Book Review: “Likeable Social Media” and its implications for ministry

I really enjoyed this book. This was actually my second time through (I’d read through it on a previous holiday) – but I wanted to skim over it again having read Platform… its fundamental thesis is that the social media success is tied to being Likeable , which in turn is tied to being a good citizen of the web, giving content away, sharing, and being altruistic in order to win brand loyalty and create ambassadors. So its got some great tie ins with ministry – especially since the gospel should come with built in enthusiastic ambassadors, namely, the church (2 Corinthians 5:20).

“In the beginning, there was Adam and Eve. Eve said to Adam, “You’ve got to try this apple,” and the first marketing interaction in the history of the world had taken place.”

The fundamental conviction at the heart of this book is that word of mouth marketing is the most powerful form of marketing (I agree), but that harnessing word of mouth marketing and even generating it – especially in the age of social media – requires a bit of thought and deliberation, and then an ongoing commitment to being present in a persistent and authentic way.

“Who is better to defend you against negative posters, you or your thousands of happy customers? What kind of company would you rather do business with as a consumer—a company that publicly answers every single customer, or one who seemingly ignores many customers?”

The thought and deliberation happen at the level of thinking about your brand’s personality and the substance or content you aim to share to engage and benefit your audience.

Being authentic means speaking in a language that really represents who you are, but also in a language that resonates with the people you want to connect with – this means, in business, avoiding corporate weasel words or legalise, in the Christian sphere it’ll mean avoiding jargon and in crowd stuff.

You also need to have some grasp of the way each social media channel works, and use that knowledge and the thinking work you’ve put in to figure out a strategy for how you use them (or don’t). I’ve put together something like a social media strategy a while back which has some info about how Facebook works, amongst other useful things, but this book is helpful because it gives you practical homework at the end of each chapter that will leave you with a good sense of how to take your next steps into the world of social media.

There’s some stuff in the book that’s incredibly useful if you’re looking to promote a specific product where you want a purchase decision (which I don’t think you can do with the gospel – there are a few more categories that probably need to be esablished than a Facebook ad or status update can accomplish) – so this advice is relevant for events, or for people who are looking for tips for a small business, there are lots of pearls of wisdom along the way, like:

“Write five sample Facebook updates that combine an engaging question or valuable content with an irresistible offer, and link to your website to buy or learn more. Test, track, and measure the results in order to optimize for future ROI.”

To translate – even when you’re selling something you want to be hooking people with the update so that even if they don’t act, they engage, and including some sort of call to action. And you should experiment till you get it right. This is a theme Platform develops in more depth, I’ll be reviewing it in the next couple of days.

In my experience, and I, at last count, administer Facebook pages for about 20 different churches, events, and businesses, the pages that do this stuff well, and thoughtfully, are the ones that take off – so one page, for a popular drag racing team, has gone from 0 to 7,000 fans in about six months, just by having a well thought out brand, carefully driving people to their page, providing good content, and urging people to share the love and invite their friends.

Here are some examples of helpful “homework” from the book.

1. If you’re a one-person operation or a very small business, write down five things you could say that would seem inauthentic or that sound like marketing-speak to a customer. Then write five examples of how you could say the same messages in a more authentic way on Facebook.
2. If you are part of a large organization, create a plan for how to represent yourself authentically. Recognize that authenticity won’t be easy but that it’s essential. Meet with key stakeholders and management at your organization to determine how you can make communication more authentic across all channels, especially on social networks.
3. If you already have a social media policy, examine it carefully to ensure that it encourages authentic communication, and tweak it if it doesn’t. If you don’t yet have a social media policy, draft one now.
4. If multiple people are responding on Twitter on behalf of your organization, have them sign tweets with their name or initials.

1. Create a social media policy that insists on honesty and transparency as the default expectation. Review with other key stakeholders in your organization what company information, if any, is off-limits and how you can better embrace openness and transparency while still keeping this in mind.
2. If you work at a large organization, determine whether your chief executive officer can effectively use social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook herself to be the ultimate transparent representative of your brand.
3. Closely examine your social media policy to make sure it is aligned with the values of honesty and transparency at its core. If it is not, consider what you could add to help instill these values. Include references to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s code of ethics.
4. Write down three ways you could respond to questions and comments on social networks in a more transparent way in order to further build trust with your customers.

