Monday, August 1, 2011

Social Media and the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church and Monk Development, Inc., have just published a brief paper called “Social Media and the Episcopal Church: A New Way to Tell a 2,000-Year-Old Story.” I have some problems with this document, but it does offer excellent suggestions about how a church should use its Web site, as well take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the like.

First, the bad news. “Social Media and the Episcopal Church” was posted on the Web not on the Episcopal Church site but on that of Monk Development. Moreover, one has to enter personal information to access it. (You don’t have to, however. You can simply view the PDF file here.) If you’re in a cynical mood, you might see the paper as an extended advertisement for a Monk product called Ekklesia360, which is a tool for building church Web sites. That would be a mistake.

Following an executive summary, “Social Media and the Episcopal Church” discusses six “best practices.” I will list them here, but you should really read the paper, which is rather short.
  1. Know thyself
  2. Make your website the crown jewel of your communications strategy — and keep it fresh with constant updates
  3. Make it a two-way conversation
  4. Put someone in charge of your online strategy
  5. Don’t be too controlling
  6. Don’t reinvent the wheel
The paper concludes with a plug for Ekklesia360 and a plea for taking social media seriously that includes the following:
Churches that will flourish in the world of social media are those that understand that these are not just new tools for dumping information or pushing agendas. Social media demands transparency, openness, and a willingness to be part of a conversation.
Except for the shameless self-promotion by Monk Development, I have no quibbles with the content of “Social Media and the Episcopal Church.” Read it for yourself and see if (1) you don’t agree with its contention that the new technologies are important and require deliberate and ongoing attention and (2) that St. Paul’s is doing almost nothing of what is being suggested.


Andy Pierce said...

Like you, I feel they are mostly on the right track. I do have a certain reluctance to say you have to participate in social media. In upstate NY, we have a lot of little churches, maybe 20 or under on a Sunday. I know one where the only person in the church with a computer is the (part-time) priest. Should they be worried about the lack of a Facebook page, weekly content updating, providing feedback to posts, etc?

I'm the web guy for our church, and the (volunteer) communications person for our diocese, and it's a lot of work. Figuring out what and how to post to FB, keeping track of Google+ developments, making sure weekly sermons are posted, videos of our Kid's Stuff" moments and so forth. But we're one of the bigger parishes in CNY, and have a significant younger population than most churches in the diocese. And now this paper says we need not just 1 but several FB pages? Naw, that's premature. Start with one. Expand as needed. And where are churches without a tech savy person going to go to be trained. I know a local computer service place that offered to set up church websites, provide 2 hours (2 whole hours?) and a help desk they could call. Problem is that the amount a church would have to pay for all this may mean the church has no heat this summer.

Our priest compared welcoming people to church as "making sure all your doors are open"... that's what social media is to me. Maybe part of the paper's "know thyself" attitude is also knowing what is needed and what isn't in online presence.

At a conference last fall here in CNY, one priest cited a Chicago church that had hired a communications specialist rather than another clergy person, and they had produced some wonderful videos. The problem I saw was that there is no measurable way to figure out whether those videos were worth the money it took to create them. Stuff like video production is hard. Heck, just creating audios of sermons and getting them online can be a time consuming task! It's worth it to us, but like I say, we're a bigger church than most in CNY.

Lionel Deimel said...

It is difficult for a small church to be heavily involved in social media. St. Paul’s is a relatively large parish by Episcopal Church standards, and it would have trouble trying to live up to the advice in “Social Media and the Episcopal Church.” Churches have to pick engagement goals that are reasonable.

That said, I think that what is worse than having no presence is having a presence and doing a poor job of it. An out-of-date, uninformative Web site, for example, can drive away more people than it attracts.