It’s often said that if you’re not on social media then you don’t exist. While that point is up for debate, there’s no denying that social media is massive and ubiquitous. It’s a great way of reaching people ‘where they are’.
‘Social media’ refers to media which is used for social interaction online and uses highly accessible publishing techniques. The best-known examples of these are probably Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But it’s worth recognising that different platforms are more popular with each generation and there’s no clear ‘winner’ or ‘best’ of the social media world. Social networks have a lifespan and naturally die (you may have heard of MySpace for instance). Keeping an eye out for growing trends and platforms will be helpful to prepare for encounter and change platform when and if required. The audience you want to communicate with should inform your social media presence.
Social media attracts considerable ‘traditional’ media attention, which is often spun to be negative or vapid. Something someone says on Twitter can become headline news, particularly if it is cruel or embarrassing. In spite of this, social media remains a highly popular form of communication, for young and old members of the community alike. Ultimately social media is about people communicating with other people; there’s nothing intrinsically good or bad about it. Regardless of personal feelings concerning social media, it is worth bearing in mind that a highly popular means of sharing information both globally and locally is of immense value.
Having a page on Facebook provides a helpful front porch or noticeboard for your church (much like your parish website). Current and recent information which you would ordinarily post to your website’s calendar may be shared here, and helpfully this information will appear in all subscriber’s news feeds. This gives Facebook the edge over your parish website for reaching subscribers who have not chosen to check the parish website in a while.
Twitter is a micro-blogging website which offers users 140 characters to answer a simple question: ‘What are you doing now?’ Its simplicity makes it highly attractive to a number of different groups of people who use this flexible medium to express themselves on a vast number of subjects from the edifying to the trivial and banal.
You might be tempted to question why the Church should engage with a medium so often used for self-indulgence and showboating. However, it is a simple, high impact, low effort, not to mention low cost, method of reaching a large number of people
Maximising impact of your church’s presence depends on attracting a number of users who ‘follow’ you on Twitter. Excellent guidance on this can be found on Social Triggers.
There a whole host of other social media platforms, many of them highly popular, often with a different media focus (YouTube and Vine for videos; Flickr and Instagram for photos; WhatsApp for group and one-to-one messaging). You may wish to experiment with as many or as few as possible.
How to publish
Most social media platforms allow you to publish by a variety of means: direct from the website or via apps for your computer, phone or tablet. There are also services that can handle publishing to multiple platforms at once, and can schedule the information you publish. Buffer and HootSuite are two popular ways to do this.
Social media policy, or guidelines?
Do you need guidelines or a policy for your church’s social media? Whether or not you need a formal policy or just some guidelines will depend on the complexity of your church’s organisation and the personalities involved. Many PCCs see a need to have a formal policy around the use of social media. The nature of social media is one of experimentation – trying ideas to see whether they work or not in a particular context. There are some basic golden rules which are nothing more than common sense:
- Always use best judgement. If in doubt about posting something, don’t post it.
- Work out the purpose of your church’s social media presence. Write this down.
- Decide on the tone and voice of the church’s social media presence. Write this down too. Be aware of how easy it is to unintentionally blend personal and professional voices.
- Decide who has access to your social media accounts. Make sure they are aware of their responsibilities and the purpose of your social media presence. Make a note of the different social media accounts and who is allowed to publish from them.
- Use good, strong passwords to secure your social media accounts. Don’t write these down unless it’s in an encrypted form.
- Always use best judgement.
These golden rules should provide enough of a framework to keep any parish’s social media efforts on the straight and narrow. If there is a need to be more explicit, these following points should cover the legal and behavioural aspects of representing the Church online.
- Be a good ambassador for Christ, the Church and your part in it.
- Know and follow your church’s safeguarding policy.
- Users are personally responsible for the content they publish online, whether in a blog, social networking site or any other form of user-generated media. Be mindful that what you publish will be public for an indefinite period of time. Protect your privacy and take care to understand a site’s terms of service.
- Identify yourself by name and, when relevant, role in your church. If you discuss the Diocese of London or wider Church of England, make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the Church of England, the bishops or the Diocese.
- Respect the law, including copyright, libel and defamation laws.
- Never break a confidence. Do not cite or reference individuals without their approval. If you are telling a story about a third party, ask yourself, ‘is this my story to tell?’
- Don’t publish anything that might allow inferences to be drawn which could embarrass or damage an individual.
- Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in a Christian environment or Church of England workplace.
- Don’t pick fights! The internet is home to a lot of argumentative people. When posting, seek to generate light and not heat.
- Be the first to correct your own mistakes.
- Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. The Church of England is best represented by its people and what you publish may reflect on not only the Church but also Christianity.
- Social media entries may well attract wider media interest in you as an individual. Proceed with caution and remember that you are responsible for your online activities.
If you need to create a more formal social media policy that governs how people are expected to behave, try using The National Council for Voluntary Organisations principles for creating a social media policy.