by Don Kurre
“In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all.”
(Pope Francis, Letter for World Communications Day, January 2014)
Social media matters! It makes communicating easier, quicker, and more efficient. Pope Francis realizes this fact; he’s on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter @pontifex. He deemed the internet as a “gift from God,” one that has the ability to reach multitudes with the right message.
Yet, I’ve seen the look of apprehension on the face of parish catechetical leaders when we talk about using social media—Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram—in their programs. If you, too, are wondering how to use or improve your use of social media in your catechetical program, this article is for you. If you are looking for suggestions for how to help catechists use social media in their lessons, this article is for you as well.
So what is social media anyway, and why does it matter?
In her book titled The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways, sociologist and digital strategist Meredith Gould defines social media as “web-based tools for interaction that in addition to conversation, allow users to share content such as photos, videos, and links to resources” (Liturgical Press, 2013). Most often, those tools include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, or Instagram.
“The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media” adds: “It’s called social media because users engage with (and around) it in a social context.” This can include conversation, commentary, and other user-generated content (see moz.com/beginners-guide-to-social-media).
There has been a major shift in our world because of these unique communication tools. “Like it or not, social networking is becoming core to society and will soon be—if it isn’t already—the preferred method of staying in touch” (see tinyurl.com/oulrt9u). Unlike in recent years, when the church or parish hall was the center of parish life, social media makes up the largest part of where the people in our parishes congregate today.
All relationships are nurtured by ways of communicating, and so the tools of social media are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Social media gives you the ability to engage and stay in touch with people 24/7/365. It provides a significant means for you to engage with the people of your parish—not only registered families and participants but all those who have access to the digital world.
Social media provides an enormous number of tools to support your efforts to communicate. It gives you access to people where they live, making your messages accessible and mobile. It helps you develop relationships with catechists and students. For example, you can target catechists and students more effectively by making information and resources conveniently available when they’re needed. You can create leads for potential catechists and students with less effort, time, commitment, and cost. And social media allows catechists and students to offer you instant feedback, which can improve your ministry skills and knowledge.
Social media allows you to tell your stories in human ways which, in turn, creates emotional connections. There are many instances of stories going viral, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or the Team Jack video, for example.
Social media lets you increase ministry awareness and outreach with little or no budget: There are no printing or postage costs. Social media can increase the traffic on your parish website.
There are many ways you can rely on the ease and speed of social media to share content with catechists and students:
* Catechists can review the agenda for the meeting while they stand in line at the store. They can ask questions about the parish’s child protection policies right when these questions occur to them.
* With a simple tweet, you can alert your junior-high catechists to the YouTube video you found that will help them demonstrate a virtue in a real-life situation.
* You and your catechists can follow master catechists from around the country as they provide a plethora of ideas for improving teaching and growing in the Catholic faith. For example, Pinterest shows various ways to set up a classroom prayer corner for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
* Your Facebook page can help potential volunteers understand the catechetical ministry before you contact them. With video, you can show them what it looks like to be a catechist.
* You no longer have to wait for the monthly newsletter or the weekly bulletin to share information; social media allows you to share information in a more timely fashion.
When I’m asked, “Why should I use social media?” I respond: “Social media is an easy way to learn about your catechists—by engaging them. With social media, you gain a new perspective on their lives and their ministry needs.”
As Elizabeth Drescher points out in her book, “Tweet If You Love Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation: “If you are somewhere in the formal leadership hierarchy of your church and you’re not engaging these digital groups in some way, you’re truly not attending to one of the most vital, active segments of your community” (Morehouse Publishing, 2011).
Follow these 10 steps to learn how to apply or upgrade your use of social media in your ministry:
1. Name your goal. In writing, complete the following sentence: “I will use social media to ___.” This sentence is your social media goal. This goal will guide you through the remaining steps. In addition, refer to it in the days when you are struggling to engage your social media network.
2. Choose a tool. Choose one social media tool. I’m going to make a bold statement: “It doesn’t matter which tool you choose at this point.” Although I would recommend you start with either Facebook or Twitter, it is easier if you chose a tool you are familiar with. If you already know Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, or Instagram, choose it. If all your catechists are on Facebook, choose it. Once you’ve made your choice, ignore the rest—for now.
I know from personal experience that the best way to defeat yourself in this new adventure is the pressure to choose which tool to use each time you need to engage your network. Remove that pressure at the beginning and choose one tool. Ignore the rest! Be warned: Someone will try to convince you to choose a different tool. Resist the temptation to change, and affirm your choice.
