. Vocation events are easily organized using Facebook Events tools, so your “Come and See” weekends and discernment retreats should be posted on your congregation’s Facebook page, your personal page, your vocations office page, and other Facebook Groups. (Search Facebook for The Vocation Discerners group, for example).

4. Prompt engagement

Social media is not merely broadcasting! Its interactive nature gives your audience a chance to engage more deeply with you as a vocation minister and with your congregation. So, many of your posts should prompt readers to take some action. On most social media platforms, especially Facebook, the easiest forms of engagement are liking, commenting, and sharing. When someone likes, comments, or shares your content, they are increasing their emotional connection to your organization. But they are also showing their friends what matters to them, because their friends can see this activity on their timelines, and can also like, comment, and share. This is how social media networks are built.

Of course, as vocation ministers we have deeper ways we’d like to engage people. We can prompt people to pray (“Pray for our sisters Maria and Kathryn as they profess their final vows this Saturday!”). We can solicit their prayer intentions (“Click here to send your prayer requests to our seminarians walking the Camino this summer.”). We can offer people something (“Click here if you’d like a book on the life of Servant of God and Paulist founder, Father Isaac Hecker.”), and we can invite them to retreats, visits, mission trips, and live-in experiences. Getting people to connect personally with you and your community is essential.

5. Promote your “brand”

Without delving too deeply into advertising lingo, a “brand” can be understood as the many ways in which an organization consistently presents itself to the public. It is the aggregate of our logos, our design standards, mottos and taglines, color palette, product packaging, uniforms (habits), and practices. Our use of social media must be consistent with our community’s “branding” in order to carry the impact and authenticity branding provides.

Your social media posts should look and sound like they come from your community. Young adults today expect every aspect of their lives to be branded: their clothing, their universities, their restaurants, even their church. When we brand ourselves well we become easier to locate and to understand—branding helps people cut through the clutter in their media and communications. When we aren’t branded effectively, we can seem amateurish and inauthentic.

Know your community’s brand standards. Here again, your communications professionals or development office may be able to assist you and provide branding assets like logos, fonts, color palettes, photos, etc.

Don’t promote things that weaken your brand. Don’t use old logos or photos of ministries your congregation is no longer doing. If something looks “cool” but isn’t on-brand, don’t use it. One of the worst vocation posters ever showed a seminarian skydiving. The vocation director thought it communicated the thrilling nature of religious life. Prospects viewing the poster thought it communicated danger and isolation.

If you’re not sure how to identify your community’s brand, ask groups of people (your members, the people you serve, even random groups of strangers) to capture your community in five words or fewer. You may be surprised by their answers!

Get organized

Once you’re clear on what you want to communicate, it’s time to get organized. Social media is, indeed, a ravenous beast. Having your content organized makes it much easier to keep the beast fed.

For most people, the first step in organizing your social media content is to make sure you have your branding assets handy at all times. These resources include your logos, insignias, fonts, color palettes, key photos (leadership, motherhouse, ministry locations, head shots of members, etc.), and templates for the design software you use regularly. You may want to store these resources online (e.g. in “cloud” storage) with tools like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, etc. With online storage you’ll be able to access the resources anytime, anywhere.

Develop a system to capture content you want to post later. A single storage site (again, online) is an ideal place to stash links, photos, videos, ideas, quotes, and other raw materials that will form your content. Services like Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, and Google Now are all potential repositories for materials you’d like to post.

Because social media content is primarily visual, it’s very helpful to build a photo library. There are many online services that allow shared photo libraries at little or no cost. These will allow your members and friends to contribute photos. Your congregational communications office can also be a source of photos; conversely, you can be a source for them.

You could spend hours online looking for news items and web links about your congregation, your mission, and your charisms. Or, you could set up Google news alerts. This service lets you specify keywords that Google will continuously scan for, emailing you daily updates and links. Don’t just set up alerts for your congregation’s name; use keywords to alert you to stories in cities where you serve, and ministries in which you’re engaged. These alerts will not only help you locate good news to share but will alert you to potential bad news you may need to be ready to respond to when talking to inquirers and prospects.

Finally when organizing your content, set up links between your social media accounts, so that your Tweets land on Facebook, your Facebook photos post automatically on Instagram, etc. Some of these social media sites have such linking built in, others can be linked with services like ifttt.com or zapier.com. These interconnections can save you hours of re-posting your content to multiple services.

