Carolyn Clement is a licensed educator with Kindermusic and has served as the volunteer webmaster and social media manager at Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, Conn., since June of 2009. Trinity is a medium-sized New England church, founded in 1848. Carolyn has also recently joined the church vestry (a leadership body for Episcopal churches, similar to being an elder or deacon) where she’s the communications committee leader. “I’m also a soprano in the choir,” Carolyn adds. “So I spend a fair amount of time making noise at church, in more ways than one.” You can follow Carolyn on Twitter.
How did you come into your current role at your church?
Carolyn Clement: Our church had an outdated website, which in my opinion is worse than no website. I had been personally using social media for a couple of years and could see the incredible potential for ministry, outreach and evangelism online. So I started by creating a Facebook group in 2009 for our church, which I closed in favor of a page in 2011. Meanwhile, I met with the vestry who supported the efforts with enough money to create a new website and with the help of a local web designer we set up a WordPress site in the fall of 2011. As my own use of social media platforms grew, I brought my parish along with me, adding church accounts on Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube, Google+ and Pinterest. I’m learning as I go, from my teenagers and online colleagues, through blogs, webinars, and trial and error. More on the error part later.
How much communications work had your church been doing prior to you coming on board?
Carolyn: Prior to our entry into the virtual world, our church used only traditional communication tools: periodic mailings, a monthly newsletter, service announcements and a weekly bulletin insert. All of these tools are still in use, but we have added the website and social media platforms listed above, along with MailChimp for email, a Facebook page for our youth ministry, Google Calendar and a blog. We also take advantage of local online news sites, especially Patch, posting stories and events to invite the community into our work.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far? And how did you overcome it?
Carolyn: My biggest challenge has been getting folks at church to participate in social media! Everyone on the staff and vestry and in the parish has been very supportive, but many saw the value in social media for outreach only, not for building and encouraging the community we have. Culture change has helped as more folks are dipping their toes into social media, but so has the constant drip of putting the Facebook and Twitter icon on print materials, personal encouragement, announcements in church, articles in the print newsletter, and so on.
We hosted our first Social Media Sunday yesterday, where everyone was encouraged to tweet, post onto Facebook, take Instagram photos and check in on Foursquare from church that day, using the hashtag #tctville. We also offered a hands-on multi-generational help desk at coffee hour following the service for folks who wanted help using social media. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). My dream is that every Sunday would become Social Media Sunday, with proclamation going out from every church into the world. Follow us at #tctville we’ll see what happens!
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Carolyn: I wouldn’t call these “great” successes, but I do always feel a little thrill when I learn that newcomers found us and first liked what they saw online. We’ve had especially good results using Facebook events, as they are easy to share on individual and group pages and are most likely to go viral.
At last year’s annual parish meeting, our senior warden announced that even when he is traveling all around the world he can always check in with Trinity on Facebook and feel like he’s home. Aww.
One of the unexpected blessings was the expansion of Trinity’s healing mission. We’ve had an active healing ministry for decades, so I naturally include links to healing prayer and resources in our online presence. Not only has Trinity’s healing team reported an increase in prayer requests, but Google Analytics tells us that one of our most popular search terms is consistently “healing” or “healing prayer.” In times of community crises, traffic to our church website jumps dramatically, with folks spending lots of time on the Prayers for Healing page. I pray that people are finding some comfort as they join virtually with the body of Christ in prayer, and I’m grateful that social media can offer access to that comfort and connect us in peaceful prayer.
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Carolyn: I manage more than one Twitter account, so let’s just say I learned the hard way that I need to double check each and every time before posting to make sure I am using the correct account. I won’t go into detail, but trust me, panic is a strong motivator for learning.
Also, I went into the whole process a little backward: launch, then think about strategy. This led, for example, to some resistance from parishioners to “Liking” our church Facebook page, since they already did that, right? (they were members of the previous Facebook group). We now have a small team of communication volunteers working on strategy and it does make for a more effective and efficient ministry.
How can you make progress when you have little or no budget?
Carolyn: Ha! As a PTO mom and former Girl Scout leader, I’ve had years of experience doing a lot for a little. The social media platforms are all free for the taking (except for viewing those pesky ads and promoted posts and such). Webinars, blogs and other resources are plentiful and cost nothing but time, and I’ve taken advantage of many of those.
My advice if you’re starting out and have no budget? First, put some money in the budget for communications and make sure your church website is updated. Unless your church has an extremely dedicated volunteer with very specialized skills, you’ll need some money to make that happen. And it will be worth it.
Then find the adults in your church who are passionately engaged in social media and invite them to be a part of the ministry. They will understand the platforms and avoid those awkward moments we’ve all seen online. Make sure that the priest/pastor has administrative access to the social media accounts; checks and balances are always a good idea. Figure out who you are trying to reach, why you are trying to reach them and which tools will best do that. Facebook is the most popular platform, so launching a Facebook page usually makes sense as a good place to start.
Have some fun personally trying out some new (to you) social media platforms to see what’s out there. I’m surprisingly fond of Tumblr and Snapchat. We aren’t using them in ministry, but the more I play with them, the more I can see how they could be effective ministry tools.
What was the greatest help to you as a new church communicator?
Carolyn: Prayer! It’s an exciting time to be a part of church communications, and God is providing lots of opportunities for churches to reach out to the world with good news. Staying grounded in prayer is a great help in navigating the constantly changing landscape of communication technology.
The Church Social Media group on Twitter has been invaluable. Following the hashtag #chsocm, this group of professional and amateur social media ministers meets weekly for for a Twitter chat on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET, and is available round the clock on Twitter for questions and sharing information (Editor’s Note: We talked with group founder Meredith Gould last year and got the scoop on #chsocm). I’ll be moderating the chat on July 2, so stop by and join in the conversation!
More on Getting Started
If you’re looking for more help on getting started, check out the rest of our Getting Started interview series. Another resource that might be a big help is our new book, Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication. It covers a lot of the basics, from big picture strategy to practical stuff like writing and social media.