No matter how we feel about it, our culture communicating via the social media platform is here for the long term. There is no getting away from it. If your ministry doesn’t yet have a website, or if it already has a Facebook Page, you may want to take a moment and consider what is on your immediate horizon. Does the screen shot above look familiar? Next week on March 30th, the social media giant Facebook, will be changing the way we do church business with our social mediums. Facebook has already rolled out their new “Timeline” layout as an option for those who were in the know. Some have embraced the new visual stimulus package, and others have not. Be aware, next Friday, you won’t have a choice in the matter. However, the new layout may not be all that bad for ministries with tight purse strings. For many of us, our small donation dependent budget’s haven’t yet grown to afford a website, much less a designer or programmer to create one. Facebook’s new Timeline layout may be a bit of answered prayer, if done correctly. With the new visual format and the mega following FB has, for those of us who choose to think outside of the box, we can take advantage of what FB Timeline has to offer. The new FB Business Page is quite willing and built to serve as web communication central, if you choose to let it. The required new “face” of your ministry on FB will come with many new and exciting features that really are worth using to their full potential. Alas, there are also a few technicalities of which we all need to be aware:
As with any and every sin, pleading ignorance will earn no mercy. It may seem circumstantial, but FB has a legal right to impose their policies and they will. If you are in violation, you run the risk of the giant chewing up and spitting out your ministry’s identity, never to be found again in the cyber-world of FB. In Facebook’s mind, people (Personal Profiles) have “friends”, businesses (Business Pages) like your ministry, have “fans”. When you try to make the transition to get in compliance, if not handled with care, you run the risk of loosing all of your ministry’s friends as well as all of its potential fans.
Like it or not, FB is forcing this fast approaching huge change in just seven days. If your ministry is not in compliance, better to start down the road to correct the error now, than to beg for forgiveness later. There are those who know how, and are willing to try to help ministries who find themselves in this predicament. For those of you who are slightly overwhelmed by the whole social media craze, a little bewildered and trying to determine just where to start, there are folks who can help you sort it out. They can also work along side you in the design of your ministry’s new “face”. Try reaching out to the people at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and others with the same attitude of servanthood in this area. They have already helped a few businesses and ministries migrate their Personal Profiles to Business Pages without the loss of friends, fans, or FB vanity URL’s.
Vanity At Stake
Does your ministry have a vanity URL? If it does and its current “face” is a Personal Profile, likely the URL is linked to that same identity. A big concern for most, is the blaring risk of loosing your branded vanity URL’s that are now associated with Personal Profiles. When your ministry makes the switch to a Business Page, its URL may not migrate with it. Many have become painfully aware that FB policy clearly states it does not reassign URL’s. Once claimed and used in cyberspace within the FB platform, the giant considers that piece of real estate non-recyclable. If your ministry doesn’t have a vanity URL already, you may want to wait until after it makes the transition to a Business Page to get one.
The New FB Timeline Layout
Like it or not, here it comes! Your new one-size-fits-all layout will consist of a cover photo, a profile photo, a tab strip that links to photo albums, events, and other custom apps, as well as some bright and shiny new features like pinning posts. (Hmmm – any guesses where that idea came from?) Your Page will also allow your stories to be larger, and you can highlight them with a star icon so that they span the entire page width. Or, you can make them age defying by creating “milestones” within your Timeline. FB has in mind that you use milestones for your monumental events and accomplishments like your first overseas mission event, the building of your new church or a church planting, the introduction of new leadership staff or programs, etc. As an FYI, fan gates still exist, but you may be disheartened to learn that landing pages are gone for good.
What To Expect From Your New, Free, Web Presence
With a good design, you can make the most of what the cover photo and Timeline layout have to offer. They can be eye candy if done right. However, there are some strict FB rules that make it bitter-sweet. A few being that cover photos are not allowed to include contact information, references to FB features or actions ie; “like” or “share”, price or purchase information or calls to action like “Visit us this Sunday”. We know, we hear you — sounds a bit like an oxymoron for a business doesn’t it? Facebook offers more information with regard to these limitations, read about them here.
The profile photo is pretty straight forward. It is likely to be the place where most ministries are going to feature their logo. The profile photo does have a dual purpose however, it also functions similar to an avatar within the FB platform. When making your selection, keep in mind the “mini-me” philosophy of its appearance.
Your photos and apps will appear by default as a line of “tabs”, above the fold. Try to picture it as your room, but you don’t get to choose where your guest finds the photo album. FB has a real passion for photo images so they have programmed this as a permanent fixture, first in line on the tab strip.
You also get to choose what you want visitors to read first by “pinning” posts. This is a great place for announcements like the upcoming pot-luck, conference, VBS, retreats, prayer requests, stories, etc. You can pin a post or important story to the top of the Page where it will reside for seven days. After that, it will automatcially resume its proper place in the Timeline hierarchy.
Basically, the new Timeline layout has more of a “website” feel, rather than just a page of posts. It gives you the opportunity to display the character of your ministry and tell your story with visual aids. The new features give you more control, allowing you to interact with your followers on a FB level. Since you aren’t going to get away from the social media giant, you might want to consider taking full advantage of what it has to offer.
The Good News
What have always been handy, and easy to use, are the FB Insights. Most of us are now guaranteed to appreciate them even more. You will have even better access to even more information. Such as, if you click the “Likes” box within the tab strip you can see, in a nut shell, basic data about your audience as it applies to your specific ministry. This section reveals how many “People are Talking About” the Page, its total number of “Likes”, “Most Popular Week”, “Most Popular City” and “Age Group” as well as other useful information. Spend some time wandering around this new frontier called “Page Insights”. It has much to offer and makes swallowing the pill of change a little easier. Insights also offers great information for assessing your ministry’s reach that many of us otherwise could not afford. A nice feature for all of us.
Our Facebook Future
So why all the change? Facebook had to know that none of us were going to like being forced to do anything against our will. What’s their point and who is really going to benefit from all this? That is yet to be determined but all in all, the recent changes in FB are going to allow ministries to function more like, well . . . a business. That may not have been their intention, but it can be to our benefit if we take full advantage of it. After all it is free — at least for now!
How do you think these changes might affect your ministry? Do you know of some exciting ways ministries can benefit from the FB changes? We are curious to hear your thoughts and ideas about the new Facebook features. Leave your questions and comments below. Thanks for stopping by!