There are a number of great social media tutorials on YouTube and Slideshare.net. A simple view is that social media are web and mobile device-based tools for sharing. Some basic characteristics of social media include:
Some congregations are abandoning traditional websites and doing all their online communication through social media sites like Facebook; others use their website as the place where they bring all their social media initiatives together in one spot: announcements from Twitter, calendar from Google, photos from Flickr and videos from YouTube. As Facebook features expand, it may be less necessary to use separate sites for photos, videos and groups. Facebook is already the most popular photo-sharing site.
Elements of a Social Media Strategy
The resource list below has a number of good references for helping you develop a comprehensive social media strategy. Ideally this strategy will be one component of an overall communication plan for your congregation that includes all the ways you interact with your members and the community. A good strategy provides a rationale, plus some structure and foundation for this aspect of ministry. Basic strategy elements should address some of these questions:
Developing a Social Media Policy
Having an agreed-upon policy for congregation staff and volunteer leader use of social media services like Facebook can seek to set guidelines about participating responsibly online, while at the same time seeking to reduce risk to the congregation. Social media policies generally address two areas of concern, guidelines for appropriate use, and a manual documenting work flow, roles, and activities that support your church communication strategy.
Social Media Guidelines
There are MANY examples of social media guidelines developed by organizations, including some policies developed by congregations. Ford Motor Company has a great single-page set of Digital Participation Guidelines that would be a good starting point. There is even an interactive tool that will prompt for information specific to your organization and generate a draft policy for you to then edit for your needs (you will need to edit out the sections more pertinent to a for-profit business).
When staff use social networking sites, such as FaceBook, MySpace, and Twitter etc., it is important to have safeguards and understanding about use. Such sites are usually not private and even if privacy settings are used, sometimes information becomes public. Because of the widespread use and the ease of copying and forwarding electronic materials, it is very important to make sure that your staff is not exposing the congregation to liability or bad publicity due to foolish or unwise social network postings.
This discussion with staff relates to on-the-job social networking. However, it is important that all staff remember that they are holding out a public witness in their personal life, so they should be careful and prudent on their personal social networking communications. As appropriate, particularly when discussing ministry related issues, staff should let it be known that private personal postings are their own opinions and not that of the congregation.
Sample Staff Guidelines This is a resource with suggested guidelines and policy samples. It is important to consider carefully all such documents and review these with your congregation’s legal counsel.
When I am representing the congregation on any social networking site such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or similar sites, I understand and agree to comply with the following:
Signature by employee
Decide whether you will disseminate such a policy as part of a meeting, include it in your employee handbook or actually have staff sign. In any event, if your congregation has an employee handbook, personnel policy, or orientation for new workers, it is a good idea to make this topic clear in those resources. While this discussion deals mainly with staff, it is wise to also share these concerns and safeguards with leadership and volunteers who are communicating on behalf of the congregation.
The main concerns here are for privacy issues and appropriate behavior. Use a password-protected service as a way to share directory information, photos with captions, etc. only among members. Facebook could be your more open community presence, but monitor it to make sure that member privacy is respected. This involves common sense concerns:
Social Media Practices and Procedures Manual
Selected resources on church communication and social media for non-profits
The best congregation social media presence is one that "runs itself," with congregation members and staff contributing regularly in ways that enhance community and help make connections between members. This helps to make visible the real community that gathers on Sunday morning and during the week, and makes others want to get involved more or consider joining.