So all of a sudden you’re online like you’ve never been before.
And now there’s a long road ahead. While no one knows exactly where all of this lands post-pandemic, the future looks more digital than ever.
It’s almost certain that the future holds more remote teams and ministry, more people looking for spiritual solutions online, and more people choosing digital church as an option or as their preferred option.
Plus, the shift is well underway to take the focus off Sunday and place it firmly into a church’s online presence 7 days a week.
Which means you’ll be producing digital content for a long time to come.
Right now, church leaders are throwing a lot of digital spaghetti at the wall. For the most part that’s great, because eventually you’ll see what sticks and what doesn’t.
It’s also helpful to get some guiding principles that can help you discern the kind of content that will help people and as a result, get noticed online.
Knowing what works is a little more tricky than figuring out what doesn’t work.
So, to save you some time, here are seven things that don’t work, seven reasons that, if you keep doing them, make people ignore the online content you produce.
- YOU FOCUS ON THE NUMBER OF VIEWS AND IGNORE ENGAGEMENT
Attendance is like crack to pastors, and the number of views are the new attendance.
Over the last month, I’ve heard a lot of pastors boasting about how many streams, views and likes they’ve gotten on their videos, services or posts.
And for sure, I am deeply encouraged that half of all churches are seeing digital attendance growth over their former physical attendance numbers. That’s amazing, and I’m the last one to throw shade on that or deconstruct the numbers so they end up meaning nothing But one sure way to get diminishing views over time is to focus on views.
In the same way church leaders who used to focus on attendance patterns only saw declining attendance, church leaders who only focus on views will see declining numbers of views.
Don’t get me wrong. Views matter because people matter, but views are way less valuable than engagement.
In the physical church, people engaged the mission when they got involved in the mission. They started serving, giving, practicing personal spiritual disciplines, inviting their friends and engaging this faith they were exploring or embracing.
In the new digital church, engagement is still the key.
- Get your viewers to leave comments.
- Have your team respond to comments to build relationships.
- Get viewers to fill out a digital welcome card and follow up with them personally.
- Invite people to make a faith decision and follow up with them personally.
- Capture email addresses and build a more personal relationship.
- Challenge people to do something in response to the message, not just watch something on their screens.
The goal of online ministry should be to help viewers become engagers.
Viewers will eventually walk away. And in the process, you become easier to ignore than ever. Just think of any blog post or article you’ve clicked on to scan quickly and never to return again. In fact, you don’t even remember what site you were on. You got what you needed for five seconds and moved on.
Engagers are for more likely to return and dig deep.
So in your next meeting, focus less on the number of views you got an instead focus on how to get viewers to become engagers.
- YOU SAY PREDICTABLE THINGS IN A PREDICTABLE WAY
So let’s say you have something of value to say.
It still doesn’t mean people will engage it.
The internet is populated with well-meaning leaders who have meaningful things to say, but they say them in a boring way.
I had a conversation with an editor a few years ago who appreciated my content, and I asked him why. He told me something I’ll never forget: “You say familiar things in an unfamiliar way.”
I don’t always do that, but he’s correct: I try. It’s intentional.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked over to an article online I think is going to help me, and click off seconds later because everything the author wrote seems cliche and predictable.
Let’s say the post is called “5 Keys To Building a Winning Team.”
Here’s the boring way to headline the post:
- Be Committed
- Build Trust
- Empower Your Team
I know, you’re already asleep.
It sounds like every vanilla seminar delivered in a beige room you’ve ever been to. The fact that content might be helpful is irrelevant if the messaging anesthetizes you.
The key is to same the same thing in a far less predictable way.
Try this instead:
- Demonstrate Radical Commitment
- Kill Distrust
- Challenge Selfish Behaviour
- Build Leaders, Not Doers
- Get Off Your Butt
While this may not be perfect, it surprises you. Which makes you want to read. Which increases engagement and actually helps your audience learn.
The challenge of course is that most of us don’t have truly unique things to say. I write on leadership. Hardly an unpopulated space. I also preach, which means I’m trying to say things that have been said millions of times over thousands of years, and it’s unfaithful to change the message.
But if you think about messaging for faith, saying ‘love more’ or ‘be kind’ or ‘repent’ hardly engages people’s hearts and mind.
If you want to get more traction online, say familiar things in an unfamiliar way.
- YOU TALK ABOUT YOURSELF A LOT
Here’s another way to get people to ignore you online: Talk about yourself a lot.
Sure, people want to know you and taking them behind the scenes into your life is a great idea from time to time. When it comes to online video, personal is the new polished.
But….I have to tell myself this every day: nobody cares about me.
No, that’s not some weird therapy thing, it’s just true.
Nobody cares about me.
Nobody cares about you.
People care about themselves.
