Social media is an interesting paradox. On one hand, it’s really easy to use, and its strength lies in the fact that almost anyone can use it. (Not everyone should, mind you, but there’s nothing we can do to stop that!) On the other hand, though, to do it well, to stand out from the crowd and make sure your message gets heard. . . . That’s a lot harder. Hopefully, over the years of reading the CTS blog, you’ve learned a trick or two and you’ve got a solid foothold in at least one social media community.

But what do you do when it’s time to expand to a second or third social network? Sure, you’ve got a great Facebook game going, but does that same skill set transfer to Instagram or Twitter? And what is Snapchat, anyway? Often it can be difficult to decide how you’re going to get your message across in the new format.

First Things First

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I’m being a bit backward, and those who know me might suspect I’m doing it on purpose. (They’d be right in this case, but that’s not always a safe bet.) Whenever we’re approaching a social media question, or any communication question really, we need to start with our audience. Who’s listening here and what do they need to hear from you? How is your audience for your church bulletin different from your audience on Facebook or on your website? Chances are the audiences are similar, but they’re likely not exactly the same. If they are the same, pick the one they’re paying the most attention to and cut the noise on your other platforms. We’ll move forward assuming that the audiences are different and that they need to hear slightly different things from you.

Voice vs. Tone

One mistake communication folks often make is trying to adopt the same tone across all media. You definitely want your organization to speak with one cohesive voice, but the tone might differ based on the platform, the event, the news of the day, and sometimes even your mood. So while your church’s voice might always be honest, authentic, and straightforward, the tone of your youth announcements is likely to be different from the tone of your altar guild announcements. Social media lends itself to a less formal tone, but consider having a primary social channel that uses the reasoned, thoughtful voice of your congregation and another network or two that uses a lighter, more approachable tone. Users will self-select where they’re most comfortable. Consistent voice, different tones.

Network Segmentation

As an example of what this segmentation looks like, consider our social media presence for Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne (CTSFW). We use our flagship voice for social media on our Facebook page. We’ve found that our audience there is by-and-large looking for deep, meaningful, theologically thoughtful content from their seminary. Our biggest drivers are daily chapel services and the Lectionary Podcast sermon helps. Pieces on theological history, saints days, and campus events are also helpful, but we’re very careful with humor or parody posts. Not everyone gets the joke, and it’s better to remain silent than to cause offense for so little gain. (There are times when it’s worth making a statement that’s going to offend people, and we’re not afraid to do that if necessary, but it’s not worth it for a joke.)

It’s worth noting that we maintain several other Facebook pages for specific audiences, such as our Christ Academy and Doctor of Ministry pages. These pages are supplemented with content from the main page, but having different pages helps us target our audiences more effectively. A good rule of thumb (courtesy of Kem Meyer!) is that if your message doesn’t apply to 80 percent of your audience, find a better place to speak it.

Our Instagram page, on the other hand, is presently a photo stream of campus life. The photos here run the gamut from profoundly moving to a good laugh at the turkey vultures who roost on the balconies at the library. We don’t really do a ton of interacting on Instagram right now, and we’re waiting to see if our audience will settle into people who want a little more of a behind-the-scenes view of life at CTSFW, whether they’re supporters, alumni, or future students. So far the response has been positive, but it’s definitely something we’re building.

Our Twitter feed has struggled for definition, though. We’ve had it for years and played with some different ways of using it, but we haven’t really settled on anything until recently. We’re using Twitter to push out retweet-able content that is likely to stir conversations. This means choice sermon quotes, presentation snippets, interesting facts, and social commentary are all fair game as we seek to encourage people to interact around the theology coming from their seminary. We’ve only just begun, but we’re watching our use of Twitter and it seems to be working so far. We’ll see as the academic year continues.

How Do We Manage All of This?

While there are some great tools that allow you to manage presences on multiple social networks, it’s not a simple matter of just reposting the same content. To support many of the new efforts we’re putting forward, we’ve had to add some extra staff in the form of our marketing specialist, Andrea Schultz. (Check out The Story Folder if you want to get to know her — and you should!) Your congregation may not have that option, so pick and choose which networks best fit your congregation. They’re probably not the same as ours.

Maybe you’re in a congregation with a large number of smartphone owners, and the mobile-first design of Instagram and Twitter makes those channels very attractive places to reach those people. If you’re in an area with a lot of Twitter users (use Twitter’s location-based searching to find out), consider using that channel to interact with your external community and creating a Facebook page (or other social presence) to communicate with your church’s members. The options are limited only by where your members and other key audiences are listening. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the first congregation to figure out Reddit!

This article first appeared here.