Most churches are prolific content machines. Pastors and leaders produce sermons, guides, lessons, devotions, and videos. Much of this material has power to change lives. Instead, it goes in a folder.
What if you could share the best of your church’s content over social media and other channels, extend the life of your work, help people in your community, and communicate who you are in the process?
This post is about content marketing for churches. Content marketing is a messaging shift from hype to help, and an audience shift from interruption to invitation.
With content marketing, you communicate what you create, instead of creating something to communicate. Content sharing also communicates the best of who you are as a congregation by sharing what you actually produce, and not by advertising some inauthentic facade you put on to try to appear more attractive.
The big idea: A shift from teasing to telling
Many companies have now realized they’re brand publishers. 78% of communication executives believe content is the future of marketing. Their primary communication job is to create and publish content that helps their audience understand their brand – who they are and how to interact with them.
Why is content marketing big in industry now? It’s the social nature of today’s Internet. 90% of web users listen to recommendations shared from friends.
Content marketing is a shift from the old, which was teasing information about your material, to the new, which is actually giving away your best material.
It’s a shift from hype to help.
Hype: Creating Something to Communicate
I sometimes refer to the a chart by communication theorist Roman Jakobson. Here it is:
SENDER —> MESSAGE —> RECEIVER
When most of us think about church communication, whether outreach or evangelism or “church marketing,” we think about having to create some sort of catchy campaign to attract people. This is fundamentally a self-oriented way of thinking, because it’s putting the focus on us, the message makers. We assume that our work is so amazing, people can’t wait to flock to read. All we need is some pretty icing to jazz it up a bit.
This rarely works.
What if we put the focus on the receiver instead? What if we find the best of our thinking, and communicate that? What if we find our most compelling stories of life change – the things that move us – and share those with the world? This forces us to consider how helpful our messages really are.
Make it about the receiver, not you. Make it about help, not hype.
Help: Communicate What You Create
The problem with publishing content is, there’s just so much out there now. 2 million blog posts go online every day, for 329 million readers each month. Everyone is a brand publisher. We’ve now surpassed our collective ability to process all that is put out into the world. We’re at the last exit of the information superhighway and it’s an information landfill.
The result is, as more and more companies publish, the bar for engagement is getting higher and higher.
In the scrum, what works is increasingly simple: value. Ask yourself this:
Is what you are communicating valuable?
If not, people will not bother to pay attention.
To help promote my latest book last January, my publisher asked me to write an article on creativity and the “winter blahs.” It got 1 solitary click on my social networks and blog. (To whomever that was: thank you.) Wow, that’s terrible! Was my network that bad?
A few days later, I posted an article link to my social networks with the title, “Nobody Cares How Hard You Work.” This got 129 clicks.
What was the difference? Not the power of the network. It was the content itself. The first was a promotional piece disguised as a list. The second had a good title, an honest observation and a valuable tip on personal productivity.
There are two types of help.
This kind of begs the question, why do people get on the Internet in the first place?
I have a theory I am trying out that says people get online for one of two reasons:
- to answer questions and
- to relieve loneliness.
This blog isn’t designed to fix #2. So how good is it at #1? For the past several months I have been running an experiment related to what type of content I produce. I have 5 categories. Here they are with a breakdown of my posts this year by percentage:
- Inspiration & Encouragement (35%)
- Education & Strategic Thinking (30%)
- Step by Step Tactics and How-Tos (25%)
- Data, Charts, and Statistics (5%)
- Advertisement (5%)
This one is “education and strategic thinking.” (Part 2 of this post is “step by step tactics.”)
I’ve learned that lists, you know like “5 ways to be more hip”, just because they’re lists, don’t work. But something specific that answers a question, touches a real need, or helps someone? Off the charts. The more I use the tools of communication and marketing to tell stories and help people, and the less I hype an idea or product, the better off we all are. It’s a form of strategic caring.
3 Rules for sharing your content
Okay, so how do you use your content?
First off, know you’re not alone. Even though content marketing has been around the business world for a few years, most corporate marketers still don’t understand how to do it.
In a recent poll of over 1500 professional marketers, 72% want to create more engaging content and 65% want to get a grasp on effective content. According to Consultancy, over half of all business (and almost 100% churches) don’t have a dedicated content director, or as I prefer to think of the role, “publisher.”
(The same poll said that 51% want to become better storytellers, which after almost twenty years of buzz may reflect a fading trend in the concept of storytelling in corporate culture. Now, instead of story, business culture is shifting to the more generalized “content” – a mix of story and data. But, let me tell you – story is still important.)
I feel for these people. If you make and sell widgets, it can be kind of hard to get your brain around good widget content.
That’s not our problem. We the church have great content we’re producing all the time. Here are 3 strategic tests to begin to leverage the best of the content you’re already making.
1. Think of Your Communication as an Opportunity to Care for People.
The challenge for leaders in today’s culture is to move from a spirit of interruption to a spirit of invitation. If what we offer is helpful, and if we want people to care about what we’re doing, then we need to have a clear picture of why you’re doing it, and what help or benefit we hope to provide to the congregation and community with it.
Content curation considers the receiver over the sender. It says to an audience, we care about you, here is what matters and why. If people understand what it is, they can begin to care about it, and will then invite you and your thing into your life. And isn’t it better to be invited into people’s lives then to try to force your way in?
2. Cut to the chase.
Drill straight to the heart of your message – how it will help the storyreceiver? This may mean you have to throw away the four anecdotes and jokes you wrote and get right to the heart of the idea. People are busy. Get to the bottom line fast.
3. Look for mini-messages.
Look at content you’ve produced over the last few months. Where are little messages that work, without context, when experienced right in the middle of a busy life?
Next week I’ll post 17 examples of great content to share.