Using Social Media to Build Connections & Community

by Justin Lathrop

Social media became popular in the last decade because of its ability to connect us with others. As Facebook, Twitter, and blogs explode, we marvel at the way we can catch up on old high school friends, keep up with our favorite families who moved from one side of the country to the other, or missionaries who live on the other side of the world.

But something is shifting. Not overnight, but slowly social media is becoming less and less social. It is becoming less about connecting with others and more about promoting ourselves.

It’s easy to let social media play into our sin tendency of assuming the world revolves around us. If it weren’t social media, something else would draw out our narcissism and steal us from being in lifegiving relationships with others.

For Adam and Eve, it was the fruit of a forbidden tree. For us it is many things, social media not excluded.

Social media can be a valuable tool to keep us connected, to share the gospel, to be honest with one another about who we are. So how do we use social media without letting it use us? I have a couple of ideas.

Share Your Platform

Thanks to social media, most of us have personal platforms, even those who don’t blog. Our Facebook page is our personal platform, as well as our Twitter and Instagram feed. While there is tremendous value in these spaces, we increase their value when we share them.

If you are a blogger, that might look like inviting others to share their wisdom and stories in your space. The benefit to you is undeniable. Not only does it open space for you to consistently produce more quality content, it also diversifies your readership and the perspective of the message being shared.

Sharing space can also be as simple as tweeting or sharing on Facebook the best things from others you have read on the Internet.

Turn Online Relationships Into Real-Life Relationships

Sometimes we get lost in the avatars. I have watched heated conversation unfold on someone’s Facebook wall, or in the comments of his or her blog, and I can’t help but think, These people would never talk to each other this way if they were in person. While social media gives us a strange sense of anonymity, remember there are faces behind the avatars, and being anonymous and being social do not mix.

One way to combat this tendency to see people as avatars is to connect in real life with people we meet online. Obviously, it’s important to take safety precautions, but I have heard stories of people who found church communities, deep friendship, and even marriage because they reached out to someone on Twitter.

Give as Much as You Receive

Honestly assess what you are giving, and what you are receiving online. Healthy relationships are not imbalanced. In fact, imbalanced relationships rarely continue for long. Are you constantly posting pictures online, hoping for affirmation about your beautiful family, house, or new purchases? How often are you engaging with others, commenting on their photos, sharing what they write, or sharing something useful or inspiring with them?

If you have a big platform, have you thought about how you can leverage that community to do something meaningful? It’s not bad to want more traffic to your site, or more followers or more “likes” on Facebook — especially if you believe in the message you are sharing. But have you thought about a way to gather that community around an even bigger objective?

One example is Jon Acuff. He has worked hard to develop his platform, but not just for the sake of the platform. He now uses it to make a difference in the lives of kids in India and Africa through his organization called Hope Mob. What are the end goals of your social media platform — big or small? Are your goals outward reaching or inward focused?

Take a Break From Watching Stats

It’s not bad to check your statistics or desire them to grow. A pastor may pray for more people to come to his or her church on a Sunday morning. Although this desire can be distorted, at its core it reflects the pastor’s desire for more people to hear the gospel and to come to Jesus.

Checking statistics can be addicting, however. Progress may appear not up to standard the more a person looks at them, bringing on feelings of insecurity. The more insecure one feels, the more they want to look at the statistics. It is a vicious cycle.

There may come a time where it’s good to take a break (for a day, a week, or longer) from checking your stats. Rather than becoming obsessed with getting more people to your website, ask yourself: How am I serving the people already coming?

Ask Yourself: How Am I Adding Value?

I love the movie, Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” The same thing is true with people to your platform. If you add tangible value to their lives, they will come.

The irony is that this outward focus of social media is actually more inwardly fulfilling. The catch-22 of narcissism is the more self-focused you become, the less self-fulfilled you feel, which leads you to be even more self-focused and insecure than you were in the first place. End the cycle now. The apostle Paul commissioned the Philippians to consider others more important than themselves.

When you stop being social, you lose what this new media is all about. When you trade “we” behaviors for “me” behaviors, you forfeit an opportunity to make a real difference in the world. Worse, you abandon an opportunity to be the person God made you to be, made in His image, a person who thrives when in relationship with others, giving of oneself for the benefit of the whole.