Facebook Timeline, Pinterest, Instagram and the rise of the visual social network

Over the last month I have been updating some of the social media pages for the ministries I work with. The main updates I have been making are to facebook timeline, setting up instagram accounts and Pinterest accounts. These three networks have a common theme going on that I have noticed over the last year, they are becoming much more visual. The Visual Social Network era is here. Facebook Timeline is a great example of a visual representation of our facebook experience. Prior to the launch of timeline, the facebook profile page was considered the most under utilized part of the social network. Profile pages and Fan pages were simply plain representations of the user but not very interactive or visual. Now Facebook didn’t want to go to the extreme of letting the entire page become customizable and load slow like myspace, but they knew they had to turn the profile page into more of a visual representation of the person and a destination that people will spend time at, mainly for advertising purposes. And as we can all see, Facebook timeline has taken social media by storm.

But let’s not overlook the other two great visual social media platforms, Facebook bought Instagram for 1 Billion dollars for one reason, it’s a mobile visual social network. 30 million users are on instagram and as of the announcement of their purchase by Facebook, they had added 10 million downloads of the mobile app on iOS and Android devices. Instagram is based on photo and video editing filters that people can add to their photos/videos they take with their mobile devices and post to their instagram account. Instagram accounts can be followed and commented on within the mobile social network as well as posted on other networks such as facebook and twitter. But the main draw of Instagram is that it is fully mobile, there is no desktop version of the platform, it operates fully within the mobile space and is just pictures and videos.

Next up is Pinterest, pinterest has rapidly risen to become the 3rd largest social network in the world. Having a large user base with women, Pinterest is a visual social network that has a mobile and desktop presence. It’s based on pictures and videos and allows you to comment, pin, create boards and repin photos and videos. This visual multimedia social network shows the evolution of the visual aspects of social networking and the focus they have.

The benefit to ministries is that these visual social networks give ministries the ability to tell their story using great multimedia. Using amazing photos and videos, ministries can visually capture moments of their ministry and share them with the world. Many ministries are able to tell their stories in print but how many can visually explain to the world how amazing their ministry is and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Google is doing just what we need it to do, keep other companies on their toes

As I continue to read about the enhancements that Google is rolling out I find that I continue to see two things from Google. One, they are creating an amazing ecosystem that we all are being sucked into by the freemiums such as Gmail, Google Docs/Drive, Youtube, Google+ and Android. And two, they are keeping other companies competitive and innovative, which is exactly what we need Google to do. This article here is a great example because as soon Google+ increased their profile pic size, Facebook did the same within 24 hours. Outside of search and Youtube, I don’t see Google as a leader in any other industry. I find that they are second or third when it comes to online office software with Microsoft Office leading that front. I find that in online storage they are just getting into the game with Dropbox and Box.net having a good start ahead (and even Microsoft Skydrive). In the mobile arena the android operating system is seen as a competitor to the industry leading Apple iOS. In social media, Google+ is the fourth to fifth largest social network behind Facebok, Twitter, Pinterest and Linkedin. And Gmail is very high in terms of online mail usage but Yahoo and Hotmail have more users.

With all that being stated, Google is in the game and keeping all those industry players on their toes and not letting anyone become complacent in their industry. I enjoy Apple products very much but I also enjoy that Android Mobile makes sure to keep adding features to stay competitive. I really like Google+ and the features on the social network are innovative and easy to use but with Facebook coming out of the gate as the social media behemoth for so many years, Google+ is an afterthought for people who don’t have time to manage multiple social networks, Facebook and Twitter were hard enough as it was. Therefore, Google+ needs to stay in the game even though it appears that it’s Facebook or Twitter’s game to lose.

As I look at how ministries can use Google as a service, I believe that they can use Google as an online component to many of their administrative and marketing needs to help advance the ministry online. For example, distributing the video content of the ministry via Google+ and Youtube are great ways to create an online audience. Google+ is still a growing social network and is a great place for a ministry to build up an audience and have video chats online using Google+ hangouts feature. Ministries can use Google Apps as a low cost alternative to Microsoft Office and have a fully online cloud hosted office applications suite that isn’t limited to the office but is accessible wherever there’s an internet connection and from whatever device the ministry personnel wants to you such as laptops, desktops, ipads, iphones, android phones and others. These cloud services are already being used heavily by universities, nonprofits, small businesses, local schools and other organizations that see the benefit of having full office software without having to worry about high licensing fees or servers. This is just one of the many options the cloud and Google offers to help ministries advance online.