The Dominican Sisters of Hope produce a blog about their justice work. Helping give the blog as much exposure as they can, when a new entry is posted, they tell  followers on other social media sites.

Note above how they tweeted about the blog post using a compelling graphic. The link in the tweet takes followers to the full story in the blog,  but even if Twitter followers don’t click on the link, the tweet makes them aware of the sisters’ action for justice.

Generate your own content

As helpful as it is to repurpose other people’s content by linking to it or sharing it, it is really more important to generate your own content that uniquely reflects your congregation’s message and story. Today, generating this content is an essential part of a vocation minister’s job.

Your most important tool for content generation is a smartphone. This little computer-in-your-pocket is also your ever-ready camera, video camera, posting tool, and monitor for all your social media sites. Take the time to learn to use these tools! While it’s a good idea to have and use a quality digital camera, most photographers will tell you that the best camera in any situation is the one you actually have with you. For most social media purposes, your smartphone camera is more than adequate if your phone is a recent model. Both Apple and Android phones have significantly improved their cameras in the last two years. If your phone is older than that, investigate an upgrade.

Consider starting a podcast. This is an easy way to deliver audio or video content to people automatically—people can subscribe to receive all your updates. For clergy, homilies are a great way to begin podcasting, since the content has to be prepared regularly anyway. But religious congregations have many resources for podcasts. If you live at your congregation’s motherhouse or near a retirement facility, ask to interview your older members about their lives, ministries, and vocation stories. Young adults are very much interested in hearing the stories of people with long histories in religious life.

Video is a compelling way of presenting your message and stories. To produce good video content, however, it’s still worth investing in a dedicated video camera and microphone. Today’s smartphones can’t match the quality of even an inexpensive video camera. The biggest flaw with most video posted online is poor audio quality. Smartphones, and even dedicated video cameras, have weak internal microphones. If you’re going to create video content, wireless Bluetooth microphones are a worthy investment. One more note: As with audio podcasts, people can subscribe to your YouTube channel to be alerted when you’ve posted new content.

Whether your content is audio or video, it’s worth learning to use some simple editing software. This is another area where your congregation’s communications professionals may be able to provide support and guidance. And, of course, there may be some young adults—even people in initial formation for your congregation—who would be willing to train you or take on editing tasks.

You are the content!

Social media is personal. Young adults want to engage with a vocation minister personally, not just with a congregation or office. This means that a vocation minister must personally embody the congregation’s charism, mission, and spirituality. That’s a very tall order, but it is especially important in social media.

Vocation ministers must be approachable on social media. Even if you aren’t a regular poster of “selfies,” people should be familiar with your face. Regular changes to your Facebook profile picture provide an opportunity to show different sides of your ministry and your personality. To be approachable and engaging on social media, it’s not really possible to keep your personal and professional media accounts and lives separate. So do make sure your postings are entirely appropriate everywhere. Never, ever post anything political or controversial. Despite its interactive nature, experience has shown that social media forums and comment boxes are not conducive to nuanced political dialogue.

Don’t be afraid of humor! Self-deprecating humor, observational humor, and light-touch satire help to humanize us and build connections between people. You may find that you get a better response to your more goofy photos than you do to formal portrait shots. Joy is a constitutive element of religious life—make sure you’re communicating that joy through social media.

Other sources of content may be available to you. Most congregations have sources of content that the vocations minister can utilize for social media postings. If they are accessible (and not, say, in Rome), a community’s archives can be a rich source of photographs and history that can highlight your mission and charism. Most archives will have a scanner or photo stand that can be used to make digital copies of their holdings, and most archivists will be happy to see items from their collections used to promote vocations.

If your congregation has institutional ministries— hospitals, schools, universities, publishing houses, or missions offices, for example—those organizations often have communications or media relations offices that can help provide content for the vocations office’s social media efforts. After all, they have a vested interest in promoting vocations to help continue their mission.

A vocation minister holds a unique place in a religious institute. Part recruiter, part spiritual director, part publicist, you are charged with making the community’s charism, mission and spirituality explicit to the public, as well as to specific prospects or candidates. The evolving social media environment provides an important opportunity to reach a national and international audience. Frequent postings of engaging, consistently branded content are the ideal way to make ourselves known and tell our stories.

 

Father Larry Rice, C.S.P. is the director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas in Austin and the former vocation director for the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, the Paulist Fathers. He can be found on Facebook at fb.com/lricecsp, @lrice on Twitter, and lricecsp on Instagram. Email him at lrice@paulist.org.

 

 



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