Q: Why should my congregation have a Facebook page when we already have a Website?

As Diane Worten commented in response to the Interconnections article on Facebook and other new media tools, “Why use these when a church already has a website that is accessible via the Internet?”

The short answer is that Facebook has a large userbase and facilitates the viral spread of information among those users. There are several ways that Facebook encourages people to spread page content (including information posted on congregational Facebook pages!):

  1. Facebook delivers information directly to your page fans through the “News Feed” feature, rather than relying on people to remember and visit your page on a regular basis. When fans of your congregation’s page login to Facebook, they see a “News Feed” which includes content posted by their friends and also recent content posted by your congregation.
  2. Facebook also delivers information about your page to people who aren’t fans, but whose friends are. Users can see when their friends interact with your page. They might think “I didn’t know Sam went to church! I’m going to click on that link and find out more!” (or something like that).
  3. A fan of your congregation’s Facebook page can easily share content posted on that page with their other Facebook friends, by clicking the “share” button found underneath posts on a page wall. As Facebook describes it, “When your fans interact with your Facebook Page, stories linking to your Page can go to their friends via News Feed. As these friends interact with your Page, News Feed keeps driving word-of-mouth to a wider circle of friends.”

Because of Facebook so successfully promotes the widespread sharing of content, a congregation can significantly benefit from having a presence on Facebook, even if the congregation already has a website (as most Unitarian Universalist congregations do).

From InterConnections: “Congregations Utilize Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Podcasting”

InterConnections, a UUA publication for lay leaders, has a new article exploring how “Congregations Utilize Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Podcasting.” The piece provides a newcomer-oriented overview of the major tools in use by congregations and is based on interviews with growth consultant for the Ballou Channing District growth consultant Peter Bowden and me.

Q: Should our congregation set up a page or a group on Facebook?

Answer:

We generally recommend that congregations set up pages if they do not already have an established Facebook presence.

Here are some of the advantages to having a page, as I’ve discovered by managing the UUA’s Facebook page:

1. Pages facilitate the presentation of a clear institutional face and message while also allowing for extensive constituent participation.

The way status messages are now displayed, it’s clear which messages come from the UUA, and which come from fans (and visitors can choose to read one or both types of messages). Fans can respond to existing messages and also start new conversations by posting a fresh message. Fans can also add photos.

2. Fans are reminded when we add new content to our page. Our status messages now appear in fans’ news feeds. In the months since that change has been implemented, there has been a lot of positive engagement with our Facebook page’s status messages (i.e. a lot of visitors/fans are posting comments on our status messages or giving them the “thumbs up.”) I think this change has given pages more of a conversational feel and gives fans more of an incentive to keep returning to our page.

With a page, we can also create related events and invite fans to them, send updates to fans, and link to other UUA pages in our “favorite pages” section.

3. Facebook wants organizations to use pages, so they are likely to continue offering new features for pages that meet the needs of organizations. The same features may not be available for groups.

4. We can choose from many available applications if we want to enhance the functionality available on the UUA’s page. However, on our page, the status messages/wall are the center of action and we don’t make as much use of applications.

That said, groups can also be very helpful, especially when a congregation wants to have a more collaborative Facebook presence. One significant advantage of groups is that you can send messages directly to members’ inboxes. A layleader wrote me a while ago to say that his congregation created both a page and a group, and found groups to be useful in attracting newcomers and more conducive to conversation among members.

In general, I would advise against congregations having both a congregation-wide page and a congregation-wide group, as that duplication of content and conversation could be challenging to manage. However, a congregation may find it helpful to have a page for the congregation as a whole, with groups for different committees within the congregation.