How Can Your Church Take Advantage of the New Facebook Timeline Features

March 31st was an important day for facebook fan page owners, the pending timeline features were rolled out to all facebook fan pages. Facebook has been notifying admins for the last 3 - 4 months that this pending change was coming so there was quite a bit of time to prepare. As I started researching how to best utilize these new changes and increase visibility on facebook for churches, I came across come great articles that pointed out the best ways to make this happen. Here is a great article to use as a reference from social media today. http://socialmediatoday.com/johnhaydon/462416/eleven-ways-facebook-page-timelines-change-your-content-strategy Here are the things to focus on with your new timeline: 1. Tell a story - your new facebook fan page is a great way to tell a story with milestones, pictures, videos, and a variety of ways to showcase what your ministry has done, is doing and has planned. 2. Cover image - the cover image at the top of the new timeline page is a great way to showcase what's going on with your ministry. 3. Custom tabs - new custom tabs are much larger in width, instead of 520px they are now 800px which gives facebook developers much more space to work with.

There are other features that can be utilized and are discussed in the article above but the three aforementioned are a good starting point. If you are looking for more information you can find it in "The iChurch Method".

Email Marketing is not Dead

I have been asked numerous times if "Email marketing is dead" and the answer is "absolutely not".  The best approach to email marketing now is to evolve it.  Take that e-blast and make it work on more levels now.  Integrate new media into the e-blast to make it more effective.  Repurpose that e-blast so that in addition to sending out a blast to people's email addresses, you also use that same content and send it out via social networks and other marketing methods to reach people that may not utilize their email.  Also, you want to make sure that your e-blasts incorporate text, images, video and links to make them much more engaging and interactive. Of course, keep in mind, e-blasts can not actually have video that plays in "all" email clients, but if you have a screen shot of the video inside the e-blast, then when people click the video screen shot, they will be taken to a landing page that should look identical to the e-blast, and they can play the video from there.

So, let's get specific, how should churches and ministries evolve their e-blast content? I'm glad you asked. First, as stated above, integrate optimized vivid images and videos into your e-blasts.  This form of content is very engaging and results in higher click thru's and response rate.  Next, in order to effectively evolve an e-blast you want to repurpose the e-blast content and send it out via other marketing channels such as social networks and blogs.  

So here is an example, ABC ministries has an e-blast for a monthly newsletter.  This newsletter is also located on their website at www.abcmin.org/newsletter/.  Therefore, here is what they can do:

1. E-blast the newsletter out using a service such as constant contact to their email list
2. Put up a new post on their Facebook Fan page saying that the monthly newsletter is out and put a link to it.
3. Send out a tweet from their twitter account saying that the monthly newsletter is out and put a link to it
4. Take the top articles from the newsletter and put blurbs from them on the ministry blog and then have a link back to the actual article in the newsletter from the blog.
5. If there are any videos in the newsletter they can be put on Youtube.com and the facebook fan page with a link back to the newsletter put in the description or on the actual video.

There are numerous other things that can be done to enhance the e-blast and market it but I just wanted to give a few examples to show that email marketing is alive and well, it’s just no longer the lone focus of a marketing strategy, it now has friends that can help market the ministry.

Mobile - Take the ministry to the people

As I was reading Social Media Today’s article on “How Brands are using M-Commerce”, I started to wonder how ministries and churches could use M-Commerce.  M-Commerce, short for Mobile Commerce, is the process of doing business (financial or otherwise) via mobile devices.  Mobile devices are the future of technology and ministry...in my humble opinion.  Since mobile devices are so important to technology and ministry, they play an important role in the iChurch Method.

The Ichurch Method’s task can be broken down into one simple statement, “take the ministry to the people”.  That statement can be fulfilled with the numerous technological solutions that are available today whether it be via traditional computer or mobile device (smart phone or tablet).  If ministries are to effectively take ministry to the people, then they need to embrace mobile devices and develop mobile strategies.  

