The UUA does not yet have a comprehensive sample new media policy for congregations. (Update 12/3/10. We do now have a sample Facebook policy, from Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, that could be a great starting point for congregations looking to develop similar policies.)
However, I’ve listed below some general principles that may help guide congregations in their new media use. This list is still a draft; please comment with any questions or suggestions!
Considering the Big Picture
- Before creating a new media presence on one or more sites, discuss questions like “What is the mission of our congregation and how will that mission be furthered by use of new media tools? What kinds of conversations do we want to have online and what kinds of information do we want to share? What are the larger goals of our new media use?”
- Any public site will be seen by people who are new to your congregation, as well as by congregants. Put the congregation’s best foot forward.
- Your Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other new media site might be the first point-of-contact that a newcomer has with your congregation; help them take the next step to get more engaged. Link to your main congregation’s website and if there’s a place to do so, post basic information like your congregation’s location, contact information, and service times.
- Avoid the unnecessary airing of “dirty laundry.”
- Keep your new media presence up-to-date by posting content on a regular basis (whether that’s once a day, once a week, or somewhere in between). Hopefully, people will look forward to reading your blog, listening to your podcast, or otherwise engaging with your congregation online! But if your content dries up without explanation, newcomers may be confused and regular listeners or readers may be disappointed.
Engaging the Congregation
- Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs, etc. that represent the congregation should be authorized by an appropriate congregational committee or process.
- Share administrative access to the congregation’s new media tools among relevant leaders and staff within the congregation. More than one person should have full administrative access to the congregation’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, blog, or other new media sites.
- Announce the establishment of a new Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other congregational new media endeavor. Good venues for such an announcement may include an e-mail to the congregation, a story in the congregation’s newsletter, a poster on the congregational bulletin board, or a post on the congregation’s existing new media sites.
- Encourage congregants to participate in the congregation’s new media presence. For example, welcome congregants to post comments on the congregational blog or write on the wall of the congregation’s Facebook page.
Safety and Confidentiality
- Consider the issue of tone. Use a tone in your text, audio, and video content that reflects the values of your congregation.
- Establish clear expectations for behavior by both content creators (i.e. the people writing blog posts, wall posts, Tweets, etc.) and commenters (i.e. the people who are commenting on a blog, responding to a wall post, responding to Tweets, etc.) Content moderation policies are a good way to clarify what kinds of comments and feedback will not be allowed on your site. For an example of a content moderation policy, see the UUA’s Facebook page policy:
You may also find it helpful to have a covenant among people who manage and produce content for the congregation’s new media tools.
- Consistently enforce the stated policies.
- Err on the side of honoring reasonable expectations of confidentiality.
- Do not post photos of children unless you have the consent of their guardian.
- If an event is being recorded or photographed for the congregation’s blog, Facebook page or other online site, notify participants in advance and at the event, and provide an opt-out option if possible.
How do these suggestions fit with your congregation’s experience? Are there other issues that should be considered as part of a congregation’s new media policy? Please comment to give feedback!
This looks like a really positive and wonderful start, I am so thankful for the resources that went into this. I will leave more detailed feedback after I have more time to thoroughly examine all that is here. But in the meantime I wanted to say thanks!
Thanks, Jeremy, for stopping by and offering these words of encouragement!
Thanks for pointing out your moderation policy. I’ve added a version our church’s Facebook page already. When I started doing a Facebook page for my church, I didn’t even think to look for recommendations while setting up. I’m glad to see that everything I did follows your wisdom, and look forward to more helpful tips from the UUA!
Thanks for putting this blog together!
We have a “Social Media User Agreement” posted on to our Facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/pages/Appleton-WI/Fox-Valley-Unitarian-Universalist-Fellowship/19441612800 ). It can be found under boxes.
Hi Cynthia and Marie, Thanks for your comments. It’s good to hear that this post is relevant to how you are using new media in your congregations. And, Marie, it’s helpful to see sample new media policies from UU congregations, so thanks for sharing the Fox Valley UU Fellowship’s guidelines.
Awesome site. As the Communications Chair of an “Emerging Congregation” the Bull Run UU’s in Manassas VA, I’ve been trying to get folks to focus on big picture issues like message and method, and was very pleased to see that part in the number one position.
At first glance, the proposed new media policy, looks, well, “sensible.” However, from a 21st century perspective, it appears to have come right out of the last century with its almost total concern for control and for not letting anything bad happen on-line.
So, UUA, welcome to Web 2.0, where the internet belongs to the people, and they decide, wisely or foolishly, what goes onto it. Sometimes the content is embarrassing or even harmful, but there are ways of limiting the damage from this sort of thing. One way, in my opinion, not to deal with offensive material is to screen all content through some committee or another.
By way of illustration, here is a problem that faces our church right now. We have a mailing list used for announcements, discussions of church activities, and the like. From time to time a prospective member or other interested party asks to lurk on the list.
The problem is that the list tends fill up with garbage. For example, one might see 1 post asking people to bring something to a soup lunch, 6 posts from people saying that they will bring something, 8 posts from people announcing that they cannot attend the lunch but wish they could, and 10 posts thanking the 6 people bringing soup. Heavens! How could a prospective member wade through all that and get information on what the church is really like? Even worse, wouldn’t they think that we are totally consumed with soup lunches? What to do?
Option 1. Don’t let anyone lurk on the mailing list. Keep newcomers’ access limited to the officially prescribed web presence.
Option 2. Strictly enforce rules for posting to the mailing list (through moderation) so that only the good stuff gets posted.
Option 3. (mine) Let the chips fall where they may. It is the very essence of social media that their uses are shaped by the community using them. That’s the way it should be. Lurkers can sort things out on their own or find information sources that better suit their purposes.
What does the draft policy say about this situation? Which option do you favor, or do you have a fourth approach?
Thanks for your questions. While I can’t analyze and provide advice on a specific congregation’s situation through this blog, I can elaborate on the broader issue of why and how congregations might choose to moderate content.
The draft policy guidelines above recommend defining the purpose and goals of the congregation’s new media use. Content moderation policies should be designed to further these goals and to reflect the values of the congregation.
I can think of at least two kinds of user-generated content that any organization using new media will encounter: irrelevant content and harmful content. Content of both types can interfere with the success of an e-mail list, Facebook page, blog, etc.
Irrelevant content (i.e. “clutter”) can be defined broadly or narrowly, depending on the stated purpose of the e-mail list. For example, a message about a social justice movie night might be quite relevant to one congregational e-mail list, and less relevant to another e-mail list in the same congregation. Another example is that e-mail lists whose purpose is to foster discussion may allow a broader range of content and posting permissions than e-mail lists whose purpose is to distribute announcements. My sense is that most internet users understand the difference between a discussion list for conversation about a variety of topics, a discussion list for conversation about a single topic, and an announcement-only list.
But while the definition of irrelevant content can vary, there are some types of messages — like advertisements for third-party services — that are almost universally recognized as “spam.” These are unlikely to be relevant (or allowed) on most congregational e-mail lists, blogs, etc.
Harmful content includes hate speech and personal attacks on individuals. My opinion is that congregations should feel empowered to screen out any harmful content that interferes with the maintenance of a safe space online. Not only are there ethical considerations when dealing with harmful content, but it’s also hard to imagine how this kind of content could be allowed on a congregational e-mail list, blog, Facebook page, etc. without detracting from that congregation’s mission and goals.