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Congregations Utilize Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Podcasting
Keeping up with social media and determining which tools are most useful to a congregation trying to build connections among its members and reach into the larger community could be a fulltime job. But Shelby Meyerhoff can help. She is the Unitarian Universalist Association’s public witness specialist and manages the UUA’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. She is one of the people at the UUA that congregational leaders can turn to with questions about new media.
Podcasting and Facebook are probably the new media tools most widely used by congregations, Meyerhoff says, noting that Facebook is a good place for a congregation to start building a social media presence. “Technically it’s not difficult. It’s easy to figure out how to post content on Facebook, including events, photos, and links to other sites. It makes it easy for you to share your congregation with others.” More than 320 UU congregations and other UU groups have a Facebook page.
A Facebook page tells a lot about a congregation and what its principles and values are.
For instance, from the Facebook page of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Charleston, West Virginia, in mid-December, one could learn that the congregation is holding a Winter Solstice Ball, that it has adopted a family for Christmas, that it is actively opposed to a plan by the local metro system to do away with passes for students, and that it supports a local peace initiative and a drumming circle. On the same page you could read the current reading selection for the congregation’s Meditation Circle. There is also a link to an article from uuworld.org, as well as links to the church website and its weekly calendar.
Information on Facebook is easy to share with others, says Meyerhoff. “Facebook is designed to promote the viral sharing of information.”
Scores of UU ministers, directors of religious education, and others have taken to another tool, blogging, where an easy conversational style allows them to share what they’re doing––and news about the church and its mission––with a wider audience. While both blogs and Facebook are easy to use, Meyerhoff notes that bloggers and Facebook page administrators should be prepared to spend time adding new content on a regular basis and responding to visitor feedback.
Podcasting is another popular tool. Congregations use it to distribute recordings of sermons, worship services, and other messages. Podcasts from around 170 congregations and other UU groups can be found on iTunes, where they can be downloaded to mp3 players. For information on how to podcast, go to the UUPodcasters website.
Peter Bowden, uuplanet.com, is the growth consultant for the Ballou Channing District of the UUA. He publishes the UU Growth Blog http://uugrowth.wordpress.com and has a business consulting with congregations on the use of technology and social media.
Bowden recommends a congregation start with new media by publishing news items on a blog either on their website or on a dedicated news blog hosted by one of many free services. Publishing individual items makes it easy for readers to share them with others. Next, set up a Facebook “fan page,” says Bowden. A fan page allows anyone to become a “fan” of the congregation and learn about it without having to share their own personal information. As a next step, Bowden likes Twitter.
Twitter is a medium used to disseminate information in bursts of up to 140 characters. There are services that will automatically send a “tweet” to a congregation’s Twitter followers every time an item is published on the congregation’s Facebook page. Bowden likes the service HootSuite for this. Brief notices about blog items can easily be added to a Facebook page and sent out on Twitter. “This leads to a cascading effect,” says Bowden. “News travels from the blog to Facebook and Twitter and from there to whomever your fans and followers share items with.”
Twitter is used by around 60 UU congregations, according to the UUA Twitter feed’s list of Unitarian Universalist congregations. How do they use it? One Southern California congregation sent about 25 “tweets” to its followers over one three-day period in December. The majority were inspirational quotes from UU author the Rev. Robert Fulghum and others, five were notes about local and national social justice issues, and several were program announcements. Some recipients “re-tweeted” some of the quotes, sending them to others, thus widening the circle of awareness of the congregation.
In deciding what tools to use, says Meyerhoff, “the important questions are: Is the congregation using social media in a way that supports its larger mission? And do the benefits exceed the resources contributed to managing the tool?” She adds, “Sometimes people get overwhelmed by the number of tools and how to use them. What I tell them is that you don’t have to use every single tool to its maximum potential. Use one and use it effectively. We support congregations in being intentional and skilled in communicating their identity to the larger world.”
- Learn more about how UU congregations can use new media, especially blogging, Facebook, podcasting, and Twitter, at uua.org/newmedia. Articles on this site include “Best Practices for UU Blogging,” “Dos and Don’ts for UU Congregations Using Facebook,” “How to Set Up a Podcast,” and “Introduction to Twitter for UU Leaders.”
- Shelby Meyerhoff writes about new media on a blog, newmedia.blogs.uua.org. Recent blog items include: “9 ways to promote your UU congregation’s Twitter feed,” and “Technology use, social isolation, and the implications for congregations.”
- Sign up for a UUA-sponsored email list for people interested in new media.
- UU Growth Consultant Peter Bowden can be reached at the UU Growth Blog. Be sure to read his “Top Five (Six Really) Social Media Picks for UU Congregations.”