A Social Media Guide

We live in a digital age, with much of the information we receive coming to us through our mobile phones and computers – with a lot of this information reaching us through social media.

Social media, for the vast majority of people, simply means Facebook and Twitter. But it also applies to all sorts of other platforms where individuals can easily and widely share their thoughts, news and stories.

These platforms include various blog sites (such as a simple one-page Wordpress website), Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and numerous others. These platforms are all basically less formal and more interactive tools for ‘talking’ online that are often used to complement a traditional multi-page website (not least they’re almost always free too!).

Where many of our local communities spend a good deal of their time in this online world, it is important that we have a presence in these online communities if we hope to reach both new and existing members.

Therefore we encourage churches to look at ways they might be able to use social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to reach people who we may otherwise not be able to engage with effectively.

Social media offers a great number of opportunities for the church, but always remember, there are also risks involved!

Always Remember
If you wouldn’t say it in a public place, written on letter-headed paper, or put in the newspaper
DO NOT put it online!

Some Simple Rules to Consider

As well as the many opportunities, users should be aware of the potential risks and problems that can occur through the use of social media.

This section is aimed at helping those wishing to promote the work of their church using social media who may be new to it or unsure on certain elements.

In short, you should always participate online in the same way as you would in any other public forum. Your actions should be consistent with your work and values. Remember, you are responsible for the things you do, say and write.

Do not rush in

The immediacy of social media is one of its benefits. People can respond quickly to questions, share news and provide a perspective about something with ease.

However, it is this immediate nature that can lead us into saying something without full consideration - and then getting into a muddle.

Before posting always consider:

  • Is this my story to share?
  • Would I want my close friends and family to read this?
  • Would I be pleased or proud that I shared or said it in a years’ time?

Even before you start posting your own content it’s worth spending a short while listening to others on whichever social media forum you’re on.

Just like entering a room full of people, one tends to automatically gauge the ‘feeling’ of the room and the behavior of those there. The behavior in social media forums is no different in this regard so it’s worth observing other interactions for a moment to help you gauge that ‘online’ room, as you would a real one.

Short-lived, yet permanent

Social media updates are immediate. In any news feed, posts will appear and quickly vanish from view.

However, once posted one must assume they’re permanently out there. Even if you delete it later on, someone may have taken a screen grab so it’s never fully gone.

So always assume anything you post will be permanent.

Don’t be drawn into an online war of words

If you find you are receiving negative postings from an individual or group, take a moment before feeling the need to reply.

A negative comment quickly gets forgotten about as it vanishes from your own and any other news feed. However, if you reply and allow yourself to be pulled into an online “war of words”, the issue can quickly and publically escalate.

People who make public attacks on someone or
something as often as not want a public ‘fight’.
Don’t be drawn into this.

If you feel you should respond, perhaps to clarify a glaring factual error, you might consider posting publicly to invite a direct message from the individual in order to take the conversation calmly out of the ‘public’ eye.

You can do a lot to help yourself avoid these issues by researching the privacy options on your Social Media platform and changing the settings to reduce risk.

For instance, you might wish to consider:

  • putting blocks in place that mean you need to approve others’ posts before they appear on your page
  • switch on profanity filters (this stops poor language being posted to you page)
  • create closed-community groups, accessed by invitation approval only.

You set the example

If you are a public figure, social media users will associate you with your public role. With this there comes a degree of risk of personal opinions being seen as public statements.

That’s why, in social media biographies, (the short summary at the top of your social media page) you will often see people say something along the lines of “thoughts and opinions are my own”.

It’s worth adding this if you wish to keep a distinction between a personal social media platform and perhaps a more public facing one in your capacity as a church leader.

Consider setting up separate accounts for ministry and personal use to help set definite boundaries.

Alternatively, facebook settings allow you to be quite clever as to who sees what. For example, you may not want to ‘over-share’ personal updates on your Facebook profile – so why not keep close friends as ‘friends’, and set all other people as ‘acquaintances’. This allows to you to make posts that only ‘friends’ can see.

There are useful tips on how to do this on Facebook’s help forum here - https://www.facebook.com/help/325807937506242/

Don’t hide

‘Hiding’ behind aliases when using social media is not wise. It is also at odds with one of the main reasons for using social media networks – connecting people.

On any social media platform, if you choose a username or profile different to your real name, try to include some brief personal details about yourself in the “about” section.

When the account is a shared one, for example a Facebook page for your parish, try to ensure people can easily find out who is responsible for the content.

If there are a number of you tweeting, for example on one account, you might want to each include your initials after your own post as an identifier.

Safeguarding

The informality that social media encourages can mean that it could be harder to maintain the professional distance required when working with children, young people and the vulnerable.

Communicating directly online with someone, for example with private messaging, is akin to meeting them in private.

It is generally wiser to send messages to larger groups, (rather than individuals), or to share news you have publicly.


If you have any safeguarding concerns at all, contact your
Safeguarding Adviser or the Diocesan Safeguarding team.
Stay within the legal framework

While sharing thoughts and reflections with friends or followers on social media may seem personal and/or private, it is not.

By law, if one or more people can access it, content is classed as published, in the public domain and subject to legislation around libel, defamation, copyright and data protection.

If you wouldn’t say something in a public meeting or to someone’s face or write it in a newspaper or on headed paper – don’t say it online.

Confidentiality

Remember - Is this story mine to share? If in doubt, don’t.

Be mindful of your own security

Be careful not to overshare personal information on social media.

Too much publicly shared information on things like where you live, your family, birthdays and places of work (weekly timetable) can all be used by criminals against you.

So if you have a fully open online presence that anyone can see, it’s worth keeping a healthy vagueness to certain personal aspects of your life.

Anything to add?

Have you got any great advice that should be on this page to help people? I’m listening! Please tell me at communications@elydiocese.org.

With thanks

These Social Media guidelines have been formulated from many sources including fellow Dioceses including the Diocese of Worcester, Bath and Wells, Bristol, Guildford and Gloucester.