And here are some helpful quotes from the book…

“The formula for ad success is not to link ads to your website or shopping cart but to link to your fan page. Connecting users to your page encourages them to engage with you. They might enter a contest or ask you some questions about products, services, or your industry. They have the opportunity to connect with other people in your community.”

“Also, forget the notion that YouTube is about creating “viral videos” and getting millions of views. Is it possible to create videos on YouTube that will go viral? Sure. But think of the last 10 viral videos you’ve seen on YouTube. Chances are few of them, if any, were created by or for a business. Most of these videos take off organically. Videos that are “produced” don’t tend to go viral. What makes content viral is that very thing that often can’t be produced: the spontaneity of human experience. Even parody videos are based from the initial experience that was captured on video and released to the world, then deemed viral.”

“Many company blogs are unsuccessful because they are updated infrequently, and too often they’re updated with press release-like broadcast material, rather than valuable resources or content. With a blog, you have the opportunity to include longer text updates than you’re able to through Facebook or Twitter, as well as incorporate photos, videos, polls, and other multimedia. You can also tell stories at your own pace and on your own terms.”

One of the central theses of the book, if not the central thesis, is that being successful on the web means being prepared to give away good material in order to build your brand, and goodwill.

I think the great take home messages for people in ministry, or people who are thinking about how to use Facebook for Jesus, is that churches looking to use social media to help spread the gospel, as a way of connecting with people, the secret is in empowering those in the pews to be using your church’s presence as a bit of a call to action in their use of Facebook – we should be encouraging those who are keen ambassadors of Jesus, and members of our church communities to be talking about both Jesus and church in an authentic and engaging way online, we don’t carry the entire weight of producing good content that people will engage with (though our church/ministry pages should be doing that).

There are some interesting ways I’m thinking we could use Facebook advertising spinning out of this book – you could target people who say they’re Christians who have just moved to your area (changed location), you can target friends of friends to invite them along to evangelistic events, you can target people who aren’t Christians to welcome them to your area with the offer of a welcome pack if they like your page, you can target engaged or married people in your area to offer pre-marriage counselling or to advertise a marriage course. Facebook advertising is fairly powerful stuff – which is why it can be insidious when used by unscrupulous people. I read someone I respect greatly who said that the low quality of advertising on Facebook was enough to drive him away from spending advertising dollars, and someone yesterday suggested the inappropriate ads he was receiving were causing a rethink about Facebook’s values – but it’s not Facebook that does this, beyond an algorithm, it’s people using the data and likes you’ve supplied to target you – the key to improving the standard of ads on Facebook is liking more particular stuff (the ads I get are almost exclusively coffee related), and for advertisers – the key is producing relevant ads that might cut through some of the noise of weightloss ads, dating service spruiking, and whatever else you get coming up on your profile.

It’s interesting too that the emphasis on social media success seem to fall around characteristics that are emphasised by Paul as either parts of his ministry, so he has a fairly cross-shaped approach to ministry that emphasises ethos and substance over flashy and impressive stuff, or the modern equivalent. Authenticity. Loving others. Being selfless. Responding to situations that emerge with humility, integrity, generosity, and grace… the guy who wrote this book is basically the most successful social networking consultant going round – and he’s essentially advocating that people behave sacrificially in what they give out online, though he’s doing it with the expectation that it will eventually produce material returns, and we’re expecting that it will build goodwill that will get the gospel a hearing.

There are some great ideas in the book about what sort of content makes good Facebook content and boosts engagement – the ultimate goal is being likeable, and getting people to share the stuff you’re putting out there, which I guess raises a question about how we get people in our churches on board with this and thinking about themselves as ambassadors when they’re online, which probably taps into a bigger issue regarding how we get people to think about ambassadors when they’re offline. Part of authenticity is making sure that the experience people get of our church family is consistent both in the virtual world and the real world.

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