The Top Three Digital Engagement Mistakes to Avoid

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Today’s post on digital engagement mistakes is written by Alan George. Alan brings his expertise from almost a decade as the Church Online Pastor at Life.Church, and is passionate about leveraging technology to make the truth of Christ accessible to all people.

By Alan George

Mistakes aren’t all bad. No one wants to make a mistake, but truthfully, you can’t do something for the first time—or even the first few times— and expect to be great at it.

Guess what, I’ve made plenty of mistakes as well while serving as the Church Online Pastor at Life.Church. As we were trying to find ways to continue to engage our community, collect data, build global volunteer teams and run a church that was online, much of it was brand new territory to us.

Mistakes are not entirely bad if we are careful to learn from them. Building a culture on your team—where failure is viewed as a necessity—is crucial to a team’s success. While I do agree with that, I also believe that we don’t necessarily have to make all the mistakes ourselves. What if you could proactively avoid many common digital faux pas by reactively learning from others?

Mistakes are not entirely bad if we are careful to learn from them. - Alan George Click To Tweet

Here are a few mistakes I have made over the years when it comes to online ministry:

1. Operating without a plan

Innovation is an important part of every successful team. However, innovation has a process and many of us tend to skip the steps within the process. Like many, I would go from idea to execution.

Unfortunately, this didn’t give our team enough time to validate or test these ideas. Every idea felt like a great idea, but not all ideas are created equal. We saw ourselves in “start-up” mode, but you can’t orchestrate meaningful experiences and “wing it” at the same time.

We need to implement a process that doesn’t slow us down but also keeps us focused on the right initiatives rather than running behind every potential idea. I have learned so much from David Farmer, VP Restaurant Experience at Chick-fil-A, and his formula for the Chick-fil-A innovation process. Here’s how it goes:

Understand: Even before imagining, understanding your audience by doing the necessary research for the target audience is essential.

Imagine: Now that you have spent some time understanding your audience, you can consider different ideas to solve a specific problem. Don’t just come up with ideas for the sake of ideas. Ask yourself this question, “What problem am I trying to solve?”

Prototype: Next, pick a prototype. You create a quick, cheaper version of this idea that you are not emotionally tied to. Not every prototype will lead to a launch but this gives you a safe place to test out your ideas.

Validate: Do the customers love it – do they reorder, do they like it, does it taste well? Do the operators support it – are they bought in, do they see sales? Does it financially make sense?

Launch: This is when your team goes all out! Everyone is aligned and ready to move forward with the best, and most proven ideas.

Leveraging a process like the one mentioned above does not require a lot of time. The more you employ this strategy, the more your team will become increasingly agile and mobile as you create a safe place for collaboration.

Don’t just come up with ideas for the sake of ideas. Ask yourself this question, 'What problem am I trying to solve?' - Alan George Click To Tweet

2. Not responding to comments and threads

Technology allows us to reach more people now than ever before. However, if your digital strategy gives people an opportunity to respond, you must also plan for someone to review and reply. It’s not sincere to tell your audience that you really want to hear from them and then ignore them when they respond. So, solicit or invite comments on a social media post.

Most social media platforms reward engagement. Leveraging social media for engaging with your community is much more impactful than limiting communication to the announcement board in the lobby of your church. Don’t simply tell people what’s happening, have a conversation with them. And when they respond, acknowledge their feedback. Just like you would in a one-on-one conversation, talk to them. Ask questions. Be genuinely interested in who your people are.

I love the book by Gary Vaynerchuck called “Thank You Economy.” It is a solid, well-researched and written exhortation about how organizations of all sizes should recognize the power of lifetime customer value and “outcare” their competition. I have also learned a great deal about digital engagement for the church from Apple. This brand understands the importance of creating the perfect experience for their customers both in-person and online.

Don’t simply tell people what’s happening, have a conversation with them. - Alan George Click To Tweet

3. Not using technology and data to measure interactions both in aggregate and in isolation of each other

Data plays an important role in our world today. If you’re curious about which data point is most important when it comes to online engagement at your church, there isn’t just one. It’s incredible to see all the data that is potentially available for leadership to consider when it comes to our online communities. But it can also be paralyzing at times not knowing what to focus on.

Depending on your leadership role, different metrics have different value propositions. In other words, not all data is created equal. The data you are analyzing represents the actions a person has taken. It’s more important, however, to look at the whole person – not just a single campaign or church event. Observe their demonstrated behavior and factor that information as a likely predictor of their next step.

From a leadership perspective, you will potentially reinterpret the data over time. Also remember, different platforms use different algorithms with their data. So it’s important to view them accordingly and within context.

If you’re curious about which data point is most important when it comes to online engagement at your church, there isn’t just one. - Alan George Click To Tweet

Mistakes about digital engagement can often be traced to confusion in the church about what is interesting, relevant, and helpful for your audience. If behavioral economics teaches anything, it’s that intuition about what is probable is not always consistent with reality.

It’s not about your personal preferences. It’s about connecting with real people in multiple ways, and providing a relentless commitment to bridge their present to a more authentic experience with the Gospel.

I hope this article has been helpful to you! You can read more of my lessons learned from serving as the Church Online Pastor at Life.Church for almost a decade in my new eBook: Discipleship for a Digital Age.

If you’re trying to figure this out on your own, I would love to help. You’re not alone! If there’s anything I can do to personally help you please feel free to reach out.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.