A brief look at Social Media... can a church make use of it?

Any discussion of social media usually starts with some history of Web2.0, starting in 2002 or thereabouts... but I can already see people's eyes glazing over and falling asleep...

so instead I think maybe we could have a look at the typical (perhaps stereotypical) user of some of the major social networking services – or sites that exist not to showcase their own content, but that which has been created by their users, and make it easy to follow your friends and for them to follow you:

MySpace

Where it all started – when teenagers decided that it was a really good idea to use the site to create tributes to their favourite bands, TV stars and personalities, complete with all sorts of garish graphics and music that starts as soon as a page loads.

The sensory overload meant that subsequent sites don't allow for as much customisation...

Facebook

Can be thought of as what happened when MySpace grew up and went to university... a bit more restrained In design, but focussed more on getting people to stay on the site, so it added 3rd part applications & games, and started trying to provide all the additional facilities to manage your online life in one place.

Twitter

Slimmed down the whole social network to a series of text-message length updates, and became the first social network that enabled easy updates from mobile phones. One for the smartphone users!

Linkedin

Which is where social networking put on a business suit. Mostly used to list your career and drum up new business contacts. Very good for finding recruitment consultants...

Google +

Is the new arrival on the social network scene, from the search giant. It helps you to put your friends and contacts into separate “circles”... so your comments to your family don't go to your work colleagues or your sports team. It's a bit early to characterise its users.

And there are others – Tumblr, Pinterest or even the Diaspora project, which lets you set up your own social network.

So, what do people use social networks for? I heard a good summary at a conference a couple of years ago in particular about how young people use it – as a place to hang out, be themselves, talk about what's important to them. Pretty much what they would do in person! I would probably describe it as a way of talking about whatever concerns you.  

Can a church use social networking?

Well, a number are already! I know quite a few who use Twitter (the social network that I use regularly), to great effect. Some are COIN regulars, such as Paul Sibley, Julia French and Simon Sarmiento. You could pick a social network and try it – they are almost always free to join and use. Try it and see if it makes sense to you – it may help you interact with a part of your community that you've not had a regular way into. You might find that you already have a Google + account, but don't realise it! One word of caution – the big social networks are funded by their advertising, and some are quite merciless about selling your profile to their customers, who are the advertisers. There's an adage about this: "if you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold"!

However, I would say that there are ways for a church to make use of social networking without needing to set up profiles on all these sites. There are services such as Addthis,com which give you a bit of code to embed in your website to allow people to “tweet” about a webpage, to Facebook “like” it, or give it a Google “+1”. And it will show you which of your pages generate the most comments on all these services. As I mentioned in the earlier lightning talk “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” So, make it easy for people to talk about your church by interacting directly from your site...


Using Social Media - a lightning talk from Andy Foulsham