Some Thoughts On UMC Annual Conferences and Their Usage of Social Media

Back in June of 2016, I made a little spreadsheet that I titled “UMC in the US – Social Media Presence“. It was a simple little spreadsheet that tracked every United Methodist annual conference and their social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, arguably the three most popular social networks in the United States (especially among the 18-29-year-old demographic), and it all stemmed from a backstage conversation at the Arkansas Annual Conference 2016 about who had the largest Facebook following in our jurisdiction (the answer was the Texas Conference, with Arkansas coming in second). Since that day, I’ve done my best to keep the statistics updated the past 6 months, adding and updating data along the way and letting everyone know about it. In doing so, and watching all of these pages and accounts, I’ve come across some interesting data and had a couple of thoughts on where things stand currently. So without further ado, here are my thoughts after 6 months of observation combined with my own personal opinions on social media.

My Thoughts on The Data

  • Every annual conference has a Facebook page, but only 75% have an Instagram account.
    This data point highlights a personally-held belief of mine: annual conferences should be using all of the above networks, especially Instagram. Instagram affords not just creativity and graphical display, but also the (current) promise that every follower will see every post on their feed. With almost 60% of all online young adults (18-29) using Instagram1 as well, it’s a key social network that when used properly, can drive interest to conference initiatives, events, or even local churches (as seen in the below examples, click to enlarge):

    These examples are just a few of the posts that I’ve come across, but they highlight what can be communicated in a 1080px by 1080px space.
  • The average time since the last post on Facebook is just under two days, but on Twitter, it’s approximately 34 days and on Instagram, it’s a staggering approximately 212 days (all data based on last posts as of 12/13/2016 7:30 pm CST).
    These numbers actually disconcert me, especially if you compare those average post times to how frequently social media users use their respective networks. Over 75% of all Facebook users visit on a daily basis, and 55% visit several times a day1. With an average “time since last post” of under two days, this seems like an okay position to be in. However, 42% of all Twitter users visit daily (23% visiting several times a day) and 51% of all Instagram users visit daily (35% visiting several times a day)1. With average times since the last post being 34 days and 212 days for Twitter and Instagram, respectively, that represents hundreds of missed opportunities daily to connect not just with existing members, but anyone you might connect with by using a shared hashtag or tagged person.
  • Following the last point, there are several accounts that have not been updated in months or even years, or even used at all.
    Following the average time since last post point, I have seen several social media accounts that have not been updated in months or years, and yes, accounts that have not been used at all. As shown above (and soon below), social media accounts can be used for a wide variety of types of content, and can especially be used to drive traffic to other sources (e.g. conference newspaper, UM organization) that may otherwise not see the content in those places.

Other Thoughts and Observations

With multiple instances of reviewing the data and just observing what all is posted on social media, here are my thoughts and ideas on things that an annual conference could consider for their own social media accounts:

  1. Post often, post everywhere.
    This one is a big one. There exist third-party apps designed to assist you in crossposting your content so that the maximum number of people possible see it. While “social network reciprocity” is indeed a thing (just look at the Pew research I keep quoting), it is a better idea to have one person see your content twice than for one person to have not seen your content at all. As for content (and as previously mentioned), there is always content to be had, whether it’s sharing a devotional, or news, or even what local churches are doing (see point 3 below for more), and for the most part, it’s content that will be engaging to one group or another.
  2. Engage with your followers, old and new.
    Story time: I recently created a series of social media accounts (UMTracker on Facebook, @UMTracker on Twitter and @umtracker on Instagram) to help me track accounts and to share information about updates and such (you may have seen a link to this post on one of those accounts!) Well, after creating the Twitter one and following all of the conference Twitter accounts that I’m aware of, I received a notification the next day because I had been mentioned in this Tweet:


    Even though I’m absolutely nowhere near the Greater New Jersey conference, seeing this really made me feel welcomed, and subsequently, if I were a part of their conference, I’d definitely feel a point of connection immediately, through that single message. From a different perspective, I came across another instance of follower engagement on Instagram, from the Texas Conference (click to enlarge):


    Engagement not only assists in developing a two-way street to your social media outreach, it may just make the difference in someone going to an event, whether they’re a member of the church or not.
  3. Crosspost to and from your local churches.
    This is an instance of mutually beneficial social media at its finest: often, when I see a church hosting an event, everyone is invited to it. So that “Trunk Or Treat”, performances of plays, musicals, or cantatas, or the quintessential “Methodist potluck” might be an event that your conference’s social media will want to highlight, especially if it’s to benefit a good cause or an example of a new or innovative ministry that a church is undertaking. The local church gets a larger amount of publicity for their event, and the conference gets not just content to share, but ideas to spread. It’s a win-win.
  4. Engage your youth/young adults.
    I will admit to bias here: I see a huge amount of importance in engaging young people on social media. The truth is, though, that we will like, favorite, and share what we find interesting, and we do look through hashtags (more on the latter in point 5). While someone might think “well, what do we have that’s interesting to share”, the answer is “tons”. Content that’s uplifting, positive, change/difference-making, or even “viral worthy” will be liked and shared, either digitally or by word-of-mouth, and that will result in more views and more opportunity to share your messages.
  5. Branding. Definitely an important thing.
    To start this one, yes, I know there’s a push to unify the look of annual conference logos across the United Methodist Church. However, I want to disagree, and briefly say why it’s important to both have a unifying logo (the cross and flame) and a unique, individual look. Having a unique style gives not only a sense of individuality, but also a visual element that further strengthens the local sense of connection between your social media user and the conference. Much like how local churches use the UMC cross and flame along with their unique design, several annual conferences have also done this (including my home conference of Arkansas!), including:

    All four have an identity that I can associate with the conference without sacrificing the connection to the global church, and I (personally) feel that’s a big deal and goes a long way to making a strong connection.
  6. Get everybody you know onboard.
    Don’t be shy about inviting friends and churches to follow all of the social media accounts your conference has, as it’s one of the best ways to build your network up, especially if you’ve just started a new account. Follow global UMC accounts, local churches, and other conferences as well, and consider sharing what they have published. Simply put, get everyone you know to look at your content, as the only way your own content will be shared is if people are looking at it.
  7. We’ve got an “old, old story” to share, so why not do it in a “new, new way”?
    At the forefront of every post, comment, and share from an annual conference’s social media account is the Gospel. It’s the message that we’re called to share to everyone, and yet we can’t be shy about finding new ways to share it. Social media is a new world (according to Merriam-Webster, the term “social media” has only been around since 2004!) but it’s one where the messages and beliefs we have can have a significant impact, not just on people who know who we are, but people who don’t. So be creative, be funny, be inspiring, and be heartfelt, but above all, be true to the message that we all are called to share.

With that, there are my thoughts, crafted over a period of several days (as it usually goes with my blog posts). I hope this ends up being of some benefit to someone, and as always I appreciate any comments or questions.

Until next time,
Jacob


1 Social Media Update 2016. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center. 11 November 2016. Accessed 13 December 2016. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016>.

One thought on “Some Thoughts On UMC Annual Conferences and Their Usage of Social Media”

  1. Good thoughts, Jacob! I appreciate the effort you’ve put into this and continue putting into the church. I used to think I was oversharing when I was the District Coordinator, but now that I’ve read this and have had a few years on the “other side”, I think not so much. Communication via social media is definitely key to reaching a wide audience quickly and efficiently. Engaging youth and young adults (which is one of our goals as a church) to help improve our social media presence consistently could be a great way to share the work of the church with people who might otherwise be uninterested.

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