Why You Can’t Overlook Social Media As a Ministry Tool
By Justin Lathrop
It is easy to dismiss what we do not understand. It is natural, in fact. A wife who does not understand football finds it easy to dismiss her husband’s love of the game as frivolous and silly. A child who does not understand his dad’s love for jazz considers his father behind the times for listening to it. And those who do not understand social media easily shrug it off like it’s a phase the world is going through. They’ll grow out of it, they think.
The problem is social media is not a passing craze.
Facebook’s popularity soared in 2012, as users climbed over 1 billion, including 600 million mobile users (those who check from their smart phones). Of the crowd, 23 percent admit to checking their account as much as five times per day.
Since its inception, Twitter has seen 163 billion tweets. In 2012, a million accounts were added to the site each day.
Social media is not going away — for now. It is the primary form of communication for a generation of people who need to know the love of Jesus. As ministers, desperate to connect the world with the love of Christ, we better get good at using it.
How Do I Get Started Using Social Media?
Learning to use social media is like learning anything. It happens over time. I cannot tell you everything you need to know in one article; and, as you start, you will make mistakes. Be patient.
Do the best you can and ask questions when you do not know what you are doing.
You will find social media experts all around you, digital natives who have not had to work hard to learn the culture and customs of online communication. They have been born into it.
I find these people are always happy to share what they know.
To get you started, here are a few basic principles about the most popular social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter.
First, if you do not have a personal Facebook account, get one.
With a personal Facebook account (as opposed to a page for your church or organization) you can interact personally with people and pages.
Signing up is simple, and the payoff is immediate. You can share pictures with friends and family (set your privacy settings to your liking), reconnect with old friends and colleagues, and share thoughts.
Once you have your account, do not wait for people to reach out to you. Be the first to make the connection.
Here are three things to remember for those new to Facebook.
1. Facebook is meant to be personal, but not too personal. Think of it as inviting people over to your house. You want them to see your living room, which you cleaned in anticipation of their arrival, but not your bedroom.
2. Facebook is a way to connect with friends. While Twitter is an appropriate venue to connect with people you do not already know, keep your Facebook page a place where you connect with those you do know, at least loosely.
3. Facebook is interactive.Do not let Facebook become a one-way street where you shout out your thoughts and then forget about it. When people post on your wall, reply to them. Respond to comments. Read through your news feed and comment on things that interest you.
Using Facebook pages
In addition to a personal Facebook account, your church needs to have a Facebook page that connects to your website. The purpose of this page is to connect with, inform, and encourage church members during the week.
Here are a few examples of things you might post on your church Facebook page.
- A picture of baptisms that happened at your church on Sunday.
- A picture of an event that occurred during the week with a caption explaining its significance — how many people participated, and how it benefitted the community.
- A request for volunteers for an upcoming event.
- Prayer requests and needs in the community.
- A question to ponder regarding the pastor’s message.
- A quote or Scripture that will encourage or uplift.
These are examples of ways you can engage your community during the week with very little investment.
Getting the hang of Twitter
Like Facebook, Twitter is another platform where you will benefit from having a personal account as well as an account for your organization or ministry.
From your personal account you can follow:
- Friends or family.
- Leaders or thinkers in your field.
- Authors or speakers who interest you.
- Members of your congregation or others who follow you.
If Facebook is your living room, think of Twitter as your office or local coffee shop. Twitter is a great place to connect with people you have never met, to make business connections, and to exchange information within your field. It is an appropriate place to share your passing thoughts, and a venue for you to promote the thoughts of others you respect.
Do not just profess your opinions to the world, but share the thoughts of others and engage in conversation that is taking place.
Learning the language
What is a hashtag? How about an “at reply”? When and how do I retweet someone? Just like learning a foreign language, becoming familiar with Twitter lingo will not happen overnight. To get started, you need to learn the basics.
Timeline: Your timeline is what you see when you log onto your Twitter account. It is the compilation of tweets from the people you follow. Like the name suggests, it will always display in the order messages were sent.
#Hashtags: A hashtag looks like this (#), and you use it to organize and categorize types of information. Runners, for example, might tweet something about their daily routine, or a running tip that has helped them, and include in the tweet something that looks like this: (#running).
If I searched Twitter for “running,” I would see the most recent tweets including this hashtag.
@replies: An “at reply” (@) is the symbol you use when you want to talk directly to one person on Twitter. At replies are not private messages. Every follower who follows you and the person you are talking to can see what you are saying.
Followers who only follow you, or only follow the person you are talking to, will not see your message in their timeline, but could access the message if they looked on your profile.
Direct Message (DM): DM stands for direct message and is the only way to message someone privately on Twitter.
Retweet (RT): A retweet is like giving an endorsement to what someone else says. It takes a tweet from your timeline and shares the tweet with your followers.
Twitter for your church/organization
Think of a Twitter account for your church or organization like the lobby of your church. When visitors walk in, what do you want them to see or feel?
What kind of experience do you want them to have?
What do you want them to walk away knowing?
Here are a few things that are appropriate to tweet to your followers on Twitter as an organization:
- Links to blog posts if you have them.
- Updates about what’s happening in the community.
- Promotions for your events or other events in the community.
- Quotes, thoughts, or encouragements.
- Requests for help, prayer requests, etc.
Even when it comes to your organization’s Twitter account, do not let the experience be a one-way street. Be the first to reach out to others in the community, connect with them, and help them promote their events.
Your social networking experience will be what you make it.