Friday, February 5, 2010

How We Ninja'd Facebook to Connect With Students

When I started volunteering with my church's student ministry, our student pastor Jeff Jones mentioned to me that we need to find a way to use Facebook to keep in touch with students more. We had a Facebook group, but it wasn't really achieving the desired goals. Here was the issue and how we solved it.

Issue 1: Groups vs. Pages
The Facebook Groups predate the Fan Pages and groups, in my opinion, are not nearly as powerful as pages for a few reasons. (Pages still don't have all of the features that I would prefer, but they seem to work better than groups.)

  1. Groups are too passive in relation to the people who are members of them. They have discussion boards, picture sharing, and links, but the user has to actively seek out the group page to see what's going on. I am a member of 39 groups and I can't remember the last time I read anything related to them.
  2. Groups are impersonal. A group is like a party where everyone showed and was kind of talkative at first then the conversation died and you're all just standing around staring at each other. The page gives the ministry (or organization) a personality and allows you to kind of stoke the discussion. 
  3. A page acts like a person in the Facebook world. Almost anything you can do as an individual on Facebook, you can do with a page. Almost. You can update your status, create events, upload photos and videos, and most importantly, you can use apps. (This will be important later.) 
  4. A page isn't perfect. There's still a lot you can't do with a Facebook page such as send a mass mailing to everyone's Facebook inbox or schedule status updates.

Issue 2: How to Specifically Reach Our Students
We knew that the status updates would be useful, but on any given Facebook home page most people only see the last couple of hours of updates. How would we send status updates at opportune times to reach students? If you update the Page at 1:30 pm on a Tuesday, almost no student is going to see that because they're all in school. (Who are we kidding, right? They're all checking Facebook at school on their phones, but let's just pretend.)

Solution: Here's where the ninja part comes in.
So we decided to create a Facebook Page for the student ministry because we felt that it would serve us better than the group had. Once the page was set up how we wanted it, we sent a message to everyone in the Group inviting them to join the Page and explained some of the reasons. The biggest reason was because we could use status updates to keep people thinking about the week's lessons and to send out reminders about upcoming events.

Schedule your Status Updates!
Since pages don't allow you to schedule updates (!), I set out to find a way to make it happen. And here's how it works.

1. Set up your Facebook Page how you want it. All nice and shiny. (Here is ours.)


2. Set up a Twitter account for your ministry. ("But my students don't use twitter!" I know. Just hang with me.) (Here's our Twitter page. Notice there's only 1 follower and it's me.)



3. On your personal Facebook profile install the Facebook app called "Selective Tweets." You'll be able to link it to the pages that you are admin for.

4. Link your newly created Page to your newly created twitter account using Selective Tweets. Make sure you click "Save Changes" at the bottom of the screen.



5. The setup you have right now is pretty good. You can type something into your twitter page (if you have any students who use twitter, even better!) and as long as you end it with the #fb hashtag, it will appear almost instantly as a status update on your new Facebook Page. Don't worry. The app removes that #fb thingy when it posts it on Facebook. Now, let's take it up a notch.


6. Create an account at HootSuite.com and link it to your newly created twitter account. The resulting homepage will look something like this.


7. HootSuite has a cool feature that allows you to schedule tweets.



8. Congratulations! You've just ninja'd Facebook! Now you can schedule tweets to go out at a certain time, which will, in turn update your status on your Facebook Page at the scheduled time. The process works like this.



Bonus: Moving Beyond the Obvious
I can feel a "So what?" coming from all of this, so let's explore some of the ways this could be useful.

  1. Birthdays - send personalized birthday announcements to students in your ministry
  2. Event promotions - You have a retreat coming up 6 months from now? Go ahead and schedule the status updates to get your students excited about it. They'll post automatically while you're running around finalizing all the event details.
  3. Stay connected while away - Are you taking a few days off? You can keep your students up to date without having to break up your vacation to update the Facebook Page.
If you use this for your ministry or business, let me know! If you have any questions or need help setting it up, I'd be happy to give you a hand with it. Either leave a comment or send me a tweet!

Let's brainstorm! What are some other ways this could be useful? Post your ideas in the comments.
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