Once you’ve chosen your tool, set up your ministry account. Even if you already have a Pinterest account, start a new ministry account: St. Martha’s Religious Formation, for example. Be sure to complete the profile, including a picture of yourself or your formation team. Use pictures of people for your profile.
3. Name your audience. With pen in hand or fingers on keyboard, write a description of your audience. Who are they? What do they do? What gives their lives meaning? Be as specific as you can in describing your audience. In this step, you want to dig as deep as you can to describe the audience in the context of your program or ministry.
Ask yourself questions like: “Why did these people volunteer to be catechists? Why are these families registered for this program?” Your use of social media will engage and be relevant to your community as the result of this clear description. Review your description every six months and make changes based on what you’ve learned.
4. Commit to posting. Post a specific number of times each week. It doesn’t matter how many times you choose. It does matter that you commit to posting according to the schedule you set for yourself. The times you choose must be doable and sustainable.
I recommend posting between once a week and three times a week. If a specific need arises, you can post more often, but it is important to post consistently. Your efforts to use social media will flourish with your consistency.
5. Create a list of topics. This is a list of topics that you want to communicate to your network. A good starting list consists of six topics. Keep your list handy so you can add items on the fly. You’ll find more topics come to mind than you can ever use.
Once you have your list, create a draft schedule for posting each topic. For example, the liturgical seasons may influence the timing of your posts. With Advent approaching, you may want to identify a list of sites that offer Advent readings or Advent prayer services that your catechists can use in their classes.
Start collecting resources for your posts. There are many excellent programs—Evernote, for example—that you can use to collect information for your posts. These programs allow you to clip items and store them in a notebook, tagged for the proper posting. They also allow you to type notes or ideas into your posting notebook.
Remember to include photographs, information, links, and the like into your collection of resources. For example, I created a notebook in Evernote called “Catechist Magazine Article.” Whenever I came across an article, link, or graphic I thought would help with this article, I clipped it to my notebook. As a result, all my material is in one digital notebook—easy to access, search, and share.
6. Draft your post. It is important not to over-think or over-write it. I find it helpful to draft a post then walk away, come back, and edit it.
8. Commit to nurturing the community. Avoid the temptation to pull up the seedling you’ve planted in your social media project. I have a tendency to want instant results. However, effective use of social media develops over time. Commit to this process for at least 12 months. Don’t stop posting over the summer or over the holidays. Post according to the schedule you set in step 5. I know you don’t want to post while you’re vacationing in the Adirondacks of New York or the Sandhills of Nebraska. I don’t blame you. To keep to your schedule, use a program like Hootsuite (hootsuite.com) and schedule your posts for the time you will be gone! While you’re off vacationing, your posts will appear, and you will have preserved your consistency. Your following grows because it knows you are committed to it and to the catechetical community. Perhaps you could post some family prayer suggestions for the Christmas Season while your program is on Christmas break.
Using a program like Hootsuite to schedule your posts helps even when you are not on vacation. For example, on the first Monday of every month, take two hours and draft the posts for that month. Enter and schedule the posts into a program like Hootsuite. This practice frees you to follow any conversations that develop while not having to worry about your next post.
9. Track and measure your results. How many followers do you have? More importantly, how many interactions do you have? Are you engaging your community? Are you interacting on a faith level? Keep track of your progress and adjust as needed.
When someone follows you, welcome and thank that person. Follow that person back, when appropriate. This is one way you will add to your understanding of your community and grow your network. Your next second-grade catechist may be the person you just followed and engaged.
Social media is a tool of engagement—so engage with your community. People will look elsewhere if your use of social media is only a one-way process.
Also, be patient and continue to post. Your posting and involvement with your community is the nurture the community needs. Participants in your community come to trust you and the information you share through your posts. Trust is important for any relationship.
10. Reward yourself! Parish catechetical leaders can use these steps to encourage their catechists to use social media in their ministry. Social media helps catechists keep parents informed and offers options for dialogue about what is happening in class. They can use social media to reinforce learning outside of class, giving students an opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned.
Engage and Inspire
Use social media to engage your catechists—and then encourage them to use the same tools in the same way with their students, parents, and parishioners. Social media provides unique opportunities to engage, communicate, and share that will enrich your program. As Pope Francis said, social media can “inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all” (Pope Francis, Letter for World Communications Day, January 2014).
Don Kurre is the president of the National Association of Catechetical Media Professionals (NACMP). He is the director of the Office of Religious Education for the diocese of Grand Island, NE, and a member of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL).
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