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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Social media and the church guide

this is some info put together for a seminar I am doing on communication in the digital age for the church. Thought it might be useful info...

Using online/social media in the church
These tips below are based on my own thoughts, put together through experience of using social and digital media. I am not an expert and they are not a regimented guide but just some general pointers. If you want more info or advice I am happy to discuss further and my contact details are at the end of the handout.

1)         What do you want to do online?
Think about why you want to use online media, what is your purpose? Is it to share personal information, or that of your church. Do you want to communicate a message? Who do you want to reach – your church community or further afield? Do you want to network with others in the same areas of interest as you?
Also think about your time, resources and giftings.  For example:
Time:  if you are very busy and do not envisage being able to find much spare time, stick to something easy that can be updated quickly and easily (eg: facebook/twitter) don’t attempt a blog which requires much time and thought and might be frustrating if you can’t find the time to use it.
Resources: Do you have a computer/ipad/smart phone? If you only want to use your phone to access online media, then also stick to things that require less time and typing.
Giftings: are you naturally savvy online? If not and this is all very new to you, again stick to the simple. If necessary ask someone to help or show you how to use online media! Or are you a gifted writer or have a particular area of expertise? Do you have some ideas to share – think about a blog.

2) What is available?
There is so much out there it can be a minefield! Maybe you don’t know where to start. This list gives a quick rundown on what is out there. I have divided this list into social media/professional contact/image or video/Blog to make it easier.
Most of these require you to set up an account, which means providing a user name and password which you then use to log in each time. As far as I am aware all of these below are free although a couple do offer an upgrade for a fee.

Social Media:
Facebook: www.facebook.com
personal or professional use, but usually more personal. Businesses do use it but more for marketing than anything else.  Can be updated quickly and on your phone.
Twitter: www.twitter.com
personal or professional. Can be very useful for networking and marketing. Only 140 characters per post so very quick and easy. Can be used on your phone.
Google+ :  plus.google.com
launched about 18 mths ago still gaining support. Supposed to rival facebook but has more functions and enables you to group people in social circles. Has a lot of functionality but personally I think it’s too complicated. Can be accessed on your phone but I would suggest easier on a computer.

MySpace: www.myspace.com
Less popular these days. Social networking site for sharing ideas, used a lot for music. Available on your phone.

Professional Contact:
    Linked In:  www.linkedin.com
      Professional use, good for networking and job hunting.

Image/Video  youtube: www.youtube.com
Used for sharing of videos. Personal or professional use. Less social and less chat. Although users can comment on videos. Accessible via phone if you have an up to date phone with enough memory!

 pinterest: www. pinterest.com
Sharing images, mostly personal use, accessible via phone

Instagram: www.instagram.com
Sharing images, mostly personal use, accessible via phone

Flickr: www.flickr.comSharing images, mostly personal use, accessible via phone. Also useful for finding images for blogs


All of these below, provide a free platform to write a blog (or web log). Enabling you to both follow others blogs and/or write your own. Personal preference as to which is best. I use both blogger and wordpress. Blogger seems to be simpler and easier for beginners but wordpress has more options and good for those who have knowledge of html.Blogger: www.blogger.com

Wordpress: www.wordpress.com 
Tumblr: www.tumblr.com

General Tips:
1: Be yourself online. Unless you are going to create an anonymous identity (avatar) you are likely to interact with a whole variety of people, from different areas of your life, and potentially further afield online. Trying to be someone you are not will only end you up in trouble.
2: Start simple. Don’t join everything at once, you will find it hard to keep up and also follow the various different set ups/protocols.  Decide what you want to do and why and then go from there.
3: Etiquette: As in life, do communicate with people with respect and love. Seems obvious but you would be amazed at how many people click enter on something that they would never have said to someones face or in real life.
Different sites also have unwritten rules of etiquette like not posting hundreds of posts a day, not retweeting loads of tweets for example. Get to know your medium.
4: Select your medium appropriately: Choose what you want to use depending on your needs, as mentioned on page 1. Some forms of social media lend themselves better to professional use and others to personal. And all have different set up/uses. Many can be used in conjunction with each other, so for example if you post something on one it will post on another automatically.
5: Get out of your comfort zone:
If you want to just be friends/follow people you already know in life, you won’t get as much benefit from using online media as you could. Yes Facebook and Twitter are great for keeping up with family and friends but what about networking, sharing ideas, sharing the gospel, debating with others. There is a whole world out there!
For those that get really in to it there are all sorts of ways of taking this further, from ‘tweet ups’ meeting people via twitter in real life, or going events such as CNMAC (Christian New Media Awards & Conference) to learn more and to network.
6: Don’t be shy : On many forms of social media, people are really happy to interact with those they don’t actually know, for example celebs/well known people. Some will engage in conversation/answer queries etc.  If you don’t ask you won’t get…