According to the article at Social Media Today, the top three ways companies use M-commerce are (1) Ensuring a mobile-friendly website, (2) Engaging and building loyalty via mobile and (3) Online shopping. These three ways are a great strategy that ministries can utilize as well, let’s look at this a little more in depth.

Ensuring a mobile-friendly website - When the church creates a website, normally the purpose is to put information about the church up so that people can access it online.  Service times, location and a bio on the pastor are the usual parts of a small church website.  There’s no consideration whether the website is mobile friendly because most church leadership only surfs the web from their computer so they assume that all their online users will do the same.  That single minded perspective greatly inhibits how the ministry can advance online.  With over 4 billion (and growing) mobile devices worldwide and numerous people ranging from teenager to senior citizen carrying smart phones, it would only benefit the ministry to have a mobile enabled website that anyone can access from anywhere on any device, mobile or computer.  

Engaging and building loyalty - With the abundance of mobile devices, and so many people using them, they are a great way to stay engaged with your online users.  Whether it’s mobile social media websites such as facebook, twitter and foursquare, you can engage and interact with your online users via mobile devices.  In addition to mobile social media, text messages are a great way to engage mobile users.  When you develop your social media strategy or text messaging strategy, setup people within your ministry that are able to respond quickly from their mobile devices since people will be able to interact with you quickly via mobile devices.

Online shopping and donations - Quite a few churches offer online stores and products for their members.  Again, this is normally created based on someone accessing the online store from their laptop or desktop computer.  Additionally, online donations are an offering of churches and the process is also usually created for a laptop or desktop experience.  While this a good initial approach, if there is no mobile shopping and mobile donation strategy in place, the ministry is inhibiting how people can support the ministry financially.  Yes, there will be numerous people that will donate from their laptop or desktop, but there will also be people, usually techies, younger people, or supporters from countries that use mobile more that are comfortable using their mobile devices for commerce.  This audience should not be excluded because it will go from the exception to the norm.

Overall, any strategy for a ministry that wants to continue to reach the masses into the future will need to consider mobile because it is the future of technology.

Google+ for Ministries...Can it Help?

I just read an article on Google+ over at Church Juice ( http://churchjuice.com/blog/google/ ) and it was very similar to my initial thoughts on Google+ and how it could benefit churches and ministries. I have been using Google+ since it came on the scene and I wanted to really get an idea of how it worked. Here is one of the best things I have noticed about Google+, the potential integration with other apps and services that Google offers, and Google+ was thinking mobile on day one. This long term vision will help Google+ last far into the future. Churches already have had to develop strategies to embrace twitter, Facebook, linkedin, youtube, vimeo and a variety of other social media websites. Google+ is yet another social media tool that churches will need to embrace. The question is, what are the benefits of Google+ and how can it be integrated into the church's social media strategy without adding to much work. First and foremost, I have come across some great "How to get started with Google+" guides and tutorials. Here are a few:



Here is a summary of my thoughts on Google+, the benefits of Google are listed below:

Business Profiles: business profiles are coming within the next few months and depending on the number of features they have for marketing and interacting, they could be just as beneficial as Facebook Pages. The benefit that Google+ has is that they can use Facebook Profiles as a model and build upon that a better project. Google+ is currently deleting profiles that appear to be used for business purposes therefore they either will have a PR nightmare or their business pages will be so great that they make people forget this profile deleting fiasco.

Circles. Basically this lets you organize the people you know into groups so you can communicate specifically with them. Friends, parents, co-workers and/or acquaintances can all go in different circles (Google official video: http://youtu.be/BeMZP-oyOII). Circles could be used by churches to organize different groups of people to minister to. If a ministry is setting up online small groups they can use circles to setup which people will be in which group. This niche marketing tool could help the church focus on who they want to market or minister to, whether it be all of their online members or a select few.

Hangouts. Group video chat anyone? If multiple friends are online, you can all get together face-to-face. You can even watch YouTube videos together (Google official video: http://youtu.be/Tku1vJeuzH4). This would take online ministry to another level by making ministry much more intimate and personal. Small groups can meet online via video chat and minister and fellowship with each other. If they decide not to use video chat then it would be considered a Huddle. This is group chat without the video. (Google official video: http://youtu.be/iA22daAstNg)

Sparks. We all have things we’re geeked out about. This lets you share your interests with friends (Google official video: http://youtu.be/MRkAdTflltc). The topics that can utilize sparks within a small church group can be numerous. This topic starter could be used to facilitate ministry discussions based upon a church topic.

