A Lesson for Church Leaders from Ted Cruz’ Direct Mail Mishap

Cruz doesn’t see it as a mishap, and “won’t apologize” for it. But as a leader and church communications guy, I think he blew it when he used a direct mail piece designed to apply social pressure to potential voters in Iowa.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a picture of the mailer the Cruz for President Campaign sent to Iowa voters in an attempt to get more of their constituents to caucus. And credit for the photo and plenty of background information about it goes to this article on The New Yorker’s site.


This isn’t a political statement. It’s a lesson in communications, especially in our social media-savvy world that demands more authenticity and transparency than ever before. To Mr. Cruz and anyone else running for office, welcome to campaigning in the trust economy. (To make this point even clearer, there is plenty of dishonest marketing to pick on within most political campaigns. Ted just happens to be publicly defending this as a good move…)

Here’s my assessment… This was dumb. It might have worked. It might have gotten more votes out. But it’s bad marketing mojo. It’s spam, sent snail mail. It’s not relational or conversational. It’s just bad form. And it’s the kind of scare tactic that will win the short term payoff of more votes, but cost the trust of the voters in the long run. Just a few observations, from a communications standpoint, especially for church leaders and church communicators…

1. Scare tactics and shock value are great for short term response, but cost us the trust of our followers in the long term.

2. Trust is the currency of effective leadership. Never throw this currency away on short term tactics. Ever.

3. The end does not always justify the means. It’s very possible to lose, even when we win, in terms of having genuine, committed followers.

4. People only follow leaders who have racked up some “trust equity” by making decisions with repetitive and consistent integrity.

Again, I’m not claiming Cruz isn’t a man of integrity. I am saying, however, that this particular marketing decision doesn’t reflect honesty and transparency. Rather, it reflects a willingness to manipulate constituents for a desired end through questionable means.

The lessons for church communicators are fairly clear. People who respond to shock-value-based messaging usually don’t stick, and they usually leave with a bad taste in their mouths. Not all results are created equal. It’s better to get permission than forgiveness in the world of direct marketing and promotional communication. And it’s always best to be ultra-clear, honest, and personal in our communication efforts.

There’s too much at stake for church leaders and communicators to rely on tactics that may very well bring the integrity of our gospel ministry into question.

Facebook Is Making Online Outreach a LOT Harder: 6 Ways Churches Can Still Use It Well

Facebook PageThe gospel did okay before Facebook, and will do just fine without it. But plenty of churches and organizations like mine have found Facebook to be an incredibly useful tool for getting the word out about Jesus and His people. We’ve devoted time, energy, and even financial resources to gathering a community of fans who read posts, click links, and pass things along to friends.

Now however, Facebook is changing in ways that are bringing the pain to brands of all kinds, including churches and Christian organizations. In short, they’re changing their algorithm so that the content posted by pages doesn’t get seen by many fans. (Hat tip to Jim Gray for the links.) You may have assumed that you see 100% of the updates from any page you’ve liked. It hasn’t been that way in years since Facebook’s normal layout shows people what they deem “top stories” as opposed to all the most recent updates from your friends.

Pages have been posting updates that only get seen by 30 to 40% of their fans, at best. More recently that percentage has dropped to 10 to 20%. And it’s eventually going to be 1 or 2%. One of our daily devotional posts used to see about 1,500 eyes and get about 20 to 30 likes. Now one of our devotionals will still get 20 likes but only see 500 eyes, and it’s about to get even worse. Why? It’s simple. Facebook wants brand managers to pay to sponsor or “boost” their posts to be seen by their fans.

Is that fair? It depends on whom you ask. At the end of the day, it’s all up to the people who own the business called Facebook, but most brand managers feel quite cheated right now because they paid Facebook for advertising to help them get fans and now are having to pay again to get their content in front of those fans. Our church has sponsored some content since we’ve been using it, but the posts we don’t sponsor just don’t travel as far as they used to.

While Nike and Nabisco figure out what to do from the perspective of corporate brands with large marketing budgets, my concern is with churches and nonprofits who don’t necessarily see a financial return on their investment (at least not directly from the sales of products or services). Here are my best solutions for churches to consider.

1. Don’t put all your eggs in Facebook’s basket.

This has always been true, but it’s even more true now. Don’t count on any third-party, freely offered service to drive all of your online promotional effort. Companies change policies all the time and change happens faster now than ever. Facebook has become wise to the fact that companies that make money pay that money to marketing firms who use Facebook’s free platform to earn more money. Facebook believes it’s time to get their cut. Who can blame them?

2. Diversify your social media presence.

For the moment I’m still convinced that Facebook is the most important platform for social media marketing, but that’s only because of the broad demographic of people that use it. People of every age, in every locality, of every political preference and marital status use it. And, it’s a place for every kind of content (text, link, photo, and video) and every genre of content (news, entertainment, personal posts, and pointless but funny things too). So if you want to reach every kind of person in your community, Facebook is still the primary place to start.

Having said that, it is definitely time for churches to think about using Instagram to reach people through imagery, especially younger people. Twitter has a pretty active community among media types and leaders, news producers, and professionals. LinkedIn is still heavily used by corporate workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders in business. Each offers a different medium for the posting and cross-posting of content. Don’t try to do it all, but do more than just one thing.

3. Give more power to the people.

What’s the point of having fans to begin with if the goal isn’t ultimately to empower those fans to carry your message further into their own respective friendships and relational circles. We tend to think about the reach of our church’s Facebook page, but there is significantly more influence available to the church when you realize how many members (whether dozens or thousands) are engaged in social media. Usually, their credibility is higher with their friends than your church’s brand anyway.

So take the time to educate people about how to share their faith and their church online. Having read about these most recent shifts in Facebook’s direction, I put together a post for our Facebook page that has been handy in empowering people with our message and tips on how to spread it.

We also circulate some basic how-to articles on using social media via a page on our website dedicated to the cause, such as our post on 10 Ways Anyone Can Use Social Media to Help Grace Hills (which you’re welcome to steal, edit, and use for your church too).

4. Spend money on Facebook advertising.

As agitated as you may be with Facebook’s decision-making process, I still believe that using Facebook’s highly-targeted advertising platform is way more cost effective and has a much higher return on investment than most traditional print advertising models. And, it’s relational. There’s tremendous power in seeing that my friend liked something that I might also like, and that’s how Facebook ads work. You can get as specific as advertising to single Moms, age 37, within a 5 mile radius of Bugtussle, Kentucky who have indicated an interest in hair growth stimulants for gerbils.

5. Use your Facebook page as a destination point.

Up to this point, I and other social media strategists in the kingdom have advised churches not to see their Facebook pages as destinations, but merely as the distribution point for their messaging. We’ve said that people are generally going to see your updates in their news feed, not on your page. While that’s still essentially true, there is now more value than in the past in sending people to your Facebook page, or to individual posts on your page’s timeline via their permalink. In our weekly church newsletter, I always post a link to our “” and ask people to share it when they’ve watched it. I also post all too-long-for-a-tweet updates on Facebook, then tweet the link to the post on Twitter.

6. Keep preaching, serving, loving, and sharing the gospel.

Do I believe social media has value in spreading the gospel? Um, yes. I wrote a book about it. But I say in that book that it’s not about the technology itself. Facebook is a recent invention. Media (truth, information) has been spreading socially (via relationships) since the garden of Eden. So keep doing what we’ve been doing for 2,000 years – sharing Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God.

Who Invented Social Media? God Did.

The Creation of Adam
Michaelangelo understood the personal and relational nature of God’s initial acts of creation. photo: Wikimedia Commons

God invented social media. I know that might sound like a crazy claim, but I have a biblical basis for believing this. So I’m primarily speaking to those who believe with me that God is the creator presented to us in the biblical book of Genesis.

Social media seems like a new term. Many people are just hearing it, and many others are already tired of it. It’s a trend, a fad, something that people are jumping on quickly for reasons ranging from connecting to old friends to making millions of dollars. When I say it’s a fad, I am referring to the term”social media” not to the actual concept of it.

Let’s break it down this way. The word media really just refers to information. Facts. Things that are true, or at least things that are thought to be true. Social is a word we used to refer to interactions between human beings – otherwise known as relationships. Putting it together, social media simply refers to the sharing of information through relationships.

There was a time in history when the only way information was shared was by conversation between people. And even after information began to be written down, writings were still shared from person to person through real, human relationships. Even in the garden of Eden, god communicated directly with Adam and Eve in a family-like relationship. He told them what they needed to know (media) in a direct personal way (social). In other words, God invented social media.


Why does that matter? Why is it so important to realize God is the inventor of this newfangled fad? I believe it matters because the church has struggled to adopt social media on the grounds that it is something new, something scary. We have actually come to believe that mass, impersonal media is the best way to share the story of God with other people. We see social media as an add-on, a toy, and something for teenagers to dabble in and grandparents to see pics of their grandkids.

But social media is more. Social media is where we came from. And it’s definitely where we’re heading, quickly. It is my passionate conviction that social media (as I’ve defined it above) has always been God’s preferred method for communicating truth about Himself that has driven me not only to engage in it heavily myself, but to write a book about it. Are there cautions? Of course, as there are with any other medium of communication. But the cautions shouldn’t stop us from engaging in the conversation that is happening with or without us, all around us.

