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How We Grew Organic Traffic by 500%

December 13th, 2023 | 2 min. read

By Patrick Miller


Have you ever wondered why Instagram prevents you from posting links? Why your organic social posts linking to your church or content on Facebook or X receive no engagement? Why—even if you bite the bullet and pay for ads—they never produce the results you want?

It’s not because you’re terrible at marketing copy. It’s because these social media platforms need to keep users on their platform. Sending them to other websites means they can no longer collect data on their behavior or show them paid ads.

If this all sounds circular—Why would people buy ads on a platform designed to nullify click-throughs?—it is. But X and Meta are facing an existential crisis. 

After Apple allowed users to ban third-party apps from tracking them across all their apps, the platforms were no longer able to collect data. They had no choice: they needed to keep users’ eyes on their feeds. 

Yet, given the fact that social media is the easiest and cheapest way for advertisers to reach consumers, they also don’t have a choice. They need to use Meta and X to raise awareness about their products. Of course, that’s slowly changing. Retail platforms like Amazon and Walmart are dramatically increasing their ad revenue as more advertisers use them to market direct to consumers.

But this does little to help local institutions or online media orgs. They aren’t selling products. So they’re forced to work inside social platforms that are, undeniably, decreasing external referral traffic.

Here’s the bottom line: social media is swiftly becoming a terrible place to reach people if you want them to do something off the platform. This is one reason why “awareness ads” are becoming increasingly popular: you can easily get videos or images or text in front of people if you just want a comment, like, or follow. And there is value to that.

But most of us want more. This is why growing your own internal database and communication system is critical: if your only way to reach people is via Meta, you’re doomed. But if you can reach them directly via email, you have a chance.

The good news is that workarounds using AI are currently available. They can automate systems that turn “awareness ads” into actual calls to action that take people offsite. I suspect Meta and X will do everything they can algorithmically to neutralize these threats, which means there may be a constant game of cat and mouse. Churches and content creators will use new tools until they stop working, and then move on to the next.

To that end, I want to share one tool we just found: ManyChat.

ManyChat allows you to put keyword prompts into Instagram posts, like “Listen” or “Read.” When people comment on the post using the prompt, the AI sends them a link to the associated bit of content.

As an example: we’ve been sharing about our latest advent email devotional. In the caption, we told people to comment “advent” if they wanted a link. People began to rapidly reply, and the AI sent links galore. 

In 2022, we had a grand total of 0 organic social referrals to our devotional. Using ManyChat, we had over 500 referrals in just over a week in 2023. That’s a massive change. It required little human labor, and the entire system is shockingly cheap. 

More importantly, Instagram’s algorithm is designed to upvote posts that get engagement. So the more people commented on the post with “advent,” the more IG showed our post to other people. It’s a virtuous circle.

At least for now.

Unfortunately, discipling the internet is going to require the strategic deployment and sharing of tools like this. If you know of any, let us know and we’ll start testing and sharing.

Patrick Miller

Patrick Miller (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is a pastor at The Crossing. He offers cultural commentary and interviews with leading Christian thinkers on the podcast Truth Over Tribe, and is the coauthor of the forthcoming book Truth Over Tribe: Pledging Allegiance to the Lamb, Not the Donkey or the Elephant. He is married to Emily and they have two kids.

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