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Church Trends: Using Social Media to Create, Sustain Community

Creating community is a central goal of the social media campaigns of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in Shawnee, Kan.
We seek to connect with the current learning community, prospective learners, alumni, trustees, donors and partner organizations as well as to all of the extended relationships of these constituents.

Connecting with multiple layers of constituents and their networks through social media is an important trend that is essential to an organization’s success.

Central uses several forms of social media as entry points, then cross-promotes from one form to another. This cross-promotion helps us to tell the Central story.

An ideal social media engagement would look similar to this: A story captures a person’s interest on Central’s Facebook page, where we have posted a link for a deeper story on Central’s website.

That person clicks through and is drawn to another story on the website; soon, a more complete understanding of our mission emerges.

A contemporary example would be a group of Central Seminary master of divinity and doctor of ministry students, who are currently in Myanmar for an immersion experience, which is part of their respective programs.

One entry point for Central friends to hear about this story is on our Facebook page. For several weeks before the trip, Francisco Litardo, Central’s social media community director, posted pictures and articles about it.

Throughout the trip, students have been encouraged to post pictures and reflections on Facebook and the “Encounter the World with Central” blog, which is found on our website. When those blogs are posted, Litardo provides a link to them, along with a picture, on our Facebook page.

When a person visits the blog, they might follow a link to President Molly T. Marshall’s blog, Trinitarian Soundings, where she is also writing about her experiences in Myanmar.

Another entry point is Central’s Twitter feed @cbtskansas, which also links to these same blog posts, along with hashtags customized to specific organizational events or emphases, such as, #encountertheworld and #myanmarpilgrims. 

Others are encouraged to do the same so that Twitter followers can see posts organized around those themes.

With Facebook, Google+ and others adding this feature, using hashtags to engage more people is an important trend in effective social media promotion.

Central’s Instagram account is @centralseminary, where we post our own images or those sent by constituents can be posted and draw interest to a trip, conference or other Central event.

When students post relevant messages and pictures on their own social media account, Litardo then retweets, shares, “likes,” reposts and comments on these images as well.

Students are encouraged to do the same with Central’s postings and tweets. Thus, the community grows as friends and the networks of Central’s friends and family can see and interact with the posts. 

Central staff take pictures of every aspect of Central’s life, sometimes sharing those photos on the spot on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, to create a media-rich environment.

Recently, the team began envisioning a new version of Central’s website, which will respond to the devices that access it so the viewer’s experience will be enhanced.

It is Litardo’s dream that “true community develops out of this sharing – that people will respond and feed into Central’s social media system with their own experiences. I want them to be energized and inspired by what we post, so they will in turn energize and inspire us with the meaning-filled thoughts they share.” 

Corey Fields, a doctor of ministry student at Central, observed, “I’ve always thought that Central knows what they’re doing when it comes to social media. The posts are frequent and interesting, always showcasing what Central is doing and showing its followers what a busy and vibrant place it is.”

“The posts are also very visual,” Fields said, “which is especially important on Facebook. Images get re-shared on Facebook more than any other type of post.”

The trends of complementing text with images, providing relevant content that is shared across multiple platforms, and encouraging constituents to use their social media networks to share content are essential to expanding your organization’s reach.

The more layers of avenues for sharing, the better we tell Central’s story, the more we are able to cultivate a community who knows and loves CBTS.

None of Central’s social media campaigns just happen. It is a process, which starts with Central’s institutional advancement team.

Members of the team represent the fundraising, seminary relations, recruitment and social media departments.

They gather weekly to plan, sometimes months in advance, the matrix to share Central’s story.

They select slide images for the home page of the website to point to the seminary’s top stories.

They layer those stories through subjects for the eVoice, Central’s e-newsletter, and Facebook page as well as print media (even appeal letters), which always include links to content on the CBTS site.

Having a staff member or team overseeing social media is a growing trend that allows for strategic planning and more effective results.

Robin Sandbothe is the director of seminary relations for Central Baptist Theological Seminary, where she has been on staff for 15 years. She is an ordained Cooperative Baptist Fellowship minister and was recently called as the intentional interim pastor for Englewood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles on church trends. An article by Karen Massey on trends in faith formation will appear tomorrow. Previous articles are available on “the Garden State,” missional engagement, Hispanic Baptists and technology in Christian education.