For the last two or three months I have been trying to learn more about social media. I’ve been on Facebook for about three years (I wasn’t exactly an early adopter of the site), I’ve had a blog that I’ve posted to in rather desultory fashion, for almost four years. I was on Twitter, but making limited use of it.
Meanwhile, I keep hearing talk of how the Church needs to get on board with social media. I’m always skeptical of such pronouncements, for a couple of reasons. First, when the Church tries to adopt any new such social trends the Church is inevitably so far behind the curve when it gets into it, that five new social trends have come and gone before the trend the Church is adopting becomes common practice for most congregations.
Second, and closely related to the first is the fact that many times when congregations want to adopt these social trends, its on the basis of something akin to Maude Flanders (RIP) saying “won’t somebody please think of the children.” Too many congregations still believe that the best way to keep their youth and young adults connected to the Church is by the Church appearing to be hip and or cool. The problem with that is well stated here.
I wrote recently of some of what I think is wrong with that, so I’ll save the ranting for another day. I do though, want to make it clear that just because social media as a mark of our hipness, we can’t afford to ignore social media. The simple reason, is that while it doesn’t make us hip, it does offer us one thing that we need in the Church and that is connection. That is what we will lose if we fail to capitalize on social media. Connection is what people are looking for, and that applies to all people, not simply those under the age of 25.
So, I’ve decided to learn more about social media. Not having a church of my own at the moment, I figure it’s a good time to do a trial run on these things, because if I make any mistakes along the way, and at some point I’m certain I will, the consequences fall simply on myself, and not any congregation that I am giving leadership to.
One of the first things I did was join Linkedin, which is an online meeting place for professionals to share information and become better connected with each other. Through Linkedin, I’ve also become connected with Social Media Manitoba. I’ve attended one Social Media Lunch ‘n Learn session sponsored by Digital Relay and Sales Expert. These are informative sessions, that also serve to help introduce members of Winnipeg’s business and non-profit community to each other.
Yesterday, I also had the opportunity to attend a social media day event at the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe. Before going on to the day, let me say that if you haven’t been to this spot I encourage you to give it a try. The event was free and the cafe provided a sampling of their offerings, also free, to those in attendance. The food is fresh and tastes very good as well. They also have a wide variety of beverages, including a nice little selection of beer. In addition there is a fairly substantial patio, streetside of the cafe.
What follows is a brief recap of the afternoon. You can find a replay of the day here. The afternoon was divided into three segments, with a different speaker for each. The first up was John K. White, who is the editor for the online Winnipeg Free Press. Mr. White took us through the history of the News Cafe, which is one of only a very few in the world. He then proceeded to go through and describe the various ways in which the way news is reported has been affected by the continued development of social media. Along with how the Free Press was adapting to this. On an unrelated point, if you are someone who does public speaking and has to use a hand held mike , watch and listen to Mr. White’s presentation if you want to learn the proper way to do it.
Of the three presentations the middle of the three, by John MacDonald of Canada’s Web Shop, was the weakest. His focus was on the need to integrate your social media strategy into your business plan, but provided too few examples of the best ways to do this.
The final presentation, which was by ICUC moderations services dealt with finding your way around some of the pitfalls that can occur as you develop a social media presents. As someone who is looking long term to make use of social media in a church setting, this segment provided me with the most useful information of the day.
I’m nowhere near being an expert on social media, but having the opportunity to attend such events is helping learn more about using social media to make connections.
Which brings me to the final point about the day and social media. One of the comments on the Free Press site reads as follows: “A more accurate name might read: Stay in Touch With People Who Aren’t Really My Friends Day.” This comment, which quite properly made it through moderation, reflects the most common misconception about using social media. That it’s an excuse to avoid contact with real people. Now, undoubtedly it can become that, but I’m finding that the more I use social media, the more I’m getting to know people on the street. Some of these people are people that I already had connected with on-line, but some will be people that I connect with both on-line and in person for the first time. Will they all become BFFs. Well no, because I’m an introvert and only have a limited circle of close friends, but some may become people that I stop and chat with as I’m walking around downtown. Some will become people that help me when I need to make use of some service, or people that I can assist when they need help in finding something or someone.
Social media is not some utopian world. Someone asked me the other day if I was interested in building an online congregation. My answer was no, because I believe that a congregation, community, whatever you choose to call it, is only fully formed to the extent that its members can participate in the physicality of the community, which I believe reaches is truest form in the gathering together around the Eucharistic table. Yet social media can create a space for that community to strengthen its ties, even when it is not able to gather together.