Hi Jake, tell us about yourself
I’m the Chief Copywriter and Content Strategist for Mars Hill and Resurgence. I’ve been married for just about 14 years and have two wild and awesome little boys. Life is starting to get full with school activities, sports, and such. It’s a fun time of life. I love to write, read, and do creative direction, all of which I’m blessed to be able to do for a living. **Update Jake is no longer working at MarsHill, my bad as I took ages to publish this, but it is still a great insight into a great church**
How did you start working in church communications and content strategy?
I was working as a freelance writer and editor while running point on acquisitions for a commercial real estate firm in Phoenix, Arizona. We were attending an Acts 29 church, which was called Praxis at the time. It was a fast-growing church that needed help and was looking for elders. I nominated myself for eldership, and part of the process was prayerfully discovering how I could best serve the church. I gave the elders a presentation on where I thought we could improve as a church in communications. At the end, they said, “Congrats, you just created a job for yourself.”
I worked as a volunteer Director of Communications and then later as the Pastor over communications as a lay elder. A couple of years later, the opportunity for a merger happened and I was brought on staff to oversee the efforts on the branding, design, copywriting, and communications side. The new church was Redemption Church and went from 1,200 to about 6,000. I was retained as the Communications Pastor for that church. From there the opportunity at Mars Hill opened up and I came to serve here about a year ago.
What kind of work do you do at Mars Hill Church?
I oversee the teams that run marshill.com, theresurgence.com, and pastormark.tv, which include content strategy planning, writing, editing, design, and distribution, our social media strategy and the teams that run those accounts, and the content side of our publishing efforts. Additionally, I work with our excellent creative department on planning and branding for our sermon series, conferences, and more.
Each month, my team processes around 120 blog posts and 600 to 700 social media posts through our three channels. We put a lot of effort into building a great writing network and structuring content plans around our sermon series and various topics on Resurgence.
What does a typical day look like for you Jake?
I’m in a lot of meetings! My primary role is one of planning and management, so I have the opportunity to be in decision and planning meetings with our senior leadership and then help execute our decisions through my team.
I also spend some time touching base with my four team members to get updates on the status of their projects.
In between that, I squeeze in some copywriting for the various materials we’re producing to promote events, ministries, etc., as well as some writing for our blogs.
Most importantly, I try to stay on top of trends, plan out initiatives for the next couple months, and do audits of the content that’s going out, including analytics analysis.
Mars Hill creates a lot of new fresh content, especially online, why?
One of the big draws for me to the position at Mars Hill was the opportunity to proclaim Christ to a large audience. God has chosen to bless us as a church with a significant platform. We want to be good stewards of the platform and serve up what we pray is helpful and engaging content that equips the church and introduces people to Jesus. Because a significant portion of our audience is young, the online area is a natural fit for us. I’ve spelled out some of our methodology in a recent post on why we just launched a Tumblr account. You can read that here: http://marshill.com/2012/06/14/its-all-about-jesus-on-tumblr
Mars Hill recently created your own Pinterest board, what have you learnt from using this social media platform. What works/doesn’t work?
Pinterest has been a good initiative for us. It’s usually around 10th or 11th best referrer of traffic for us. I’m taking the rest of the answers from my interview with our friend Tim Schraeder on Church Marketing Sucks.
Our first priority, as always, is to talk about Jesus. We view all our online efforts as evangelical ones and want to steward well the significant platform God has blessed us with to preach the gospel. As such, our first and most prominent boards are the Jesus board—which is fun because when people follow it, a message says so and so is “following Jesus”—and the Gospel board.
Additionally, we’re highlighting events, design, sermon series, music, books, and dovetailing in support of our current sermon series, Real Marriage, with content applicable for men, women, couples, singles and parents.
It’s new territory, so we’re testing stuff out to see what has traction and what doesn’t. One board we’re looking forward to launching is a typography board that will have well designed type treatments of quotes from the Bible and from sermons.
Pinterest will force churches to up their game on design, as it’s such a visual platform. In order to get noticed, you have to have great photography and art. Churches that want to gain traction should start making design a significant part of their content strategy so that when there is good content to share there is a good image to pin associated with it.
What are the most common mistakes you see churches and organisations make in social media?
Honestly, I don’t pay much attention to what other churches are doing in social media. We’ve had much work to do on our own efforts! For us, I’ve really wanted to use our channels more effectively to long tail content. So, we’re working in older content posts here and there. Also, we didn’t have a systematic way of responding to requests. We’re working on setting up a ticketing system of some sort to answer legitimate questions quickly and efficiently. We also don’t want the channels to be just an RSS feed or promo feed. We try to work in some authenticity.
Probably the biggest change is expanding our social media reach with intentionality. So far this year we’ve launched both Pinterest, Tumblr, and Google+, and we looked at StumbleUpon but passed. Obviously, to run all this we have to build volunteer teams and we have a full time social media manager. She’s awesome.
What is the best piece/favourite work you’ve been involved in?
Couple projects standout. We completely redid the marshill.com site this year. It’s well designed and responsive. I was involved in planning for UI/UX and wrote the copy for the site. That was fun.
I also loved our God’s Work, Our Witness series, and was blessed to be a part of the team that worked on it. Jesse Bryan, our Creative Director, spearheaded that effort and did a fabulous job with it.
What advice would you give to communications peeps about working along side Pastors?
Kem Meyer gave me a couple pieces of really helpful advice a couple years ago:
- Find the yes behind the no. Churches are complicated and there’s always more work than resources. It’s easy to become the person that always says no. Rather than just say no, find a yes behind the no. This means that while you may not be able to do all that is requested, you can determine what can be done and help as able.
- Spend much of your time meeting and listening with leaders. As a communications person, your job is to help ministry leaders be aligned with the organizational vision and direction and serve the senior leadership in communicating that externally and internally. This takes patience and listening, then speaking. Often we think we have the answers and are quick to speak. That doesn’t go over well.
Overall, what we do is generally misunderstood by pastors. It’s our job to be patient, educate, serve, and stay positive. If you’re not making their job easier, you’re not doing your job.
What are your top tips for any organisations/churches starting out the communications journey?
Each church will be different depending on the demographic. Determine how your people are communicating with each other and then begin engaging in those venues in a way that is helpful, authentic, and not overly promotional. Do survey’s to find pain points and find solutions. Be strategic and don’t expect that if you build it they will come. You have to build a culture, not a platform.
What are your favourite ‘tools of the trade’ and why?
We love Basecamp for planning projects and posts, Hootsuite for planning social media and tracking, and Google Analytics for tracking effectiveness of content.
Personally, I love to read my Google Reader every morning for inspiration and to stay on top of industry trends.
Can you give us an example of a church or non-profit utilizing social media well and why?
I think Livechurch.tv is the best example. What they’ve done with YouVersion is amazing. I believe they’ve had something like 50 million downloads. They’ve empowered people to easily share God’s word on multiple platforms.
A good non-prof would be Humble Beast out of Portland, OR. They’re doing gospel-centered work with the hip hop community, giving all their music away, and creating great videos and content. Social media only works when it leads to valuable content on the other end. You have to give benefit to the end user.
**Update Jake is no longer working at MarsHill, my bad as I took ages to publish this, but it is still a great insight into a great church**