Social media are online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, that allow Harefield Church, especially young people, to engage with our existing youth leaders and helpers, potential leaders and helpers, members and visitors (and potentially also young people) in an interactive and conversational way.
These sites can be useful in building a good dialogue between people interested in church and can be a highly visual way of sharing photos and videos, as well as offering real time updates on what our church is up to. Social media has no print or distribution costs and is a cheaper option than printed media.
There are a huge number of social media websites that are popular but, given how rapidly habits and trends change, it’s worth checking with the people you want to communicate with to see what they currently use and look at whether each social media website provides the right set of tools for you.
Social media is a tool that works in real time, so communications need to be very relevant and timely to engage effectively. It’s an ideal tool for seeking informal feedback, to update on successes and for sharing links of great media coverage. Social media is not a good tool for discussing new, important or controversial information, so ensure that this type of information is delivered via other, perhaps more formal, communication channels (e.g. face-to-face, by letter or by email) where possible. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to use social media effectively. Building an interactive and engaging community that people want to be part of is something that takes work. Ask yourself: why should users come back to my social media site?
Keep in mind that using social media can raise access issues for people who are unfamiliar with technology and, if used exclusively, could disadvantage members without easy access to the internet. Training and support or enabling Wi-Fi access at group meeting places and improving internet access at schools or local libraries can assist people to get online. Increasing numbers of digital television services now also offer internet access.
Increasing your interactivity
Social media sites are typically used by people in their leisure time when they want to catch up on fun news and gossip. Keep messages from Harefield Church in line with this, take a light-hearted tone and ensure messages are upbeat and positive. Share good news stories, great photos from an event or a quick reminder about an upcoming event to keep the energy and interaction high.
Videos, photos, polls or questions are content that is most likely to generate interest or comment from those who are following you. Think about ways in which your members can best engage with you. The most popular social media content is linked to relevant moments in time. So, for example, an engaging post questioning what Harefield Church members are doing will be relevant to everyone and receive most response.
Whatever social media sites you choose to use, integrate them. They will provide the most value to you when used in conjunction with each other and Harefield’s website, online forums or communities. So share content and links between your channels.
Remember that effective social media is about having a conversation, not just broadcasting what you think. Share what you think is interesting from other people’s social media feeds, as well as your own. Go on the lookout for friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. Try and engage with people to build your community.
The best social media is timely and responsive but can be planned to fit around milestones in your communication work or the time of year. You may notice that your users interact at specific times of the week or day so you can use your planning to ensure your content is viewed when they are most likely to interact. Use social media scheduling tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to help you schedule your social media content to ensure your content remains relevant and timely, even if you are unable to drive content all day every day. But be aware that third party software may have different security settings and access to personal information, so be sure to check out each site’s policies and settings.
Remember to adopt a common-sense approach to social networking. While social network profiles are easy to set up and use, it is important that you keep a professional distance online. Think carefully about how any communication might appear to a third party. Compared with a conversation in the real world, technology increases the potential for messages to be seen out of context, misinterpreted or forwarded to others. Once content is posted it is in the public domain and people can access it and share it with others.
Have a plan. Work out the ‘who, what, when, where and why’. Who will tweet, what will they post on Facebook, when should they upload that video to YouTube, where should you promote your Flickr account and why are you doing it? Look at what others in organisations are doing. Have some objectives and goals of your own to work towards.
If a negative comment is made on a social networking site due to a member misunderstanding a message or because they are not aware of all the relevant details, it is then appropriate to take time to respond politely and clear up any misunderstanding. If a negative comment is made on the site because a member expresses their opinion, dislikes or disagrees with a post, the ideal is to let the comment stay visible and leave your other members to provide counter-opinions. As the administrator you should avoid filtering user views (unless the comments amount to abuse) or tell members their opinions are wrong, but you can let other members debate the issue and balance the argument.
Don’t over-moderate. Allow feedback from your users, positive or negative, and react to it. This level of openness will benefit the church more than being seen to remove content just because you might not necessarily agree with it. It’s wise to make sure you have moderation guidelines and policies in place that users have easy access to. This is also a good idea if you’re asking other volunteers to help you run the social media site.
Always conduct yourself on the internet as you would face-to-face and be aware of what you say and how you say it. If you wouldn’t say or do something in the “real” world, then don’t do it online. Never provide personal details about young people or volunteers and always ensure you have parental permission to use any photos of young people. Only ever use the first names of young people on any photo or video caption and only share appropriate photos, the sort that you would be happy putting on a public notice board (a good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t be happy for your mum – or District Commissioner – to see it, then don’t do it!). Remember that, potentially, anyone can view content on the internet.
Only set up pages for events, activities or groups for which you are responsible. Once a site has been set up it needs to be checked regularly to ensure that information changes when appropriate and that members are interested and come back.
Please note that posts on social media sites are widely accessible and can easily be passed on; always be sure that any information or comments made are appropriate and in keeping with the Harefield Church ethos. Don’t use your personal social networking account to communicate directly, on a one-to-one basis with young people.