Recently I had the chance to interview Meredith Gould, author of numerous books, the most recent being, The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways. I wanted to talk to Meredith about #chsocm, or church social media, and she had some tremendous insights and advice to offer. The woman that I refer to as “the apostle of the internet” has been living at the intersection of faith, communications and technology, long before social media was social media, tireless in her faith. And she always has something to say, generously sharing her gifts and experience with all! (If you don’t believe me, visit her website, or follow Meredith on Twitter.)
Do you want to win a book? Anyone who leaves a comment on any of the blogs where this interview is posted will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of The Social Media Gospel. Rules can be found at the end of the post.
Now for questions – and answers – about the practical and pastoral dimensions of the mission field of @chsocm from Meredith’s point of view.
As a social media minister, I’m often told by others that they “don’t have the time” for social media. The implication seems to be that #chsocm is something for lazy people with nothing better to do. What would you say to this?
After heaving a deep sigh and looking toward heaven, I’d explore this naysayer’s knowledge of what social media is and why it works well for community-building among people of faith.
I’m pretty sure I’d quickly discover that the naysayer doesn’t realize social media is called “social” media because it facilitates conversations that can lead to quality relationships that in turn lead to community.
Probing a bit further, I’d probably discover that the naysayer does not, in fact, understand the amount of commitment and effort it takes to build communities IRL (in real life). And I’d probably also discover that the naysayer is clueless about tools for easily maintaining a credible online presence to build community.
Depending on my mood, I might ask questions like, “How much time do you think it takes to develop any ministry and then get people actively involved?” Next, I’d ask, “If you had a tool that could speed up that process, why wouldn’t you want to learn how to use it?” I might also ask, “What’s really doing on? What worries you about social media?”
If I were completely fed-up with the naysayer’s resistance, negativity, and lack of coachability, I might ask, “Are you always so uncharitable toward people who are developing new ways to preach, teach, and live the Gospel?”
Nah, I wouldn’t say that.
I’d say, “Don’t want to use social media? Then, don’t but please don’t prevent others from sharing the Gospel with these tools.”
Many of us who are active in social media ministry see this as an offering of hospitality. How can worship communities use social media as a way of welcome? OK, that is a big question… let me rephrase it by asking, what are the top 2 or 3 best practices of social media hospitality?
Great question! I’m going to mention three best practices because I love the number three, for reasons that should be obvious!
1) For your church website and e-newsletter: Don’t just post social media icons/buttons. Include “teaser copy” that’s a call to action like, “continue the conversation at:” or “build community at:” or “join us in between Sundays at:” And please don’t bury information about these ways to connect in your website or e-newsletter footer.
2) When setting up social media platforms: Make sure that images, color palette, font, description and other forms of “branding” is consistent across platforms. While this might seem like a picky technical issue, this level of coherence conveys stability, integrity, and clarity. More hospitable!
3) While using social media platforms: Be inviting and gracious to newcomers; generous with regular visitors. Know when to use email or pick up the phone to reach out when online communication is devolving in clarity or tone.
Many parishes or dioceses fear social media because they see a potential for something nefarious, worrying that it might compromise safety, especially for the young. What are some assurances against this, as you see it?
We’re now experienced enough with digital to understand the vital importance of privacy and protection, especially for youth and other vulnerable populations. Every social media platform offers rigorous ways to lock down accounts for more privacy. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to be getting help or taking time to learn how to set up privacy functions.
In addition, I encourage churches at the local and diocesan levels to either create or adapt existing guidelines for social media use. I include a detailed appendix about this (Appendix B: Yes You Need a Social Media Policy) in The Social Media Gospel as well as examples. Trust me, adapting an existing policy (even from churches in other denominations) is way more efficient than making one up from scratch.
Bigger issue that’s too big to get into here: “privacy” vs. “secrecy.” Church has gotten into a whole lot of avoidable trouble and scandal by confusing “privacy” with “secrecy.” I discuss this in more detail in my earlier book about church communications ministry, The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today.
Along those lines, how do you counter the old trope that says social media is really for “young people”?
I’d reach for high quality dark chocolate and let that flow into my system before suggesting a visit to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Data collected by the Pew Research Center puts that erroneous assumption to rest. Lately, when anyone asks how to find something online, I send them to this link.
Contest rules: Anyone who enters a comment on any of the blogs where this post appears will be entered into a drawing. The deadline for comments is Friday, July 26, 2013 at 8pm Eastern Time. The winner will be contacted for address and shipping information.