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Bring on the fans! It’s getting hot on Facebook!

By Tracy Wood

SUMMARY: Maybe you’ve heard all the rage about “Social Networking,” but you didn’t think it applied to your church. What if you took a different look at social networking – Facebook in particular – and how your church could reach new visitors, conduct online Bible studies, promote community, announce events and more? Join me as we skip down the yellow brick road of Facebook features.

Much like Web sites, having a Fan page on Facebook requires time to maintain and to be interactive. If you or another member of your church cannot devote a small amount of time each week to updating your Fan page, do not create one. A Fan page is another form of advertising for your church. The last thing you want your church to convey is that it’s static and unchanging.

So, you’ve decided to be a fan of the wonderful world of Facebook, but you’re not sure where to start. First go to www.facebook.com and create an account. Then go to Applications, select Groups, select Create a New Group (designate your page as a Fan Page) and follow the prompts. 

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Now that you have your Group page, what are the features and how can your church use them?

1. News postings
Here is an excellent communications tool to post information church members need to know, such as changes in worship time or location, updates from a mission trip or information about an upcoming cantata.

2. Event invitations
With this feature, you can create an event, list pertinent information and even have the option for users to RSVP! This would be a great tool to get an approximate headcount for a new Bible study, whitewater-rafting trip or men’s special breakfast.

3. Videos 
You can imbed YouTube videos of Christian speakers or music videos of Christian artists. You also can link to videos saved on your local church Web site for greater exposure.

4. Polls
Instead of having to gather everyone interested in going bowling after church to get dates of availability, you can create a poll on your Fan page and let users vote on the time. In addition, you can create a poll listing possible Bible-study topics and let users choose what they want to study.

5. Photos 
Show off your members. Tell—in pictures—how your church makes a difference in your community and the world. Share pictures from a mission trip, vacation Bible school, confirmation class and the handbell choir. Please remember that to post pictures online of minors, you must have signed parental consent.

6. Discussion boards
Here is the optimal place to begin an online Bible study. Engage church members who cannot attend evening Bible studies by having one online where they can interact at a convenient time for them. In addition, this is a great way to build interaction from shyer members.

You can also enhance your Fan page by linking to your church’s public Google calendar as well as sermons via podcasts on your church Web site or iTunes.

Don’t lie in the poppy field yet!

Here are some helpful suggestions for your Group page:

1. Assign admin rights to others! 
The person who sets up the Fan automatically becomes the administrator. You have the option to appoint other users admin rights. This means less work and pressure on one person. Each person can devote a little time each week to Fan page maintenance.

2. Include reciprocal links. 
Remember to link your Fan page back to your church Web site and vice versa. This means twice the exposure of your church!

3. Be timely. 
The rule of thumb for online questions or requests is to reply within 24 hours. Again, assigning admin rights to several people ensures you can do this.

4. Advertise! 
Announce the creation of your Fan page with Facebook in the church bulletin, newsletter and other communications media. Ask members to join your Fan page to increase membership, which in turn will show up on their news feed that others will see. It can become a viral marketing tool.

I know this is a lot of information. However, I assure you it’s painless and easily doable. It’s much simpler than obtaining the illusive broomstick! Remember, having a Fan page on Facebook is another avenue for marketing your church and its mission. Use it as a resource for ministry. Use it to gain awareness and to reach out. Most of all, just use it.

Here we are at the gate to the Emerald City. The tools and knowhow are laid out, but what you do from here is up to you. Before clicking your heels, take some time to spread your social-networking wings. I can’t do much about the flying monkeys, but I have some water in tow, just in case.

--Tracy Wood, Product Marketing Manager, TechShopUnited Methodist Communications. As a kid, Tracy always wanted a pair of ruby slippers and, as an adult, wonders if Jimmy Choos are a good substitute.