What's in this session?

  • #1: Don't fall for conspiracies (1:30)
  • #2: Understand how the algorithm works (4:00)
  • #3: Captions (6:35)

Show notes and resources

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The Transcript

Brady Shearer: Ever since social media platforms replaced chronological feeds with algorithmic feeds, people have been suspicious. How do these mysterious algorithms really work? And how can your church stay on the good side of the algorithm? Well, in this podcast, you’ll learn ways to maximize your exposure on social media and how to beat that pesky algorithm.

Alex Mills: Well, hey there. And welcome to Pro Church Tools, the show where in ten minutes or less you’re going to get a dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift in 500 years. I’m your host, Alex Mills, joined as always by the boss man, Brady Shearer.

Brady Shearer: Every week I see posts in different Facebook groups, Alex, or I get DMs directly, churches and individuals, Christian and non, who are suspicious of social media algorithms. They’ll say something like, “Has anyone else been seeing their posts reach drop significantly?”

Alex Mills: Have you noticed our organic reach is just not what it used to be?

Brady Shearer: And I fall for this myself.

Alex Mills: Sure, we all do.

Brady Shearer: And the thing about algorithms and all social media because the medium is so new, is that things that once work will eventually not work.

Alex Mills: One might say, “Repeat equals defeat.”

Brady Shearer: And once you identify a certain strategy that is performing well, I will exploit it and then tell all of Pro Church Nation about it, which means it will be used more and thus, work less well. So we’d always have to be coming up with new things. And so, we wanted to talk about ways to beat the algorithm. Because there are ways to beat the algorithm if you understand how it works.

Brady Shearer: The first thing, though, what we want to talk about is just don’t be the type of person or church that falls for the algorithmic conspiracy theory that multi-billion dollar media organizations are pinpointing your unique church and shadow banning and throttling your reach because of your religious views.

Alex Mills: You see them all the time. Like, even on my personal news feed, it’ll be like one of those copy and paste chains that like my mom will post. Be like, “Facebook is not showing my posts to anybody. Please copy and paste this to unlock my account,” or whatever. It’s like that’s not a thing. That’s not real.

Brady Shearer: That’s definitely not a thing. I have a DM conversation, it’s an ongoing conversation with somebody, and they are convinced that Instagram and Facebook are throttling their church’s reach. And I’m like, “Do you have any data to support this?” You’re like, “No, but I have a hunch. They just don’t want anyone to hear the Gospel.” And this kind of like persecution complex within like one of history’s greatest Christian empires is really upsetting to me on a number of levels. We don’t need to dive too deep into that, but I will say this. Is there a chance that Facebook and Instagram are throttling your church’s reach due to your religious views? Maybe. Maybe there’s a chance. But let’s employ Occam’s razor in this instance and just assume that the most likely conclusion is the correct one. If your reach and decline is dropping, it’s likely just a blip on the radar. If your reach in general’s not so great, it’s probably because people are not responding positively to your content. It’s so unlikely that an organization that has billions of users is coming after your church of 87 people.

Alex Mills: They’re targeting your church of 100 people, exactly.

Brady Shearer: It’s just not how it’s going to be. And if you’re the type of person that feels this way, it’s probably a belief that you have in life in general. These are the type of people that are always blaming other people, other organizations, blame the government. And I saw this amazing post that Roxanne shared this week from an account on Instagram and it had a statement, it says, “Nothing ever goes my way.” Crossed out and replaced with, “I find identity in my narrative of lack.” Which I thought was the greatest burn ever. You just want to blame others and use that persecution complex, go for it. Just own it. You find identity in your narrative of lack.

Brady Shearer: Number two, understand how the algorithm works. This came from a tweet from Instagram this year, 2019, January 22nd, it said, “What shows up first in your feed is determined by what posts and accounts you engage with the most.” And this is where churches have a huge advantage because you can go out of your way to ask your congregation to purposefully like and comment on the posts that they see. And this is something churches can do because if you did this-

Alex Mills: Well, it would be a little odd. Like if any of our listeners or viewers have ever seen my personal Instagram account, @alexander.mills, it is exclusively coffee content, right? But if I called an office meeting, be like, “Team, it’s time for a meeting.” I bring you all together and I say, “Look.”

Brady Shearer: I’ve been shadow banned!

Alex Mills: “Look, I’m getting shadow banned. They’re shutting down my coffee content. I’m going to need you guys to turn on post notifications, maybe set a reminder on your phone every day at 9:05 AM when I post. I need you to go on, like, comment, just boost my posts so I can get some boost in the algorithm.” That would come off as strange. But in your church, people want to partner with you in ministry. So if you, from the stage, say, “Hey, church. If you’re not already following us at @lifeabundantniagara, go ahead and do that now. And hey, when you see our posts online, I know there’s a lot of stuff going on, but if you see our posts online, we’re trying to use this social channel as ministry, if you wouldn’t mind just double tapping, maybe commenting, that’ll really help us get our message of Jesus in front of more eyes.” People are going to hear that. You’re going to get Amens, you’re going to get hands up in the air, you’re going to get some people saved, and in all honesty, people are going to receive that well in the church context and see it as an opportunity to partner with what your church is trying to do in ministry on social.

Brady Shearer: The algorithm is simply a reflection of your activity. And so, you can train the algorithm to show, in your personal feed, what you want to see. And I have found this to be true because, like all humans, when something outrages me on social, I tend to look at it and stew. And I look at it and I hover and then, I see more things like that. To which I get more outraged and I sit on and stew. And so I’ve had to go out of my way to say, “Okay, if you see something that upsets you, you need to keep scrolling.”

Alex Mills: Block it, report it.

Brady Shearer: If you hover, you’re teaching the algorithm to just outrage you, get you more angry on more things like that. And the algorithm can kind of be like a thing that tells on yourself a bit because you’re like, “Oh.” You just keep seeing the … Oh, that’s in my feed. I wonder why. Wow, don’t know how that got there.

Alex Mills: I’m not interested in that. The robots know you are.

Brady Shearer: They know that you are. And then finally, some low hanging fruit for you to trick and beat the algorithm is to pay more attention to your captions. I think this is one of the most overlooked parts of a social media post that churches can really take advantage of. I find that whenever I spend more time on my captions and I write like these really long form with good formatting, line breaks, using pretty-caption.com is a great resource for that for Instagram, I find that my posts get a lot more likes and interactions. Part of that is because there’s more hover time on those posts, people are reading them longer. But I also think that they allow you to explain and share a story in ways that a single image does not on Facebook and Instagram. So, take advantage of that. I think it’s a low hanging fruit for churches.

Alex Mills: Yeah, and that’s an opportunity to start a conversation, as well. Like, if you’re just posting a photo with a caption that says, “Felt cute, might delete later.” People aren’t going to be encouraged to respond to that and engage in the comments section. But if you’ve got a long form caption that people are clicking to open, read more, they’re going to hover while they read that for longer. So you’re telling the algorithm, “Okay, this person likes this post because they’re spending time on it.” And then, if you include … So you start a conversation. If you include a call to action at the end and say, “Hey, what do you think about this? Let me know in the comments.” And all of a sudden, somebody spent 10, 20 seconds on your post, now they’re commenting, that’s a huge boost that’s going to tell the algorithm, “This kind of post from this account is worth boosting in feeds to come. And that’s how you’re going to keep showing up in your follower’s feeds.

Brady Shearer: Three ways that you can beat the social algorithms. That’ll do it for this episode of Pro Church Tools. We’ll see you next time.



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