While in a communications position I held at a church prior to becoming the Communications Coordinator for the Presbytery of Boston, I had an advertising budget of many thousands of dollars to spend on social media advertising. As a result of that experience, I have some strong thoughts backed up by data regarding do’s and don’ts of spending money to promote a church online. In this post I will be writing specifically about Facebook, probably the most popular social media platform that churches try to use and reach people. I’ll get the spoiler out of the way up front: I don’t think Facebook advertising is very useful for churches, with one exception. In my next post about advertising online, I will explain the basics about a place I think your time and money will be better spent: Google AdWords.
Right now during the holiday season, if your church has a Facebook page, when logged in and using that page you are likely seeing offers from Facebook for $10-20 credits to “boost” a post.
You can click on all images below to see them in full size if they are hard to read as they are embedded in this post.
- Never pay money to Facebook to boost regular posts.
Facebook is good at showing you a bunch of numbers that look impressive if you pay to boost a post, but don’t mean much in terms of getting people into your church. A boosted post is what it sounds like, Facebook takes the post you are boosting and shows it to people who do not follow your page. It measures the results of this boosting in terms of people reached, post engagements, and links clicked. Reach simply means people who had the ad appear on their screen while scrolling through Facebook – something the likely ignored. Engagements are when people like, share, or comment on the post – a little better, but in my experience something people do because they are Christian, members of another church, like seeing church content on Facebook, but will never participate in whatever you are boosting because they already have a church. Clicks would be the best outcome, people actually consuming the content from your church you wanted to advertise. However, Facebook considers a boost successful and worth your money is only around 1% of people click your link. You could spend $100 dollars, and I would call only $1 of that money well spent, and Facebook would call that a success. So, point #1: never pay to boost regular posts.
- You can boost special events, but only if extra steps are taken.
Even with Facebook’s low 1% is a success measuring stick, I had success getting new visitors into church for almost every special event I paid to advertise on Facebook. So the exception to the first point is that you can boost events on Facebook. However, you will want to do two things to make sure your money is well spent: restrict the geographic area in which you are advertising, and modify the demographic information about people you want to reach.
The best way to do this is to go to your church’s page, look at the bottom of the menu on the left and click manage promotions --> audiences --> create audience.
The audiences you create will be saved and selectable in any ad you create in the future. I suggest at least two: one focused on people who may be Christian or interested in religion in general, and another for people who may be interested in charitable causes and social issues who may not become members but could be very interested in events supporting such causes. If you do not predefine these groups, you can specify these parameters in each ad. After reviewing results of an ad campaign, you can always go back and include more interests, remove some, change the age range you are reaching, etc. In the image below and those that follow I am using Newton Presbyterian Church as an example. Since they just had a blood drive it would make sense to have an audience interested in charities and causes, even if they are not explictly religious.
if you saved this audience, it would appear in the audience menu any time you boost an event in the future.
Restricting the area your ad reaches to the community you consider your church to be serving is the best way to make sure your money is well spent. Depending on how densely packed your area is, you will want to make the radius around your church included in your ad larger or smaller. The city churches should likely select smaller geographic areas, while the churches west of Boston could probably make the radius around the church larger. I suggest churches in densely populated areas choose specific zip codes, while rural churches drop a pin on the map at the location of their church and selected a radius around that point of however many miles is deemed appropriate. Both methods can be used together at once, but I personally find that strategy unnecessary. For instance, in the image below I selected the area of Newton Presbyterian Church since they just had a blood drive. You can see Facebook suggesting the area is too narrow and will not reach enough people. I would suggest selectively adding neighboring zip codes, but not too many. You can also see the more generic radius option that I suggest for more rural churches.
- Better than boosting is running an engagement campaign through ad manager for a set number of days.
If you boost a post, it will be boosted until the money you allotted to it runs out. As I noted, I consider a lot of that money to be wasted, but less so when boosting events. The best Facebook advertising strategy, and the only one I truly recommend, is running a campaign to get more responses for a set number of days. You will need to follow the above best practices of defining your geographic area and audience interests, but with this method you can also ensure the ad runs for a set number of days. Rather than ending once a certain amount is spent, your ad will run each day during the set time of your campaign until your daily limit is spent. Then the ad will not reach more people that day, but will resume anew the next, until the set length of your campaign is reached.
Even if you are just spending $20, this is the best method to get the most out of your money on Facebook.
- Getting visitors to return to your church is up to your community, not technology.
I’ve employed the above strategies in churches with the result of 1-3 new visitors at a Sunday service every single week. That is pretty good. However, they were different new visitors every single week. That is, people visited once, then never came back. Those same churches thought using technology to get people in the door meant they had succeeded. They were wrong, as getting people in the door is only the beginning of the real work of growing a church. Once social media has done what it can do, it is up to your church to be warm and welcoming, learn the names of visitors, their interests, and to follow up with them. Just what that means will vary by church, is up to you, and beyond my expertise, but an important and necessary reminder.