SUMMARY: Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums or websites, proper etiquette can set the tone for how people view you and your church.
Completely avoiding social media etiquette pitfalls is difficult because it is such a personal world and users' opinions are subjective. However, you can limit the chances of embarrassing or annoying people by using common-sense guidelines.
Along with adhering to your church's official online communications policy, consider the following:
- Greetings and salutations: Whether it is your personal page or the church's page, not everyone you want to "friend" or "like" will know you. Do not add users without introducing yourself.
- Avoid unsolicited marketing: If you are in a Facebook group for "NFL fans," do not abuse the "invite" ability and send out mass notices about your church. Stick, for the most part, to the content topics identified.
- It is all about you: Do not use your Facebook page to "over promote" your church connection. Facebook is about relationships, not fundraising or events in and of themselves. Use your church's fan page for those promotions and more.
- Put it in the vault: If people ask you to pray for them, they are not asking everyone to pray for them. If you want to share your prayer with others, ask the individual who requested it. Remember: If you put it on Facebook, it is like putting it on a billboard. Consider sending a message rather than posting the prayer on someone's wall. It may be better to respond by a personal e-mail. Keep private things private.
- I will follow: Twitter users should be respectful. After you sign up to "follow" certain users, invite them to follow you. Give people time before you decide to stop following them. Be polite. Do not "unfollow" someone who has just started following you.
- Give them love: Do not use Twitter for hour-by-hour promotion of you or your church. Twitter is about sending 144-character snippets of interesting information in a rapid manner. It involves ongoing reciprocity—much like personal relationships. Information is like love; it should be given with no strings attached. The effort is not genuine if you have an ulterior motive.
- Keep it short: Twitter limits characters in a message just as you should limit the messages in a conversation. Do not use a Twitter feed as a chat room.
Let YouTube do what it is designed to do. The value of the videos you post will be apparent by the number of views. Constantly asking others to view your videos is amateurish and annoying.
SOCIAL NEWS SITES
When using social media news sites such as Digg, Sphinn, Mixx, Reddit and Tip'd, maintain your professional persona. Stay on topic with your submissions, be respectful in your comments, and be a give-and-take participant — reciprocating votes and not repeating posts.
- Give sources their due: Using commentary and ideas from others in your blog keeps things interesting. However, don't use content from another blog without attributing (and linking to the original source).
- Add variety: People don't want to read about the same thing over and over. Current events provide an ongoing resource. When news is slow, consider writing about a personal experience or observation that offers insight, meaning or a glimpse behind the scenes. Don't repeat a blog entry even if it's been a while since you've written about it. Readers will remember and think you can't come up with original material.
- Be humble: While blogs certainly are good places for personal opinion, don't overdo it. You will come off as boorish if you don't acknowledge the valid opinions of others. If you are wrong, acknowledge the wrongdoing and focus on the lesson you learned.
In general, it is a good idea as a church leader to do the following.
Limit frequent mass communication.
Encourage church members to share birth announcements and other news on a designated Web site page or Facebook posting rather than having them e-mail everybody in the church directory. Similarly, avoid multiple mass messages from the pastor or church staff, i.e., "It's fundraising time again!" Use mass broadcasts only when vital information must be distributed quickly.
Make online information accessible.
Not everyone participates in social media at the same level. Your church website can close this gap. Think about your home page as the front page of a newspaper, and the group Facebook pages, RSS feeds and blogs as the special "sections." Provide links to these and explain how people can register and use these social media tools. (A short-course or overview might be good for a Sunday morning or midweek evening program.)