Using social media
We live in a digital age, with much of the information we receive coming to us through our mobile phones and computers with a lot of this information reaching us through social media.
Social media, for the vast majority of people, simply means Facebook and Twitter. But it also applies to all sorts of other platforms where individuals can easily and widely share their thoughts, news and stories. These platforms include various blog sites (such as a simple one-page Wordpress website), Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and numerous others. These are all basically fewer formal tools for talking and sharing things online that for churches and companies are often used to complement a traditional multi-page website.
Where many of our local communities spend a good deal of their time in this online world, it is important that we have a presence in these online communities if we hope to reach both new and existing members. Therefore, we encourage churches to look at ways they might be able to use social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to reach people who we may otherwise not be able to engage with effectively.
Social media offers a great number of opportunities for the church, but always remember, there are also risks involved!
The Church of England Digital Charter
This is a voluntary pledge that we’re encouraging individual Christians as well as churches to sign to help make social media and the web more widely positive places for conversations to happen.
To learn more and sign-up to this charter visit the Church of England website here.
Some Simple Rules to Consider
As well as the many opportunities, users should be aware of the potential risks and problems that can occur through the use of social media. This section is aimed at helping those wishing to promote the work of their church using social media who may be new to it or unsure on certain elements.
In short, you should always participate online in the same way as you would in any other public forum. Your actions should be consistent with your work and values. Remember, you are responsible for the things you do, say and write.
Do not rush in
The immediacy of social media is one of its benefits. People can respond quickly to questions, share news and provide a perspective about something with ease. However, it is this immediate nature that can lead us into saying something without full consideration - and then getting into a muddle.
Before posting always consider:
- Is this my story to share?
- Would I want my close friends and family to read this?
- Would I be pleased or proud that I shared or said it in a years' time?
Even before you start posting your own content it's worth spending a short while listening to others on whichever social media forum you're on.
Just like entering a room full of people, one tends to automatically gauge the "feeling" of the room and the behaviour of those there. The behaviour in social media forums is no different in this regard so it's worth observing other interactions for a moment to help you gauge that Online room, as you would a real one.
Short-lived, yet permanent
Social media updates are immediate. In any news feed, posts will appear and quickly vanish from view. However, once posted one must assume they're permanently out there. Even if you delete it later on, someone may have taken a screen grab, so it's never fully gone. So always assume anything you post will be permanent.
Don't be drawn into an online war of words
If you find you are receiving negative postings from an individual or group, take a moment before feeling the need to reply. A negative comment quickly gets forgotten about as it vanishes from your own and any other news feed. However, if you reply and allow yourself to be pulled into an online 'war of words', the issue can quickly and publicly escalate.
If you feel you should respond, perhaps to clarify a glaring factual error, you might consider posting publicly to invite a direct message from the individual in order to take the conversation calmly out of the public eye.
You can do a lot to help yourself avoid these issues by researching the privacy options on your Social Media platform and changing the settings to reduce risk.
For instance, you might wish to consider:
- putting blocks in place that mean you need to approve others posts before they appear on your page
- switch on profanity filters (this stops poor language being posted to you page)
- create closed-community groups, accessed by invitation approval only.
You set the example
If you are a public figure, social media users will associate you with your public role. With this there comes a degree of risk of personal opinions being seen as public statements. That is why, in social media biographies, (the short summary at the top of your social media page) you will often see people say something along the lines of "thoughts and opinions are my own".
It's worth adding that you may wish to keep a distinction between a personal social media platform and perhaps a more public facing one in your capacity as a church leader. Consider setting up separate accounts for ministry and personal use to help set definite boundaries.
Alternatively, social media settings often allow you to be quite nuanced as to who sees what. For example, you may not want to over-share personal updates on your Facebook profile so why not keep close friends as 'friends' and set all other people as acquaintances. This allows you to post that only 'friends' can see.
There are useful tips on how to do this on Facebook's help forum here -https://www.facebook.com/help/325807937506242/
"Hiding" behind aliases when using social media is not wise. It is also at odds with one of the main reasons for using social media networks - connecting people. On any social media platform, if you choose a username or profile different to your real name, try to include some brief personal details about yourself in the "about" section.
When the account is a shared one, for example a Facebook page for your parish, try to ensure people can easily find out who is responsible for the content. If there are a number of you tweeting, for example on one account, you might want to each include your initials after your own post as an identifier.
The informality that social media encourages can mean that it could be harder to maintain the professional distance required when working with children, young people and the vulnerable.
Communicating directly online with someone, for example with private messaging, is akin to meeting them in private. It is generally wiser to send messages to larger groups, (rather than individuals), or to share news you have publicly.
If you have any safeguarding concerns at all, contact your Safeguarding Adviser or the Diocesan Safeguarding team.
Stay within the legal framework
While sharing thoughts and reflections with friends or followers on social media, it may seem personal and/or private, it is not. By law, if one or more people can access it, content is classed as published, in the public domain and subject to legislation around libel, defamation, copyright and data protection.
If you wouldn't say something in a public meeting or to someone's face or write it in a newspaper or on headed paper don't say it online.
Remember - is this story mine to share? If in doubt, don't.
Be mindful of your own security and be careful not to overshare personal information on social media. Too much publicly shared information on things like where you live, your family, birthdays and places of work (weekly timetable) can all be used by criminals against you.
So, if you have a fully open online presence that anyone can see, it's worth keeping a healthy vagueness to certain personal aspects of your life.