Viral Marketing

Colton Harker —  February 27, 2013 — 4 Comments

A few months ago, we had a discussion about the effectiveness of on-stage announcements during our weekend services. It was the main way that we would push all of our events and upcoming opportunities. But we felt that students just weren’t listening to what we were saying up there and we questioned whether or not it was still the most effective way to communicate to our students. So we took a risk and cut all on-stage announcements and decided that we would only show 1-2 videos announcements per weekend. Of course that meant that the videos went to the big events like summer camp, small group launches, etc., and, unfortunately, left the smaller events without much spotlight.

This was a huge leap of faith and a total departure from what we were used to, but it was a risk worth taking. It forced us to get creative and try new things. So we started playing around with the idea of viral marketing. We studied things like the Invisible Children campaign and looked at the most practical elements we could adopt to our own ministry.

The genius behind viral marketing is that other people are doing the marketing for you. In youth ministry, that means students are pushing your events for you. And the best way to get students to go to things is them knowing that they will have friends there.

Last week, we threw our first event that was pushed solely through the use of social media and by the grace of God, it worked! We didn’t say a word about it during the weekend and our attendance at the event was just as good, if not better, than any event we pushed “the old fashioned way.” I thought I would share a few of the things we learned along the way:

-The Platforms. What social media are students using? For our students, they really like Facebook and they LOVE Instagram. So we focused on those two platforms and formed our strategy around that.

-The Material. The key to viral marketing is having sharable material that is interesting and straightforward. Sharable material works best when the sharer doesn’t have to write an explanation for your videos or graphics, they just have to repost them. For Instagram, we made an attention grabbing graphic with all of the information clearly presented. For Facebook, we made a video that was short, funny, and easy to follow.

-The Network. Viral marketing starts with a few people and branches big. Get as many students as you can to help you start. We went straight to our student leaders and other core students to help us start. A good thing to keep in mind is demographics. Make sure that every school is getting hit and every grade is getting hit.

-The Momentum. Space out your posts and keep a steady stream going from several different users. It can be really easy for viral marketing to lose steam after a day or two because everyone already posted it at once. Don’t let your campaign die early on!


How are you marketing your ministry’s events/announcements? What is working for you?


Colton [Email||Twitter]


I really liked this simple approach to promoting our upcoming Winter Camp. Simple, clear ask – not super clever or funny but a direct approach to someone who wants to grow spiritually. Love it.


I had the privilege of posting a couple of guest posts on some other great youth ministry blogs this past week. The first was on Josh Evans’ blog called Bloom Where You’re Planted:

These were some of the most powerful words ever said to me. It came at a time when I was looking around in frustration at my ministry, my eyes were wandering for more and I was always wishing for a bigger crowd in a sexier ministry. How selfish, naive and sad. God had called me to my church, but my brokenness inside was already thinking about next and more and bigger.

The second was on Brooklyn Lindsey’s blog called The Best Kept Secret in Your Church:

I recently realized that our youth ministry was one of the best kept secrets in the church. I walked around the adult services last week and read every word in the church bulletin – and found hardly a mention of our high school ministry. Now certainly in a megachuch with so much cooking you could explain away this news, but I know from my 7 years in a smaller church this happens everywhere.

Click the links above to read the whole articles – thanks for the opportunities to share, too!


Announcements are dead. There, I said it.

OK, maybe not totally dead, but on their last legs because we’ve been killing them for years in our churches and youth groups. Simply put, if you bore people they’ll tune out. If you treat the announcements as an afterthought, your students will as well. If you have too many anouncements, they’ll hear the first one, then die a slow death as you drone on for the next 12 simultaneously forgetting the only one they remembered for a few fleeting moments. Is there another way?

Split up the announcements
If you HAVE to have more than 1-2 announcements, split them up to give people a breather from the information barrage.

Work the announcements into the message
Sometimes there is a way to ‘hide” an announcement in the message – like talking about the Spring Break mission trip during a talk about selflessness, serving, etc.