7: The lure of Stats: It can be useful to know how many people are following your posts or interacting with you and there are various websites that can help with this. However it’s very easy to get hung up on numbers and forget why you are doing it in the first place! Try to remain focused on what you are doing and not how much influence you are having. If God wants you to be a big influencer you won’t have to make it happen.

ministry . . .
I believe it’s impossible in this day and age to ignore the digital world in ministry. The internet is no respecter of age, gender or societal position. Most people have access to a computer or the internet via mobile phone. Think about how often you communicate with people. Other than talking fact to face, what do you use most? Phone/mobile/text/email etc
Who are you reaching? . . .
Who is your target audience? Are you in a small parish? Is it multi benefice? Who do you need to reach and with what?
How much time is spent communicating information and how effective is it?
All questions that really need addressing. You can put on the most amazing event but if no one knows about it all the work will be wasted. For example think about how many events are attended solely by those in your congregation?
Marketing can be a dirty word in the church but I think it is key. After all we are called to preach the gospel to all people so what’s the best way to reach people? In a way we are PR men and women for Jesus.
You cannot own a business these days and ignore the power of online marketing. Firstly it’s free. Secondly it’s available to anyone with a computer or web enabled phone. Thirdly you cannot underestimate how much impact it can have and how far it can go. And as a church we need to embrace this too! Some areas of the church are really cottoning on to this but as a whole we need to go further. It is not going to go away.
What are you saying? . . .
Once you know who you are reaching out to, you can focus what you are saying. Is it plain and simple event marketing – service times etc or are you communicating the gospel directly? Tailor your message to your medium (or vice versa…)
Using the internet . . .
Some ways of using online resources in the church:
Marketing – your church/website/Christian business
Evangelising – friends/family/far further afield
Sharing – sharing ideas/knowledge, tips, events etc
Personal - get inspired/get prayer/pray for others/

Watch Out . . .
Be careful what you write:
It’s very easy to forget that although people can’t see you personally when you communicate online they still know it’s you. The written word can be so easily misconstrued, so be careful what you write. Being in ministry is a public role, and you are therefore much more ‘visible’ than other people.  The internet is not the place to air dirty laundry or put up endless status posts about your private life. It might seem obvious, but if you allow people access to your Facebook etc, they will read it and undoubtedly tell others. Watch your words!
You can protect yourself by limiting what you allow others to see and choosing your online medium wisely. Keep your security settings tight, do not allow others to see your profile if you don’t want them to. And even then, be careful. Mathew tells us if we have conflict to go and see that person to sort it out as a first port of call, good advice!
Trolls are people who trawl social media sites for people they can wind up/insult and generally bring down. Terrible as it sounds it does happen. Thankfully many of the online social media sites are getting to grips with this and you can report people for offensive behaviour. However you can block people/don’t have to follow them etc. As in life you don’t have to ‘take’ the offense.  But do be aware of this. If someone seems deliberately provocative, they are probably doing so for a reason. I make it a point not to get involved with lengthy online discussions with people I don’t know. You know what they say ‘you can’t argue anyone into the kingdom...’

Online communities are great but they are no substitute for the real thing. The danger in being enthusiastic about digital media is that you give it too much emphasis and therefore not enough on personal contact.
Sometimes face to face or picking up  the phone are the right ways to communicate with people. Also be aware that some people will believe there are correct ways of doing things. Take into account others feelings. It may be easier for you to send an email or a text but is this appropriate? People from different generations and different walks of life may feel very differently to you.

Some good links . . .

Lots of useful links in here..

Wylio.com  -  images for blogs free of copyright.

http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=6763   - brill 3 articles on the church and social media – very inciteful/useful…
http://stevetilley.blogspot.co.uk/?spref=tw  - a brilliant observation on different perspectives on the use of social media. @s1eve

http://vickybeeching.com/  loads of useful info and insights.  Also @vickybeeching

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