In 2020, almost 4 billion people are using social media accounts worldwide, including pastors and other church leaders and ministry representatives. Most churches and other nonprofit organizations and ministries have at least one social media account. To avoid potential problems resulting from comments to your posts, it’s important that churches and their representatives have social media guidelines that include a comment policy posted on all social media accounts.
What is a social media comment policy, and why do you need one?
A comment policy is a statement that outlines the rules for people who want to comment about your online content. Whether you're blogging, tweeting or posting to Facebook or Instagram, a primary purpose of social media is to garner engagement. However, like any conversation, you can’t always control what another person will say.
For this reason, it’s imperative that churches monitor not only what's being posted on an account but also the comments beneath each one. While there's great benefit to encouraging conversation, there can be great danger in unchecked opinions — especially if someone chooses to be disparaging, racist or inciteful. In addition, if left unattended, the comment section of posts can become a breeding ground for telemarketers, free advertising and other spam.
What should a good commenting policy include?
When a church or ministry posts a comment policy to their site, they're notifying their visitors of the kinds of comments that they deem acceptable and not. They're holding their friends, contacts and members to a level of accountability. A comment policy lets users know what's expected and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.
A good comment policy (which should be a part of an overall social media policy) will do several things:
- Make a statement of comment ownership and liability
- Encourage comments and peaceful debate
- Reaffirm the value and equality of all voices
- Outline rules for links in comments
- Define disrespectful comments and spam
- Detail the discipline process for offending commenters
Different people and organizations will have a variety of ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable. That’s why it's so important that your church discuss and create a policy unique to your beliefs and congregation.
How do you write a comment policy?
Don’t be intimidated by writing a comment policy. It’s not as hard as it might seem. Start by looking at examples of existing policies. The Social Media Comment Guidelines of First United Methodist Church of Lakeland, Florida, offers a comprehensive policy. If you’re interested in something simpler, check out the Comment Policy of The Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church. Look for comment policies on your favorite websites and blogs or on the social media accounts of other people or organizations that you follow.
Find a policy (or two or three policies) that you like. Then, keeping in mind the above suggestions, use that information as a template to create your own comment policy. Be as short and to-the-point as possible so that users are more likely to read it.
How do you implement your policy?
Once you have drafted your policy, it’s important to post it on all of your social media accounts. This is easier and more direct on some platforms than others. For example, at the time you create a Facebook group, prompts are provided for a suggested policy. When a person requests to be a member of that group, they're immediately asked to read and agree to the policy.
On your website, display your policy in a visible area on the homepage. Some blogging sites will remind commenters of the rules before allowing them to post. However, other social media platforms may require you to be a little more creative. Remember, the policy doesn’t do anyone good if it’s hidden. Seek ways to make it noticeable or to direct users to it.
Once you have created and posted your comment policy, the most important part is monitoring it. Ideally, you or someone in your church should be responsible for reading and monitoring all comments. Some platforms afford you the opportunity to approve/disapprove each comment before it appears to the public, but this can prevent immediate interaction and engagement on posts. Also, not all platforms have that option. However you choose to monitor, there should be someone who is making sure that the comments meet the requirements you have outlined and enacting disciplinary actions (warnings, deletions, banning, etc.) when needed.
While internet presence offers the opportunity to reach a lot of people with the Gospel message, it also opens the door to a wide range of problems — particularly in the way of comments and online conversations. To avoid headaches later, it is important to take action now. Create and implement your comment policy today.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations.