My 9-year-old posed this past week with a stuffed toy tiger and said, “Take a picture with your phone. You can post it on Facebook.”
This past fall I attended a Society of Adventist Communicators (SAC) convention, during which attendees posted scores of photos on Facebook and Instagram, using a special hashtag (#) handle.
Scholastic Fair projects were almost due at school. After a basic Internet search wasn’t successful, I turned to Pinterest and found tips on making spiders with floral foam and acrylic paint. I also found a neat idea on how to make a small statue.
While engrossed in researching social media, I happened to check my Twitter home page feed and found a tweet for a Buzzfeed.com article, “Teens Abandoning Social Networks, Study Says.” I learned helpful information about new trends in social media—some of this material will appear on this spread.
No doubt about it, social networking is big. Global, in fact. On the largest platform, Facebook, there are more than 1 billion users. Twitter boasts 500 million users.* And while some teens and young adults are migrating to Instagram, Kik, Snapchat, and Vine, they aren’t abandoning social networks.
But what is social networking? And of what is social media comprised? The next few pages—and articles on www.adventist review.org—will describe some of the platforms that are used primarily for connecting and communicating. Guidelines will be given for successful practices; and several Adventists will share how they use social media personally and professionally—for fun, for family, and for ministry. Social media is more than the superfluous—here’s a practical look at how to make it purposeful.
* See www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/500-million-registered-users_b1884.
I’ve dabbled in almost all of the more popular social networking crazes. I’m fairly consistent with checking my Facebook, posting pictures to Instagram, and once in a while reblogging a funny post on Tumblr. Most recently I’ve become a bit obsessed with Snapchat, a way to send quick 10-second videos to your friends anywhere in the world. It’s a lot like instant messaging, except your friends get to see your beautiful face!
The site I’ve found most useful outside of the “catching up with friends” aspect, however, is Twitter. Not only do I follow my friends and the occasional comedian, but I also follow sites specific to my field of interest, which is journalism. My time line is filled with tweets from the New York Times and Writer’s Digest, as well as information about job openings and internships. They link me directly to job applications, articles of note, and much more!
How often do you use social media, and on what devices?
I spend at least two to three hours a day using social media during the regular school week. During the weekends I use social media networks throughout the day; approximately four to six hours each day. I use Facebook (FB) on my phone. I also text, and use the YouTube and Internet Explorer apps on my phone. In addition I use my computer to check FB, fashion blogs, YouTube (video Web site), and Pinterest (Internet idea “pin board”). I use Skype as well, to video chat and connect with my friends and family, whom I don’t get to see all the time.
For me, using social media is just a normal way to stay current and updated with friends, information, etc. Recently I ran for Student Association president and I used FB to create a page as part of my campaign. I invited most of the student body to view my page and used it to share with them my goals and thoughts about next school year. I also posted pictures of the students on the page, holding signs that encouraged people to vote for me. I think my FB page played a significant role in my campaign. It made everyone aware that I was running, it gave me easy access to the students, and also gave them easy access to me. A lot of students messaged me their ideas and suggestions through the FB page. I was able to communicate with the students in a way they are extremely familiar with, and they resonated with my campaign, which resulted in my election.
I also follow a bunch of people on YouTube, ranging from comedians to beauty gurus to music teachers. You can learn about anything from YouTube. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve learned songs on the guitar and piano, as well as makeup tips and how to solve certain math problems I was struggling with. I’ve used Twitter to keep up with some of my favorite celebrities. And I use text messaging to contact pretty much anyone, even teachers when I have questions about assignments.
What do you do that’s religious or spiritual?
Whenever I feel that I’ve had an “a-ha” moment or experienced God in a cool way, or even have a question about something “spiritual,” I post it on FB. Many times my friends have commented, “Thanks for sharing,” or “That’s exactly what I needed to hear today.” In return I’ve been blessed by people sharing their thoughts and spiritual experiences on FB. Also my Sabbath school group, my youth group, my academy, and my church all have FB pages. Through these pages information about upcoming events, and encouragement and uplifting words, are spread. There are a lot of spiritual/uplifting channels and videos on YouTube as well.
The way you use social media depends on what kind of person you are. I happen to have a relationship with God, so that’s reflected in my use of, and communication through, social media.
Do you take a break from social media on Sabbath?
No. As I mentioned earlier, social media is just a way to communicate. I don’t stop communicating on Sabbath; however, I do focus my use of social media on things more geared toward God. I won’t use YouTube to listen to secular music or to watch videos about the latest celebrity trends, but I will use it to look up some Kirk Franklin. I’ll use Skype and FB on Sabbath to connect with my friends and family.
The Bible makes it fairly clear that in order to reach people, you need to go to where the people are. That’s all I’m attempting, just making an honest effort to hang out where today’s generation is “hanging out.” Barna Group president David Kinnaman revived the phrase “Digital Babylon” to describe today’s social media landscape. I like to think I’m making efforts to “dare to be a Daniel” in Digital Babylon—trying to be where next generations are.
Social media has really flattened out the structures of society. We have the ability to reach a wide, eclectic, diverse group of people—worldwide. It’s not uncommon to follow a celebrity or notable author on Twitter, and likewise the famous can also follow you. In today’s culture, and it seems accurate to say, we are reaching each other.
The latest technology methods haven’t changed much about humanity. We are social beings, eager for relationships. Whether it is the latest info divulged at a quilting bee or the latest viral video, we all want to share our lives with each other—we all long for significance and purpose. We all want meaningful relationships.
Although speed, genre, technological advances, and languages vary from generation to generation, we still communicate basic human needs. Generally I see today’s needs being familiar to every era. The need for love and attention. The need for meaning and direction. The need for answers to life’s most fundamental questions. The need for relationships.
There are many ways church members can engage others and encourage each other through social media, but a key principle for any activity in social media is: Be Kind.
As it is an expansive public arena, social media is one of those places where the most basic of Christian courtesy and compassion can be our best expression of our faith. Kindness to others is a great virtue to hold high when interacting online.
Another principle is: Be Discreet. Just because we can express every feeling, thought, opinion, and urge doesn’t mean it’s wise to do so. No one has given us permission to emotionally vomit online. Further, if there is a conflict, fight, or disagreement, social media is among the worse places to communicate. Following the biblical model in person has proven to be a time-tested exceptional method of reconciliation (see Matt. 18).
This one is important too: Be Civil. Civility is defined as courteous or polite behavior. It’s a discipline that can distinguish believers in a media world that thrives on instantaneous, infamous, and often rude acting out. Your video may not go viral, but if you’re civil, you will be known nevertheless for all the right reasons.
Finally, keep Matthew 5 in mind. Several times a day I post to various groups of people, mostly through Facebook. As I stand on my “purpose firm,”
I remember these points:
We use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr in the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church, and try to take advantage of the interaction among them. I’ve been using social media for five years, and I prefer Instagram. Aside from its superfast growth, it’s picture-based. A picture tells more than a thousand words, and In-stagram gives you the flexibility of a “miniblog,” where we can tell stories and share our church’s “brand” through photos. Instagram can also serve as a link between Twitter and Facebook.
The Instagram pictures I post appear immediately on Twitter and on my Facebook account, so I have an opportunity to tag members. The members who don’t have an Instagram account enjoy the pictures through Facebook—and even their friends and family also have a chance to enjoy the pictures as they appear on their Wall.
I have close to 900 pictures on the #ygchurch [hashtag], and about 1,000 on the #asdachurch one. As a photography aficionado I’ve learned that the best camera is the one you have with you when important things happen. The best picture is the one taken at the right moment! Pictures serve as emotional anchors and help bring meaningful memories back to life. I’ve posted such a large amount of pictures by being dedicated and intentional. I believe in the impact Jesus has on anyone who attends our church. The congregation has so much to offer, and I’m committed to recording our story!
I carry my iPhone at all times and have the habit of recording things I consider meaningful or important. I cherish the potential impact of church in the life of our members and on their non-Adventist friends and family. By recording the activities our members engage in, I’m setting visual landmarks and taking advantage of our members’ emotional anchors (worship services, baptisms, baby and teen dedications, sermon series, concerts, social activities, community service events, etc.), and also inviting non-Adventists to join and enjoy fellowship with us by sharing them through Instagram.
I can think of former Adventists who have decided to give Adventism a chance again after watching the events and ministries we have in Arlington. I can tell stories of families who weren’t excited about God anymore who decided to join us because they were attracted to one particular activity depicted in an image!
We do our best to represent Arlington church for what it is: a fellowship of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. That authenticity and grace-filled environment is cherished and naturally attracts and inspires people who are searching for such an experience.
In many ways social media is just the reflection of who we are. Sooner or later people find out if you are fake, or if you truly are who you say you are! Social media platforms can be effective only if you have something significant and solid to offer.
Not long after we were married, my husband received a new assignment. We eagerly accepted, but the transition was much more difficult for me than I anticipated. I felt disconnected.
My experience could’ve been vastly different if Facebook had been around, particularly a small group like the one Diane Thurber has spearheaded in the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (RMC).
When Thurber and her husband, Gary, arrived at the RMC, she decided to use Facebook to encourage communication and bonding among ministerial spouses. She created the RMC Ministerial Spouses group—a secret group (it won’t pop up in a Facebook search, and you can join only by invitation).
This secrecy creates a unique social media experience, similar to some of the Adventist online forums of the 1990s. Group members can interact in a private, nonthreatening space. Here’s some of what Thurber and the group discuss.
Using Facebook to connect means that the group can share news quickly, and often in real time. Photos of special music are posted right from church. Funeral information and updates, birth announcements, and news on pastoral family moves are common. Questions are asked, and answers supplied, right alongside the announcements. Group member Karyl Bahr Krieger says, “Sometimes I even find out about conference decisions, new people, event dates, etc., before my husband does!”
Recently someone posted a link to a Web site with helpful packing and moving tips—absolute survival skills for any ministerial spouse. The group has shared links to helpful counseling resources, and even suggestions for places to walk and unwind on Sabbath afternoons with the family.
Encouragement seems to come naturally to this group. Prayer requests are made and prayers offered in the safe sanctuary they’ve created. The group shares devotional thoughts, uplifting videos, and addresses so they can send cards to those who are sick or mourning. Vivien Vasquez says, “I personally feel that through social [media] we have become closer to one another. We have come to know each other a little more and share information that otherwise we would’ve never known.”
Events and Outreach
The group supports one another in the different outreach projects in their areas. A commitment to help in the next district’s evangelistic meeting becomes possible when the need is shared. Collaboration on group projects such as overseas mission trips or knitting hats for newborns is made easier through connections such as the ones made in this group.
Thurber and her group have met her original goal—communication and bonding happen all the time in their Facebook group. These are two things that help any ministerial spouse—new or seasoned, in transition or settled. Connected versus disconnected—a world of difference.
If you’ve ever sat down to just “see what’s new on Facebook,” then you know that social media sites can quickly take up a lot of time!
So why are we—a busy religious organization with ever-present press deadlines—investing our time in social media?
Because that’s where you are! Our mission is to connect with like-minded individuals who share our beliefs and mission. To provide inspirational content, church news, and to respond to what’s important to you. Social media is a way to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past 164 years. It’s a great way for us to spend time with you.
But it isn’t perfect.
As in any social situation, privacy is a big concern, and it should be a priority for every social media user. Here are five tips that may help you be safer and happier when using social media sites:
Learn—and use—the privacy settings. Privacy settings—particularly on Facebook—are highly adaptable and can be set to protect your privacy well. Even if you think you understand the privacy settings on your social media sites, revisit them—the parameters change regularly.
Never display your full birth date. Your full birthday is a key piece of an identity thief’s puzzle. If you choose to share your birthday on Facebook or Twitter, never display the year.
Watch your own content. Constantly ask yourself if the content you’re sharing will pose a risk to your own privacy or safety. For example, if you’re a woman traveling alone, don’t mention the city or hotel you’ll be in. Or, if sharing pictures of your grandkids’ kindergarten graduation, don’t share identifiable school information. Protect yourself—and especially children—by sharing only “neutral” content.
Watch what you click on. Unscrupulous individuals can use social media sites to gather information. For example, a post with a photo of a red Porsche could ask you to “ ‘Like’ if you Love your Porsche.” With a click, users share information with someone “pharming”* for it. And be very cautious about clicking on any outside links.
Time management. Periodically analyze how much time you spend on social media. Set personal boundaries and designate certain days or times—such as family vacations—as social media “off” days.
If you haven’t already connected with us through social media, please do. Here is where you will find us:
* “Pharming” occurs when individuals fraudulently gain access to a computer or network server and misdirect users to Web sites that look legitimate but are not. Personal information such as credit card or bank account numbers could then be searched for and potentially stolen.
Janelle Collins, Adventist Review summer intern, interviews Jennifer Jill Schwirzer, counselor, author, musician and songwriter from Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.
What sets Twitter apart from other social media in terms of its ability to reach people?
Twitter limits the number of characters of your post—it forces brevity. We live in a sound-bite age. Twitter trains communicators to keep it short and sweet. It mimics actual conversation much more closely than Facebook, where people can wax eloquent. Grandstanding is impossible in 140 characters.
Do you have a specific message you hope to promote with your Twitter presence, or is it all inspired and/or spontaneous?
I try to keep my posts philosophical and spiritual. So I might tweet “Life is so unfair. I have it far better than I should,” instead of “Just ate a salad.” The posts go right to my Facebook page, where people comment, sometimes loquaciously. It’s tempting to post about controversial topics such as politics, homosexuality, rock music, or women’s ordination. Those posts sometimes elicit hundreds of responses. But I limit the amount of that kind of thing because I’m not convinced those discussions really help people. Basically, I try to point Twitter followers to Jesus and give them a thought for the day.
A lot of artists use Twitter as a means for self-promotion, but your use differs.
I show up as a person on social media. I’m an artist, but I don’t present myself as a commodity to be promoted so much as a person who creates. The post “Buy my new CD at . . .” will be preceded by many posts saying such things as “Just got back from an exhausting day in the studio. Why do I do this?” Ultimately, I want followers to know Jesus, prepare for His soon coming, help others prepare, and leave the planet.
Have you had positive interactions or responses from your Twitter followers? What has made the biggest impact for you personally?
The most quantifiable success story so far is that a group of musician friends and I raised more than $10,000 for our most recent CD, The Lamb Wins. We set up a Facebook page for the CD, then a Kickstarter campaign, then promoted the Kickstarter fund-raiser on Twitter and Facebook. Probably 80 percent of the donations came through that. I have only about 300 Twitter followers, but more than 4,500 Facebook friends, so my reach is quite good. But again, I don’t approach these things in a commercial, self-promoting way. I do promote, but in the context of me as a person, a person who loves to engage others. This feels more real, and ultimately more Christian, to me.
Janelle Collins, interviews Roger Hernandez, ministerial/evangelism director for the Southern Union Conference, and coordinator of LEAD (Leadership, Evangelism, Accountability and Diversity), an initiative for pastors.
I understand that you consistently write a blog. How do you decide what topics to address?
I decide in three ways. One, I write about things in the news and the way Christians act. For example, Rick Warren’s son committed suicide. I wrote about the famous pastor’s loss and the way Christians reacted to the suicide—some of them rejoiced because Warren’s supposed to be a false teacher. This was very troubling to me, so I wrote about how we treat each other as Christians—sometimes there’s more damage done to each other by each other than from outside sources.
Another area is personal interests. I like leadership, so I write a lot about it. And I also write about conversations I have with pastors and ministry leaders in churches. I’m especially interested in young adults and their relationship to the church and to Christ, so I try to connect with them. I try to get their perspective on the church; what problems they see and some of their struggles. I write about these experiences.
How did you develop the concept for LEAD? What do you do to attract people to your ministry?
The words “leadership,” “evangelism,” “accountability,” and “diversity” comprise the acronym—these are the goals. I attract people by connecting with them on Twitter or Facebook. Everywhere I make a presentation, which is different places in the North American Division, I always say, “If you want to keep the conversation going, here’s my Twitter and my Facebook, you know my e-mail, you can connect with me through these.” I’ve found that it’s usually a younger demographic that connects, most of the older pastors don’t use Twitter or don’t know what a blog is, so I always explain it in my PowerPoint presentations.
How do you plan to continue incorporating social media into the growth of LEAD?
Twitter and Facebook give me access and connections to people, a good amount of people, who don’t come to church anymore. And Twitter seems to be their only remaining connection with church. I am careful to keep things real, but not be negative. Sometimes I’ll post messages and some people who haven’t gone to church in years will comment, “I watched that message you put on YouTube, and it was a blessing to me, even though I’m not connected to church. But what about this?” And they’ll ask questions or ask for prayer.
Going forward as a church, if we utilize social media, it might be a point of connection or reentry with people that have disconnected. One thing I passionately believe is that every pastor or ministry leader or departmental director should have a Twitter account, at the minimum, and a Facebook page. They’re missing a whole segment of their church demographic if they don’t.