Social Media and the Church

After a discussion question was posted in a PATHWAYS course, I felt it worth an effort to post some useful tips for ministers and church leaders to consider with respect to social media.  My professional background is heavy technology as a software engineer and I have been instrumental in helping to bring government, public and private organizations into the realm of social media and cloud technologies.

I did a brief look at several material posted online to “help” and persuade people to start doing social media for their respective churches. Most of these gave ideas for invoking types of social media in church communications and reasons why you should “be on social media” as a church. I found this to be dangerous notion without a serous and vetted plan as well as an understanding of what social media can do and what one should plan when invoking social media and cloud technologies. I will modify this posting as I read more.

First I am reposting the post that sparked this particular posting/subject.

DQ.  After reading the various denominational guidelines for the use of social media, discuss how social media can limit your privacy as a pastoral minister. Make three recommendations for the use of social media by pastoral ministers.

As someone who works in technology and has helped major companies develop social media strategies, this question speaks to my expertise. Social media as an extension of the Internet (and in general as communication strategies) is an opportunity to reach out to people with a message and to influence a following. Social media comes with instant notification and projection of the messages (either to further the projection or in response to such).

1) Carefully Manage personal interactions – One issue with social media is how one is being portrayed online and the first part of that issue is up to the minister to portray a positive image online, as if anything that is said by the minister can be used for or against the minister. Thus, rational and careful use of wording, postings, likes, and associations can help to minimize potential embarrassments via social media. A simple understanding of personal impact to social media is to realize that once something is posted, forever will it be. Thus, anything that is posted online has to be considered as appropriate imagery of the minister or of that person’s work, preferably in a positive light. Gossip, hearsay, or confidences shared should be forbidden from a church’s or minister’s social media content.

Question of what about material posted prior to “maturity” as to what should be course of action for such things as “youthful” or otherwise unwise indiscretions that could find themselves in present conversations. A minister will need to be prepared to explain and if there is actual change from such previous immaturity. Of current life engagements, ministers will need to be conscious of actions displayed online where something like visual alcohol consumption may not look good for a church that has a dry campus or hosts AA meetings.

2) Use social media to learn about what people are saying about your church. Another is to be mindful of what people are saying about their congregation or church actions. Whether your church or organization active in social media, someone, somewhere, is already discussing stuff about you and the question is whether you want to be a part of the conversation or to help to influence that discussion. Using some of the social media strategies employed be many different organizations can be useful for understanding underlying feelings with respect to the church, pastor, staff or religion as a whole. Using hashtag references can help one monitor and guide specific conversations. Doing web queries for people discussing the church can be useful to finding out some general opinions. Social media can also be used as an extension of outreach from the church (provided the outreach is given some direction on how to use that communication and when a clergy (or other source) might be needed).

Caveat to point 2) Finding out what people are saying to the social media crowd may also reveal negative opinions being expressed. The question for ministers is how to use that information in constructive ways rather than to use it for purposes of condemnation or isolation of the person(s).

3) Use social media (cloud) to provide technology needs for the church while minimizing costs. Social media applications can be used to minimize the cost of technology and to allow more people to participate in or to coordinate groups for the church work. Dropbox, Google Groups/Drive, Facebook groups, and podcasts are just a few of the apps that can be used to organize information and groups within and for the church. Anything that is used with express purpose of expanding the church mission would need to be considered for conflicts of interests, participant expectations, privacy, governance, and scope of use for the application as it pertains to the church group. For example, our Chancel choir uses Facebook group to disseminate information about rehearsals as well as link to other groups that are performing similar pieces(e.g. YouTube recordings). Those bits of information are from the music director and the list is not used for any other purpose. No groups using social media, cloud or remote technology should be allowed to use the lists or church groups to distribute non-church related info (e.g. politics, sales, etc) and the leaders of these groups should be expected to adhere to this.

 …  A question was then raised as to whether there are materials that I would recommend for church leaders as a text for implementing social media.  I posted this response.

I have strategy book (while for business may be broadly interpreted for non-profit and churches) ::
Baer, J and Naslund A. (2011). The Now Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social. Wiley:Hoboken, NJ

There are plenty of people that give advice and say to use Facebook and all, but to really maximize the technology use, one can go beyond the casual likes, postings and friending as part of social media. Let me look through my resources to find more of what you might be wanting.

There are a couple things to keep in mind and I would be happy to give guidance as well.

What is your communication strategy ?
how does social media channels fit in this and how does/would it tie back to your website, church groups and worship?
What are the policies of the church regarding technology use, dissemination, social media, whistle-blowing? (Consider the readings from [below] if you dont have one.)
What are your needs, that may or may not be solved by technology??

Below is a listing of on-line resources for social media use.

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