Sister Elaine Lachance, vocation director for the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec, wanted to reach young women who were hearing God's call to the religious life. She wanted to help them answer that call―just as she had responded in 1959.
Back then, the order had more than a dozen convents and 260 sisters. Now, however, the religious order has only 56 sisters in five convents in Maine and Massachusetts. And Lachance found that traditional methods for promoting vocations weren't working.
"I tried every other avenue," said Lachance. "Visiting schools and putting ads in magazines and church newspapers weren't getting us anywhere." So, when a colleague said, "Let's go big! Let's go with marketing and advertising!" Lachance realized that to reach the desired audience, she'd have to take her order online.
A Leap of Faith in Social Media
The Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec hired a public relations company friendly to its cause―but realistic about the outcome. "They told us that people aren't going to just flock to our site," said Lachance. "They said we had to put information out there in a way that will attract people to come find out about us. We need to make them aware that we're here and have something to offer."
But despite the order's fresh new website, not many would-be sisters were visiting it. "The company then told us, 'We think you need to go with social media,'" Lachance explained.
The Good Shepherd Sisters heeded the PR company's advice and created a Facebook page and a blog.
Were the sisters' online efforts noticed? Yes! The Associated Press recently wrote about the Wii-playing, Internet-savvy sisters' online efforts. The story has been covered by more than 300 newspapers. The BBC interviewed Lachance. So did MarketingProfs. All that coverage helped the sisters meet their goal to increase awareness of their order.
So, what can marketers learn about social media from a 70-year-old nun? Plenty.
1. Know where your audience is
Young women interested in a religious life now research orders online and discuss vocations on websites. To reach those would-be sisters, the order created content that met their needs.
Likewise, marketers should know where to best reach customers. Are their people on Facebook? Twitter? Forums? Marketers must find out where their content is resonating―and where it isn't.
2. Budget money for the initial set-up cost
The sisters wanted their online spaces to look a certain way, so they spent money to get the design just right. Writing on Facebook and its blog, though, doesn't cost the order anything. "All the other stuff is free," said Lachance. "I love that part about it. And Mother Superior loves that part, too."
Though using social media is free, marketers need to spend money at least on design, including for websites and blogs. Don't go cheap: It shows.
3. Connect social media to your offline efforts
"Social media is a good outreach," Lachance said of her experience. "It gives me names and numbers of people to converse with them, but you need to get together. It's about being face to face and personal relationships."
Marketers, too, should remember to yoke the online world to the offline one. Whether a campaign is online or offline, all marketing collateral must work together.
4. Stock your social networks with different content
Lachance writes reflections and reviews on her blog. The order's Facebook page, however, is bright with images about life in a religious community and brief news about the order.
"There's a big difference between the blog and Facebook," Lachance explained. "The blog is deeper... It's more of a reflection, something that will invite people in to keep the conversation going."
Unfortunately, businesses often make the mistake of using the same content on every social network platform. Remember to share content differently on different platforms.
5. Keep a unified look across social network platforms
Though you should strive to vary your content in accordance with the medium, you should attempt to make sure that members of your audience receive visual cues that consistently orient them toward your brand—no matter the medium.
To achieve a unified look across its online efforts, The Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec used a consistent style on all social networks. Lachance's blog, for example, looks like the order's website, which in turn resembles its Facebook page.
Marketers, too, should strive for consistency on their online spaces. Facebook pages, blogs, social platforms, and websites should have enough visual and other stylistic elements in common to create a unified look so that customers recognize you wherever they may be.
6. Go beyond your comfort zone
Using social platforms was uncomfortable for Lachance at first, but she knew social media was worth a try. The risk of making mistakes or looking silly wouldn't matter if the experiment succeeded (or even if it failed).
Marketers, too, should stretch out and try something new now and then. The social world is always in motion. Businesses that fail to move into social media will likely fall behind others in their industry.
7. Use visual content to tell your story
The Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec uses images to show life in the order. Lachance shares pictures of holidays at the convent, religious images, posters of recently seen movies, rock-painting activities, and visits from friends and family.
To tell their stories, marketers, too, should share images on blogs, Facebook pages, Pinterest, and their own websites. They can also use visual content to share product and service information, and tell their own customers' stories.
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Though the target audience of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec is difficult to reach, doing so has not been impossible—thanks to social media. Marketers can benefit by following the group's example and exercising patience when building their social media presence.