It has caught up faster than we expected! Yes, I am talking about the social networking sites. Are you perplexed about the need of social networking for your ministry or church? Does the internet seem to offer you a myriad of opportunities but you don’t know how to get the best out of them?

Before I go any further, let me say that, I may not be a media expert but our ministry’s media presence often is a topic of conversation with some. There have been pastors asking about these networks and how do they work. It is quite obvious that someone desired to get the best out of what technology has to offer, to escalate the connectivity of the ministry with the masses, to which I hope this blog will help throw some light on.

So, here is an outline of how you could kick-start your venture into the web world. Feel free to take a print out for your pastor. I hope this will be of some help to you. I will try and explain to the best of my abilities to navigate your way through Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and likewise but before that I’d like to answer the question, why social networking?



Why Social Networking

Just as it suggests, it is about networking. I personally believe that ministry is about people and reaching out to people. It is the people that stand with you, believe the best for you and love to hear what is happening with you, so that they can be connected to you in prayer through participation. These networks help you to reach out to places that you would otherwise not be able to reach out to.

For example, it was because of these networking sites that I discovered we have active participation of partners even from places I’ve never travelled to. Last week, I had a message from Jamaica from a sister who has been following our blogs faithfully and she even conveyed that there is a group of Jamaican friends who have been actively reading our blogs and are being enriched by our ministry resources.

Email

To begin with, if you do not have an email ID, that’s where you need to start. I would suggest you use Gmail by Google for that purpose. There are lot more benefits you get through Gmail, more than just an email ID; it offers you simple to understand conversation threads that help you keep your conversations linked together. This helps when there are too many names to remember. Another great reason to use Gmail is the Spam Filtering. Gmail’s spam filtering is the best that I have come across which has helped put me out of spam-misery on Yahoo mail.
Interested in opening an email account start with this http://mail.google.com/mail/help/intl/en/about.html

What’s the whole thing about Facebook?

“Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.”
 
Now how about connecting with your members and partners in the ministry?
It is not unheard of the few who are proud to declare that they have finally deleted their Facebook account because how messy it got eventually. I agree wholeheartedly but the only difference with me was that I decided to stay on to find a solution to the irksome applications that piled up my inbox.

Irritating applications

One of the biggest problems, with Facebook, that have driven people to the extreme of deleting their account mostly has come from the pokes, super pokes, hugs and kisses that with the help of applications flood almost all email inboxes. The good news, however, is that you can easily change this option on the settings page and deactivate such applications from contacting you on your email. You can decide whether comments on the pictures or the writings on your wall or inbox will notify you via email. You will need a little patience, initially, on marking as spam every new application that tries its way to your profile. Oh and don’t forget to especially ignore very inviting games on it, too!
Ahem ahem… I am yet to understand something they call Farmville. Are we in moving back to the past? Farming? Really?

Best way to browse through Facebook:

Facebook can be very addictive for people who may not be disciplined in their browsing especially through the profiles of people. I personally try to stick to three pages on Facebook.

1. Home page – To see if I have any new friend requests.

2. Profile page – Any new wall posts

3. Inbox – Any new messages?

Straying away to any other profiles may lead you to unending browsing of unending information and gossips of other people’s lives.

Adding friends, families, acquaintances

Now, this is difficult for some people as they value the term friends more than just some acquaintances. I know of some who do not add unknown people or even acquaintances for that matter. It is entirely up to your discretion who you want to add. I have not intentionally rejected any friends so far, as to my personal knowledge. As most of them who add me are my well wishers to whom I find it hard to say no to. (Whether this is good or bad, is open to objective opinion).

Now for those who still have people following and want to keep their profile personal can create something called Fan Page. Where those people who follow your work or ministry can add you. For the record, let it state that I dislike the term ‘fan page’. It gives me cramps and some have even been offended by it but I find it easier for me to update our friends and partners through the pages or otherwise called ‘fan page’.
 
Twitter!
Over the days, I have begun to hear happy sighs and watch smart grins over how Twitter is so much easier to handle. Thanks to the simplicity of this Networking Site.

What is twittering?

Twitter’s home page says it best. ‘Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?’

How does it work?

You can enter only 140 characters at a time and you can update current news even through your mobile phone.

Why Twitter?

It simply is the best way for your members, family, friends and fans to follow your activity throughout your day and remain updated. Now this is something helpful when a Pastor wants to announce something important or just want to simply share his thoughts. Like Facebook, it also helps you meet new friends, who of course are on the same course of technology updates as you. Now all this for free. So, you could begin by following some friends and family. Remember that Twitter is a room full of people who can read what you are saying from their own space. You can start your account here on www.twitter.com

Basics to start Twittering

Start by uploading news in less than 140 characters about what you are doing. If you would like to reply to someone, you can message that person by using their Twitter name preceded by the ‘@’ symbol.
For example: @johncmaxwell I love your new book on connecting. 
 
You can download a Twitter desktop platform on http://tweetdeck.com/beta/
Does it make sense? Or do you still want 12 more reasons to Twitter? http://michaelhyatt.com/2008/05/12-reasons-to-start-twittering.html

Private Information

In all these networking sites, you need to be cautious about sharing too much private information that could compromise your safety and cause you unnecessary headaches.

Blogs

Now, the thing that every ministry should not do without is a blog of its own. This is your home base for links to all your other social network presence. All the other networks like Twitter, Facebook lead people to your offline home which is your blog where you can talk to them on a more personal basis. You don’t have a 140 character limit but also make note to write just about enough so that people are not taken over by boredom but they look forward to the next message/blogpost. You can use the blog to communicate your heart or explain the workings and the basis of your ministry. Mostly, stick to writing something that you are passionate about.

Some of these blogs are free (for e.g., Blogger.com and WordPress.com). Some charge a nominal fee (e.g., TypePad.com and SquareSpace.com). Others are free but require you to host them on your own server or site like we’ve done in our ministry which is why we have our own blog name (e.g., WordPress.org)

Tip: Please do not try Ghost Blogging or Ghost twittering. It does not require a personal touch.

Not yet convinced about taking your ministry or church into these networks – watch this video produced for the Economist’s Third Annual Media Convergence Forum in New York City in October 2009. It will give you some facts and statistics focusing on the changing media landscape. I hope this helps your ministry to reach out to more people for the glory of God!



QUESTION:
Does your Ministry or Church use these social networking platforms? How have they helped? Does anyone have any useful updates about any helpful social networking sites and topics?

Shyju Mathew