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Staying Connected: Social Networking for Center Success!

January 2011
By: Caroline Rhoads

Ten years ago no one had ever heard of the concept of "social networking." The Internet changed advertising forever by providing us with wonderful networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and blogging. Just four years ago, students were the only ones to have a Facebook account. Today most Americans are familiar with these terms and use these systems as their main communication channels.

While websites are critical for general information on our programs, social marketing channels are essential to providing on-going information to our special audiences. These social networking channels can be highly effective in growing our ministry efforts, particularly in communications with donors. It is essential that the pregnancy centers begin to embrace this technology in order to maintain a professional presence within local communities.

Facebook alone has over 500 million active users. Fifty percent of those users log into their accounts on a daily basis. An average Facebook user is connected to 80 community pages, events, or groups.

A Facebook page is the public image of your center and an excellent companion to your client and donor websites. This is a fan page, which is separate from a personal profile. Organizations, businesses, and groups use fan pages. It is important to follow the same guidelines for posting information as you would if you were sending in an article to a local newspaper. We also have the mandate of ensuring our posts and comments are acceptable for clients. If a potential client stumbled upon our page and saw a prayer request for a 16-year-old client who is very abortion minded, she probably wouldn't want to contact us.

Many abortion-vulnerable individuals search out information on the Internet when determining their choices with a potential unplanned pregnancy. They search the general Internet for information, but they can also search Facebook or discover centers' Facebook pages on Internet searches. Client-specific websites are designed to encourage visitors to contact the organization by outlining the many services a pregnancy center can offer. Just like our center's physical atmosphere, these client sites are politically neutral. If a photo would be inappropriate in our waiting room, it certainly wouldn't be featured on our website! The goal of client websites is to encourage visitors to view our center as a welcoming place to address all their options in an unplanned pregnancy. Donor sites have much the same purpose as the Facebook page. However, donors must purposely visit the website in searching for information.

Facebook pages are different from client or donor websites because centers can post information instantly. That information will be featured on every fan's news feed right away. Should we have a current event or a specific need, we can post it and donors can discover this information instantly. We also can receive written input, advice, and encouragement when fans post on our fan page. Thankfully, our supporters become fans of our Facebook page because they support our mission. We have not had a problem with people pushing their agenda on our page or posting inappropriate content.

The Loving Choices Facebook page is important to our center because it connects us with supporters, donors, and volunteers. It also allows potential for new relationships. It gives Loving Choices an opportunity to embrace technology and keep our community informed. Over the last three years, we've learned that Facebook is a wonderful tool for our supporters; however, it is not necessarily the best way to connect with clients. Because clients can happen upon this page, we work diligently to ensure that all content is client acceptable. Everything on our page is donor focused and client approved.

Loving Choices started our Facebook group three years ago. We, as staff members, invited our own Facebook friends to join the group. When we moved to a "page," we sent a message to all the group members to become a fan of our page. Many of our "friends" sent messages to their "friends" recommending our page as well. The list has now grown to nearly 900 people. Never before has such an economical communication channel been as successful in assisting our ministry fund raising efforts! We started posting about fundraising events at the beginning of the planning phase. This allowed interested "friends" to find more information on our events. For example, we recruit table hosts for our banquet and walkers for our LifeWalk via Facebook. Facebook has certainly blessed our center in many ways.

As we have grown, we have learned some basic principles of social networking. It is important not to feature too many postings. If you send more than one message a day, friends will get weary of the constant information and may "hide" you from their news feeds. This means that they will no longer see your postings on their personal news feed but must visit your page for up-to-date information. We do our best to post every few days on a regular basis. It's important to provide continued updates so the Facebook page does not become stagnant or obsolete.

In researching other centers' Facebook sites, I've noticed several issues that many may not have considered. For example, we don't typically post specific prayer requests like, "A woman just left our center determined to abort. Please pray that the Lord's hand will be on her heart and she will change her mind." We consider this to be a "gray area" when it comes to confidentiality. Our posting rule is "when in doubt, don't post." It is completely acceptable to outline general prayer concerns like "It's a busy day at Loving Choices. Please pray for our staff, volunteers, and clients."

SOCIAL MEDIA TECHNOLOGY
IS SUCH A GIFT
WHEN IT IS EMBRACED
IN AN APPROPRIATE WAY 

One concern with Facebook pages involves advertising. Many may not realize the sophistication that has come with the computer regarding marketing demographics. When someone advertises on Facebook, they choose a target market. The ads they buy will show on the right side of the screen for their target market. 

Loving Choices also advertises on Facebook. Our market is 15- to 24-year old females that are either high school or college students in Northwest Arkansas. Therefore, ads relating to this audience will show on the right of their screen regardless of whose profile or page they are reviewing. 

When I review our Facebook page personally, the ads along the side are focused on my personal demographics and have nothing to do with the content of the page. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to control the advertising that each person with a Facebook account may see while looking at your page. I would not consider this a sufficient reason to forgo a Facebook page. Most people on Facebook understand how it works and will not consider the advertising to be connected with the page they are viewing.

The content and monitoring of a center's Facebook page should fall to the team members who are most actively involved in the development and fund raising efforts of a center. As a director, I take on this role at our center. I am familiar with Facebook, and I enjoy the responsibility of monitoring our page. While others on my staff can contribute information to be added to our news feed, I am the gatekeeper as far as what is featured. While we don't have a real process for reviewing "friends'" responses to our posts, I normally check the page several times a week. Please understand that you can and should delete inappropriate posts at your discretion.

Facebook is important for Loving Choices because it allows us to connect with large groups of supporters at no cost. I would highly recommend starting a Facebook page to connect with donors, supporters, or volunteers. If you are interested in reaching clients, consider starting an ad campaign on Facebook. Social media technology is such a gift when it is embraced in an appropriate way.

Caroline Rhoads is the Executive Director of Loving Choices Pregnancy Centers of Northwest Arkansas. She and her husband reside in Rogers, Arkansas. The Loving Choices Facebook page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/lovingchoices.



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