Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Social Media - Uses in Ministry

Some thoughts on the new social media, as I'm wool-gathering this morning: In the last year and a half, I've started writing/using a blog, Twitter, and Facebook. I've also created a Facebook fan page for my church. Right now these things are all interwoven, and I see each as enhancing my ministry in different ways.

Blogging

My blog is a public site, with no hidden posts, so it's entirely open to the public. My blog is http://revcyn.blogspot.com. That might seem pretty obvious to the people who read it directly from my blog, but I also have the blog posting automatically to the church's Facebook fan page, and people comment on it there more than they do back at the home site. I sometimes also let it post to my personal Facebook page. Since in both places it comes through as Facebook "notes," it's not always apparent to people who read it there that it's really the blog from http://revcyn.blogspot.com. Having the blog post to Facebook has probably tripled its readership at least. Now that the blog comes to the church's Facebook page, I find that many of my church members are reading it and commenting on it, whereas I've had only a couple of comments directly on the blog from church members. The interweaving of the social media, therefore, seems to be what makes each most effective.

How does having a blog serve my ministry? Having a blog is a way for me to write more extensively on issues that concern me as a minister but which are not things either large enough, broad enough, or otherwise appropriate as sermon material. I tend to get more political on the blog than I do in the pulpit. My sermon topics are also often set pretty far in advance, and the blog lets me respond to things quickly that are happening.

Facebook

My facebook page is not open to the general public. A lot of ministers do different things here, but I've gone with a policy of "friending" members of my church, but not friending members of other UU churches, unless they are someone who I have a personal (not solely virtual) connection with as a friend from before I became a minister, or, in a few cases, because they serve in some other district or denominational offices where I find it handy to be in connection with them on Facebook. (I also generally have a rule of not friending people who I don't know personally in real life.) It's hard, once you open the doors, to have hard and fast rules here. But I have started doing some things like moving UUs who I am Facebook friends with who are not members of my congregation, or personal friends or relatives, into a category where what they will see from me on Facebook is those Twitter posts that I put through to Facebook, and little else. My logic is that my Twitter site, like my blog, is a public site that anyone can view.

My Facebook account is a place where I do connect to family and friends, but I also have a lot of church members and colleagues I connect to there. So I post fairly regularly to Facebook, and I'll get a little personal about things that are going on with me, posting about my family and how I'm feeling that day, but I try to remember that while I do limit my audience there somewhat, it's still a pretty public place.

Since I have so many people as Facebook friends, however, if you happen to read this, please know that I may not see all of your posts. It would take me too long each day to scroll through everything everyone puts out there, even after I've told it to hide all your Mafia Wars information and the quizzes you've taken. I can't see, let alone respond, to everything that's put out on Facebook. If you really want me to know something, tell me more directly. Putting something out on Facebook is like saying something at a crowded party--you can't assume everyone present heard you say it, yet you shouldn't say anything you don't want repeated to everyone.

Church Facebook Fan Page

My church is on Facebook with a fan page, as well. It's an "unofficial" page of the church, so that the church doesn't accept any direct responsibility for its content. I'm an admin on the page, as well as a few other church members. Right now, "fans" of the page can post comments on the posts on the wall, and becoming a fan the page is open to anyone, so it's a very public page. If that starts becoming problematic, we'll reassess how the permissions for the page are set. The nice thing about a Facebook page, as opposed to a group, is that the status updates come through on people's "newsfeed."

I use the church's facebook page about weekly to post short reminders about events at the church. I hope that this is helping to keep people informed about what's going on at church. There are some people who follow the church's Facebook page who are very irregular church attenders, and some who have never attended, so I hope the Facebook page is letting them know about events they might be interested in that they might not otherwise hear about if they don't open their newsletter.

Twitter

I twitter at http://twitter.com/revcyn. Well, that is to say, I occasionally twitter. I often go weeks without posting directly to Twitter. But I have the church's Facebook page automatically posting all its posts to Twitter, as well, so there's fairly regular information on the Twitter account about what's going on at the church. I've thought about just setting up a Twitter account for the church, rather than for myself, but I would have to use another e-mail address for it, so that seems to be difficult to do at the moment. My Twitter account is an open, unlocked account that anyone can subscribe to. Right now it has 56 followers, but I haven't reviewed the list recently to kick out the followers who seem to follow whatever Twitter accounts they can find to promote products or pornography. I do kick those off my followers list periodically.

I haven't found Twitter to be all that useful a medium, with only a few exceptions. I did not attend the UUA's General Assembly this year, but I did watch a lot of it through the live broadcasts. While I did this, I kept Twitter open and followed and posted comments with the appropriate # sign, and this helped me to feel like I was really there at GA. For the first time, I really saw what the use of a Twitter account could be. On the other hand, there were times it was a little like flying blind, as I did find that I responded to comments of other Twitterers without hearing the original content they were Twittering about at least once. I'll also use Twitter occasionally to post on more ministry or UU-related topics that are not long enough for blog posts, but that I want to say more publicly than on Facebook.

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