John Piper once challenged a fellow Pastor to begin using Twitter in order to “fill every space with the glory of God, including the online space.” I’m with Piper. If you’re with me, share this post somewhere or connect with me. Also consider buying my new book, Rewired, which is all about how using today’s technology can bring you back to deeper relationships, real conversations, and powerful ways to share God’s love.

If you think I’m wrong, or crazy, or right, or dumb, or anywhere in between, tell me about it in the comments!

Phil Cooke On the Biggest Mistakes Christians Make in the Media

This is an article that Pastors and anyone in the field of Church Communications needs to read and bookmark for later research. It’s the short version of a talk that Phil gave at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. Phil was instrumental in sparking a huge interest in me in the realm of media and communications when I met him at a conference at Prestonwood Church in Plano a few years ago.

Here are Phil’s main points, but you need to click through and read his comments…

Continue reading Phil Cooke On the Biggest Mistakes Christians Make in the Media

If I Were Implementing a Social Media Strategy For a Ministry, I Would…

Today I’m talking to Saddleback Church’s staff in more general terms (last week it was all about using Twitter) about how to implement social media within their own ministry areas. I love that we’re having this conversation. Rather than expecting a particular team within the church to “handle” communication and media, we’re empowering the masses.

Continue reading If I Were Implementing a Social Media Strategy For a Ministry, I Would…

Scams, Schemes, and Sales Pitches: How to Spot the Differences

Schemes, Scams, and Sales PitchesThe internet is the new land of opportunity, and salesmen, schemers, and scammers know this fact well. Around the net are found some wonderful ways to earn an income as well as plenty of ways to lose your shirt. How does one know what to jump into and what to avoid?

Continue reading Scams, Schemes, and Sales Pitches: How to Spot the Differences

Content Marketing Is the Marketing That Matters

Content MarketingRemember when Bubba was running through the list of potential shrimp dishes with Forest? Marketing could be handled the same way. Let’s see, there’s email marketing, attention marketing, social media marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, print marketing, traditional marketing, new media marketing, permission marketing… and on and on we go. Which one matters most for we who are blogging for income? Ultimately, content marketing matters the most.

We need reliable hosting, a uniquely branded design and identity, and robust publishing features. We should be building a mailing list and distributing our content in all the right directions. But at the end of it all, we’re ultimately leading people back to a destination that ought to be worth their time. We’re always concerned with getting people to spend their money on something so that we can profit from our blogging efforts, but where our concern should really lie is with motivating readers to spend their time interacting with our content.

So building a great blog begins with producing great content. It continues as people read, consume, and share that great content, and it ends when decisions are influenced by that great content. The question remaining is, what kind of content is best for content marketing?

Great Content Grabs a Reader’s Interest

Effective content marketing starts with the title, and the style of your title will depend on the personality of your blog. I’m annoyed by article titles that use all lowercase letters (that’s why it’s called “Title Case” after all), but I recognize that one or two words in all lowercase letters sometimes fits the artsy and poetic nature of some blogs. More common perhaps is the approach of giving emphasis to keywords. A well-crafted article title ultimately says “HEY! I’m what you’re looking for! You need to read me!”

Great content entertains. That is not to say it doesn’t have a much deeper purpose, but it entertains in that it attracts and holds the attention of the reader.

Great Content Meets a Reader’s Need

Why is it that “how to” posts always skyrocket in popularity? Why are tutorial sites so successful? It’s because they position their content near the point of pain or need in the minds of their readers.

This is not true only of “how to” articles though. It’s also true of articles that encourage the discouraged, connect the disconnected, and inform the uninformed. It’s true of articles that report news people are eager to learn about and articles that honestly review products and services the reader is on the fence over purchasing.

Having solutions goes a long way when it comes to popularity.

Great Content Moves a Reader’s Will

I’m not referring to playing Jedi mind tricks on anyone or using shady marketing tactics. I’m simply saying that the content of a great blog post (as opposed to that of a great short story or novel) should be designed with the resulting action in mind. What should the reader do next? Great content not only answers that question, but spells it out and makes the action apparent and easy to take.

If you want the reader to comment, to share the article, to check out a related post, or even to look at a product for a potential purchase, you should use the content to move the reader’s will toward that decision.

Great Content Motivates a Reader to Share

It’s the social web. We have a thousand sharing options when it comes to content. We can distribute articles through RSS feeds, email lists, content aggregation services, social networks, and microblogs. The issue isn’t having the space in which to share great content, it’s having the content ready to share when the time comes.

I often find myself giving advice to organizations who are launching blogs or online publications for various purposes. Most of the questions tend to revolve around platforms, costs, and editorial calendars. But I always interject these basic thoughts that often get overlooked: Make it simple. Make it social. Make it sharable.

How would you complete my list? What else goes into the making of great content?

photo source

Your Guide to Great Copywriting and Content