Facebook Tips for Ministers

One of the biggest questions ministers have about Facebook is "should I friend my congregants"?  Both a "yes" and a "no" answer are reasonable answers.  I do friend congregants, although not minors in my congregation, and here are some tips to keep in mind if you do:
  1. Create friend groups.  This can be done by clicking on "Friends" in the left hand column from your Home page, and then clicking "Create List" at the top of the page.  Create a group called something like "Church" or "Congregants" and then put all your congregants in it.  Nobody knows what groups you have but you.  Unless you post it on your blog like this!  Remember that each new friend will have to be immediately put into the groups, and this can be done when you're friending them directly.  Now that you have a group, you can do some important things with it.  First, you can click on this group (again in the left hand column, under friends--click "Friends" first to see your list of groups) to review quickly what members in your church are posting.  This can be helpful to see what they're talking about, to see if there are issues going on.  Although, a word to lay members here: don't assume that just because you put something on Facebook that your minister will see it.  We all have different approaches.  When I get on in the morning, it usually tells me that Facebook has had sometime like 300 new posts since I was last on.  I don't have time to look at everything.
  2. Remember that anything you post on Facebook is a public forum.  If you've friended members of you congregation, be aware that they're reading what you're writing.  It is, however, possible to screen individual posts, if you need to be crabby or unprofessional for any reason.  I know, I know, that never happens, but let's just say it does for argument's sake.  The way to do this is when you're posting your status update, click the little picture that looks like a lock that appears below the field in which you're typing.  Then select "Custom edit."  Under the "Custom" category, you can choose to type in a group, like the previously created "congregants" group under "hide this from."  Another way to think about posting is to ask not "who do I want to hide this from" but, rather, "who do I really want to see this?" If you've created multiple friends groups, you can also choose "specific people" under the "Make this visible to" options, and then just type in the group that you want to see the post.  I use this as a way to ask my colleagues questions that, say, friends from high school might have spurious suggestions on.
  3. Set your security settings with particular thought.  Under the "Account" button on the top right, choose "privacy settings."  I have almost every option set to be seen by only friends, not friends of friends or everyone, but some I set with even tighter security settings.  Do you have high school or college buddies who might post embarrassing pictures of you and tag you with them?  Your Facebook friends see those pictures, unless you control for this.  Under "photos and videos of me," which is the photos you've been tagged with, click the "Custom edit" option again, and set it so that  your congregants don't see it, the same way you would an individual post.  Now those photos and videos of you in your wild-and-crazy youth won't show up to friends of yours, unless those people are also friends of the original poster, and then they can see it through that person, but not through you.  Similarly you might want to set the "Posts by friends" setting, so those friends of yours writing messages on your wall won't be seen by them, although I haven't chosen to change this setting, myself.  Remember that if you're doing a lot of applications, each application has its own security setting, and that these aren't screened from friends unless you specifically do so.
  4. Periodically click on "Edit Friends" in your Account Settings.  Make sure that you've got everybody grouped appropriately.   Also periodically review your security settings.

The harder question to handle, for me, is the question of friending people out in the community who I have only the briefest ties to, or who I don't know at all but ask to friend me on Facebook.  For the people who are not colleagues and whom I do not know in real life, I've created a group called "Virtual Only" which I then screen just about everything from.  I generally friend most people who want to friend me, but then follow the practice of not putting up pictures of my child or using her name, and not putting intimate details, and screening each post I put up to decide who I want to see this about me.  It's entirely legitimate to decide you're either not comfortable enough with doing this or it's simply too much work and you want to put up baby pictures and complain about your job, and therefore only friend your friends and family and not your congregation or the larger community.  Each minister has to decide this for himself or herself, obviously. 

Some people have gone the route of creating different Facebook accounts, and friending congregants with only one of them.  This is unnecessary if you follow the rules above.  It is also against Facebook's rules to have more than one account.  If you're thinking of going this route, I would suggest instead that you go the route of having a fan page for yourself that your congregants can fan, and posting things on it periodically.  It's the way celebrities and politicians do things--lots of people want to be their friends, but they don't want to friend everybody, obviously.  I haven't seen any minister do this yet, but I think it's a logical choice.  I'm thinking of it as a sabbatical option for myself, for example.  If any minister is doing this, let me know, because I'm interested in seeing it!


DairyStateDad said…
As a non minister, but moderate Facebook user, this is very good advice. I didn't know about the "Friend groups" feature!

One point of possible interest: While one cannot have more than one account, someone who has a somewhat prominent position, a business, etc. can have a public "page" that is separate from his or her personal FB persona. I have such a page for a column I write for a local magazine. Victoria Weinstein has a private facebook acct. and she also has the public PeaceBang page. I would think most ministers would be able to create a public page for their ministry in this manner, although it's possible FB would not like that.
Cynthia Landrum said…
Thanks, DairyStateDad. The public page is what I was meaning at the end of that last paragraph. I had forgotten that PeaceBang does this, and I'm even a "fan" of her public page! So, ministers thinking about using that option, check out what PeaceBang does!
Angela M. said…
Thanks for the tips! One caveat: if your networks overlap at all (your congregant is friends with your friend, for example), I think this could allow the congregant (and possibly their friends) to see your comments on, say, that friend's status update. I imagine Facebook as a public square, where everything you say is in a louder voice than you meant, and you never know who might hear it.

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