Use the screen and/or bulletin
These are the tools for announcements, but too often the effort and planning required stop us from doing it. Change your systems to utilize them.

Make a creative video
A video grabs attention like no other. Study your students faces next time you give announcements vs. a creative video.

Use your small group network
Instead of using a shotgun approach with announcements what if you considered communicating with your leaders and having them encourage students to attend an event. Think of it as a personalized push rather than a mass announcement.

Facebook for the win
Social media … when used right, is unstoppable. Never tell people they should Tweet or Like something – create something so incredible and life-changing they have to Tweet.

Snd a txt msg
We hve a txt list tht goes out 2 a tn of stdnts. Gr8 wy to kp ppl n the knw.

What are other ways to help fix announcements or another great way to get the word out?


This year we’re trying to be as intentional as possible when promoting our summer camp. Registration opening is just around the corner – thought I would post the schedule that some of our team came up with and we’re hoping to go by this year. Would love to know best practices/ideas that are working for you getting students to camp, too!

Registration Opens April 14/15

- Posters/signage
- Stage announcement/video
- Text message blast (include parent camp list from last summer)
- Business card as students leave
- Email to parents
- Facebook page / Instagram flood
- Big church bulletin announcement

Postcard Mailer May 1st

- Postcard to current Life Group students

Invitation Mailer May 8th
- Letter to incoming freshman
- Letter to graduating seniors
- Facebook / Instagram flood
- Last year’s Summer Camp promo services

May 12/13
- Announcement/video in services
- Facebook push again
- Text Bomb
- Parent monthly newsletter push

Summer Camp Friend Challenge May 19/20

- Bring a friend to camp challenge (design what that look likes)
- Big Church bulletin tear off card
- Camp video with friend challenge twist played at weekend services

Pull Registration Report June 12th

- How many in each grade are registered?
- Do we need to push one grade over the other?
- Text Bomb
- Facebook blast

All weekends after June 12th:
- Stage announcement
- Facebook blast
- Text messages throughout the week
- Instagram

Registration ends July 8th

July 10th: Parent Meeting & Leader training
· Leader training/dinner 6-7:30- team colors announced, cabin lists handed out
· Parent/student meeting- all payments due, cabins assigned, rules/guidelines given, packing list, general camp info


Every event the question comes up: How are we getting the word out? And, of course, every few months the answers morph and change as the world of communication evolves. What we’ve learned is that there is no one answer that suffices. We have to repeatedly communicate to both kids and parents in lots of ways. We utilize our website, posters, invitation cards, text, Twitter, but far and away the most effective the past few years have been Facebook and YouTube. I work with middle school students, so some of them are not old enough or their parents do not allow them to have a Facebook page yet. However, the majority of families in our community either have a student or a parent who’s on Facebook, so we have a profile for our ministry that we update daily. The challenge is to keep up with where students are at and be creative in capturing their attention. Every week we have students make announcement videos, and when we have a special event like camp we’ll make special promo videos. Here are 2 fun, creative videos we made to promote our winter camp this year.

Kevin Mahaffy is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Community Church in Indian Wells, CA. Check out his blog and more at

This weekend we did our best to make announcements memorable with ParkerBot the Awkward Robot. The idea was to announce our Pumpkinfest event coming this Friday night – so during the middle of the traditional announcement we had the robot come on stage and interact with the emcee. It was a funny bit – I think that the robot is going to make an appearance at the event, too.

Parkerbot Visits HSM from HSM on Vimeo.

Just saw that we posted a little video of it, too. Fun!


Here’s HSM Fall calendar – we handed them out this weekend bundled along with a few promo cards for Pumpkinfest and our weekend services. Our hope is that students will keep the calendar and hand out the cards to their friends and invite them the church.

The calendar is a simple and clear design – we are only doing a few events so the focus is on on-going programs like our weekend services and Life Groups.