Instant Upload. An easier way to automatically upload pictures from your cell phone to the web (Google official video: http://youtu.be/6y_xKVSRAy8). This is an easy way to share ministry events quickly right from your phone.

Can a ministry or church sell products on Facebook?

I was reading a great article on Facebook shopping/commerce at socialmediatoday.com.  The article ( http://socialtimes.com/fcommerce-now_b65147 ) had some great points about how Facebook could be utilized as an online shopping destination.  There are already some companies using Facebook as part of their ecommerce strategy and they do have an online store via facebook.  Most often the Facebook online store simply are product images with links back to their own online store, but that’s due to customers feeling more secure making purchases on a company’s secure online store and not facebook....yet.

There were some great points in the article about why Facbeook could become a great online shopping destination.  They were as follows:

1. Facebook is a mall — Millions visit Facebook daily for an increasing number of their digital-life activities — catching up with friends, playing games, sending messages, etc. The Facebook mall has the amenities; now it’s ready for the shops. Creating an on-Facebook storefront has a rather low barrier to entry. Facebook is likely to keep it that way until shopping starts to scale and, perhaps, beyond. As it has done with advertising, we can look forward to Facebook encouraging the creation of F-shops buy providing information to brands on how to best create Facebook commerce sites and featuring success stories.

2. Users will spend more time on Pages — Studies show that, currently, the overwhelming number of users rarely return to pages they Like and are mostly exposed to brands on their News Feed, the Facebook destination of choice. That’s going to change.

The number of monetization and data collection opportunities on the News Feed is too limited for Facebook and, consequently, for brands. In addition, all other benefits of social media engagement aside, corporations are best motivated when they are provided with the clearest link between their advertising and marketing expenses to their sales. Over time, Facebook’s feature structure will evolve to encourage more discovery across a greater number of platform destinations.

3. Be where your customers are — Brekke argues that retailers already have customers buying on their website and, as they are not present on their Facebook Pages, ads to drive traffic to an F-store may be misguided. Let’s set aside the possibility that, as a result of forces that include, but go beyond, Facebook, web commerce declines. In the bricks-and-mortar world, would a retailer be happy to cede business across town when he can stock a rent-free store just down the street from his competitor? No way. How is that logical on Facebook?

4. Today’s retailers are not tomorrow’s F-stores — In the nascent days of web commerce, few would have predicted that so many big winners would be dedicated companies (e.g., Amazon) and not the established stores everyone knew and frequented.

If retailers just modify their web pages to Facebook without a social strategy, they are going to fail. Successful F-shops are likely to offer fewer, more targeted products based on information culled from users’ social graph. Potentially, the experience of shopping on Facebook could be like going to a mall only with stores with stuff the individual shopper Likes. Yes, with a capital “L.”

5. Credit where credit is due — It makes sense for Facebook to work to maximize the number of ways Facebook Credits can be earned and spent on its platform. Brands that use Facebook Credits for Facebook Deals may move to accepting the virtual currency in their F-shops. Shops on Facebook are likely to be incentivized to accept Facebook Credits in their F-stores and websites, offer them as rebates, etc.

Now, with these great points, the question is, how can ministries use Facebook as an extension of their ecommerce strategy? Once a ministry establishes a viable ecommerce strategy with a dependable online store software, a facebook ecommerce presence should be the 2nd or 3rd steps.  As I stated in the iChurch Method book, once a ministry has setup an online store, they have established a place on their website for people to purchase their products.  The next step is to either make the online store mobile device compatible and/or Facebook compatible.   With 750 million (and counting) registered members of Facebook, there are numerous people that could benefit from the products of the ministry.  

Online shopping software such as payvment.com, aspdotnetstorefront.com, magento.com and other online shopping software, have mobile and Facebook plugins that make their stores Facebook friendly.  Therefore, it’s not difficult to take an online store, fill it with ministry products, and then add a few plugins and take that store to the 750 million people that enjoy Facebook around the world.