What is, and has always been, the best advertisement for your spiritual community? Word-of-mouth. Nothing beats personal recommendations and invitations from your members to bring in new attendees. So what do you get when you combine word-of-mouth advertising, social media, and rewards? That would be Location Based Services (LBS). LBS like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook’s new “Places” feature are among the fastest growing tools in the social media world. Users check in to a location on their GPS-enabled smart phones and their location is shared with any friends they choose to connect to. Users can choose to share their check-ins on their Facebook or Twitter feed, letting an even broader audience know that they are dedicating at least the next hour to spiritual growth at your spiritual community. Depending on which service they use, they can earn points and rewards for check-ins, earn a title or badge or complete a challenge.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center reported that:
• Seven percent of adults who go online with their smart phone use a LBS
• Eight percent of 18-29 year olds use LBS significantly more than other adult age groups
These may seem like small percentages until you consider that Foursquare, the most popular LBS, has gained over six million users worldwide since its creation in 2009. Foursquare awards points for check-ins, encouraging friendly competition. Users earn virtual badges at events or for regular check-ins, and the person who checks-in most to any venue is awarded the title of “mayor.” Businesses are using Foursquare to attract customers by offering discounts or special perks for frequent check-ins.
How could spiritual communities use GPS-enabled social media like this? Perhaps offer a bookstore discount upon check-in, or a free service CD for frequent visitors or for mayors. More importantly why should your church use this? As our world continues to evolve technologically and people become increasingly mobile, ministries can be a strong spiritual presence by speaking the same language. Social media tools like LBS combine the worlds of technology and community so congregants can share your spiritual community with their own personal networks; a low-pressure, yet highly visible way congregants can tell their friends where they find a spiritual home. And that will hopefully be a catalyst for conversations and bringing in new visitors.