The top mistake I see church leaders and other leaders make on social media is they talk about themselves and their church ad naseum.
You know what you should be talking about?
Your viewers/ listeners/readers.
Which is why I start almost every blog post/email/message with the word ‘you’ in the first line. Consider for a second how this post opened: so all of a sudden you’re online like you’ve never been before.
Dissect that a little further:
First of all, it was about you (not me).
Second, it names a challenge you’re facing. Maybe you said something to yourself like: Oh my goodness. I AM online all the time now. He gets it. He gets me.
Third, it makes a subtle promise that this might help you, because it named a problem and included you.
I could have said “Hey leaders, people read my content a million times a month and I’ve been writing for decades so let me give you some tips” and you would have thought “this guys’s a totally self-absorbed, arrogant little train wreck” (which in my bad moments, I am).
All this time I hear leaders saying:
Hey X Church, this weekend I’m going to be talking about…
We have this exciting new event coming up…
We’re behind on our budget…
I have an amazing opportunity…
It’s better to start for the listener/reader’s point of you.
So maybe open with something like:
Maybe you’re wondering what God is doing in the middle of the Coronavirus crisis?
If you’ve ever wondered how to meet new people…
Any chance you’re asking how you can make a difference right now when there’s so much need…
If you’ve watched Tiger King three times and everything else on Netflix, then….
The way to get into the hearts of the people you’re speaking to is to get into their heads. If you can name what people are struggling with, they’ll trust you to provide an answer.
- YOU OFFER NO REAL VALUE
Posting for the sake of posting doesn’t really help anyone.
Value doesn’t have to be serious.
You can post something funny, something interesting or something different. And of course you can offer something practical, profound, inspirational or helpful.
Just make sure that you post things people will be grateful they saw, heard or learned from.
Even though your content is free, people paid with their time, something that unlike money, they can never get back.
If you end up wasting their time, you become an easy unfollow.
There’s a lot of noise online. Value cuts through the noise.
- YOU KEEP IGNORING YOUR EMAIL LIST
I talk about this regularly and routinely get dismissed, but I’ll try it again.
Don’t ignore your email list.
Email isn’t sexy, interesting and doesn’t get a lot of attention online, but if you want to actually connect with people email is one of your best strategies.
Why am I so passionate about email?
Email is one of the few things NOT controlled by an algorithm these days (unlike all social, which is completely algorithmic and beyond your control).
Men, who tend to be less active on social media, open and read emails.
Email is a great format for writing short, helpful copy that links to anything you want to link to.
I have open rates in the last few weeks of 30-33% on a list of 61K leaders. Sub-lists push a 70% open rate. Social doesn’t come close to touching those numbers.
But go ahead and keep posting to Instagram for 13 likes.
Your email list is where the real connection is, and, as indicated above, it can push to your social, videos blogs and other helpful content.
- YOU GET SO WORRIED ABOUT MAKING IT PERFECT YOU NEVER POST ANYTHING
If you really want to get ignored online, worry about whether your post is good enough. Again and again.
Obsess over whether your content is beautiful enough, smart enough, well-designed enough or well-edited enough to post.
I know so many people who talk about launching a podcast but say they don’t have the right gear, or the right guests, or the right website, or the right show art.
I also know a lot of leaders who have great ideas but can tell you 75 reasons why they can’t execute on any of them right now because they still need to work on it.
If you really want to get ignored online, worry about whether your post is good enough. Again and again.CLICK TO TWEET
Have an artistic streak that demands things be great?
As Steve Jobs used to say, real artists ship. He’s right.
Still scared your ideas aren’t good enough or polished enough?
Honestly, just stop reading this post and go download Seth Godin’s Ship It Journal. It’s free. Print it off. Fill it out.
Then ship your work.
Perfectionism is the enemy of progress.
- YOU TRY TO BE SOMEONE ELSE
You have leaders you admire. Leaders who you think are better than you, funnier than you, more gifted than you, more articulate than you.
The problem with trying to like them is you have a very short shelf life. You’ll spend all your days trying to be someone you’re not because, well, you’re scared your voice isn’t good enough.
The other problem with trying to be someone else is it’s exhausting. You burn so much more energy trying to manufacture an appearance or voice or style that honestly, just doesn’t flow from within you.
So you won’t last.
This is a long game. A very long game. As in this is probably the future. That’s a long time.
I don’t always like everything I write or everything I shoot or the way things come out, but it’s me.
And that means every day, as inadequate as that feels some time, I get to roll out of bed and bring the message that’s been building inside of me to people.
And if you do that enough, over time, you get better at it.
If you need some inspiration, just go back and read some posts from 2013 on my blog. They’re here if you dig. Some are okay. Some, well, not so much.
But it was a start. And it was me.
Whether Oscar Wilde actually said it or not, this quote is still apt: