When 69 percent of Americans are on some form of social media, we know it’s important to be there as well. We might be confused, however, at why we are there.

Everyone knows social media is a great place to share links to your website, promote your book, or share other work online. But is that all it’s good for?

Actually, social media has at least five other benefits for users. Here’s why you should use social media to do more than just promote your work.

1. Form Relationships

I can’t count the number of times I’ve met someone and the first thing they say is, “Hey, I know you from Twitter.” Social media is not a replacement for meeting people face-to-face, but it can be a supplement.

People often pay large amounts of money and spend weekends away from families to go to networking conferences to meet new people and make professional connections. Social media allows you to do some of that on your phone as you take a walk in your neighborhood.

2. Engage Your Audience

Beyond networking, authors can talk directly with their readers. Pastors can speak to much of their congregation at once during the middle of the week. Social media lets you deepen and expand already existing relationships.

Build anticipation for an upcoming book or sermon series. Answer questions people may have by doing an “AMA” (ask me anything) on Twitter or hosting a Facebook Live. Get your audience involved by asking for input.

But make sure you know where your audience is. If you have a devotional book for middle school girls, you wouldn’t want to promote it on Twitter. Don’t promote your senior adult trip on Snapchat.

Many of these are obvious, but Pew Research has a fact sheet that reveals the demographic groups on social media and the ones using each platform the most.

3. Spark Ideas

Yes, social media can be a distraction for getting work done. You can step away from a project to check Twitter, look up, and realize you just wasted 30 minutes scrolling through your feed. But it can also be a place to get ideas.

News items can generate an idea for something to write about on your website. Trending topics can help you see what’s most popular with social media users and can give you insight into our culture.

Set a time limit if necessary. Spend 15 minutes looking at what your friends are talking about on Facebook and what’s making headlines on Twitter. It may give you a new idea for a book or a sermon illustration.

4. Gain Perspective

Again, nothing beats face-to-face conversations about significant topics, but social media can provide us with a window into the lives and perspectives of those outside our normal context.

Set a Twitter list or group that is full of people who live somewhere else or are from a different ethnic background. You can hear their voices and discover what matters to them.

There is much value in simply listening. Social media can give you the chance to do that, in addition to actually sitting down with others to hear from them.

5. Test Concepts

This might be one of the simplest, but underused tricks of social media. Share an idea with your audience and see the response.

Maybe you have a partial idea for a blog post, a book, or a sermon. Tweet it out and see what people think. Did it resonate with your audience? Did it spark a conversation or generate more retweets and likes?

Use social media as a test kitchen for your ideas. Float some out and then develop the ones that seem most encouraging (or challenging) for your audience.

One thing social media is not

As we see all the things social media can do, we should never see it as a way to gain personal affirmation or a place to find our identity. For the Christian, our identity is in Christ.

Social media is a great tool to use in your ministry. Use it to the best of your ability for the glory of God, but don’t let it use you.

Aaron Earls

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends. He is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared at numerous sites, including The Washington Post, World Magazine, and Think Christian.