Develop Social Media Guidelines
Church leaders frequently ask me how their staff can make the most effective use of social media. They see the potential, but also the pitfalls, and usually fall into one of these three camps:
1. Control the message. These churches want all communication to come from official "church" accounts, and staff are discouraged or prohibited from talking about church-related information.
2. Fully embrace the media. These churches communicate both "officially" and through their staff and volunteers' personal accounts.
3. Have no strategy or are uncertain. These churches don't care about social media, or see the upside of social media, but are concerned about the challenges of controlling or shaping how the church communicates.
It’s not realistic to hope to control everything your staff or volunteers communicate through social media (or any other medium for that matter). With all that your team can accomplish through these channels, it’s better to equip them for success. Here’s an abbreviated version of the guidelines we’ve developed at LifeChurch.tv to help frame expectations for our staff.
• You’re among friends—sometimes. As much as your blog, Twitter stream, Facebook page, etc., might feel like your cozy home on the Internet, it’s really a public space. People can land on your page from a Google search and read just one post completely out of any other context. So think of your Web space less like a family room and more like your front yard.
• Spread news, don’t break it. It’s great (and helpful!) when we can share the great things God is doing at the church. But it’s not cool to get the news out there before the time or in a different place than we’ve planned. Make sure what you talk about is ready for public consumption.
• Detract? Distract? Neither. Most of us stay far away from things that detract from our mission, but you’ll also want to be on the lookout for things that are distracting. Posting about something that is 100 percent accurate and true to our beliefs can still take substantial time to manage and explain. If you’re in doubt, you’re surrounded with strong leaders who’ll be happy to help you figure out whether something falls into that gray area.
• Ask questions. If you want to spur conversation about a topic, think about open-ended posts and questions, not opinions.
• Be smart. You’re responsible for what’s on your personal Web space, so make sure you follow copyright rules and any other relevant laws.
• Disclaimers or not, you represent. A disclaimer is a good idea, but even with that, what you say via social media is just as much of a reflection of the church as what you do in your personal life.
• You’ve got backup. If a member of the press contacts you regarding content on your blog or Web space, make sure your first step is to contact the church’s communications director, and together we'll work out the best way to respond. [If your church doesn’t have communications staff, contact your senior pastor instead.]
• When in doubt, go positive. Whether you’re responding to a snarky comment, frustrated with a vendor, or trying to decide if you should write about something that’s bothering you, you’ll never regret taking the high road (and sometimes that road is not saying anything at all).
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Outreach magazine.