About the Author
Shelby Meyerhoff

Q: What about new media guidelines for religious education?

In the previous post, I offered some suggestions for crafting a congregational new media policy. Another related and frequently-asked question is about new media policies specifically for youth groups. At this time, the UUA does not have an official sample policy for youth groups.

What I usually recommend to youth advisors is that they join the UUA’s “advisor-l” e-mail list for youth advisors, browse the archives to read past conversations about communicating online, and — if the answer to their question isn’t available in the archives — post a new question to the list.

Religious educators may also find it useful to consult the UUA’s resources on creating and maintaining a safe congregation and to contact their district office if further guidance is needed.

If your congregation has an online communication policy for religious educators that you think would be helpful to other congregations — or you would like to suggest some guidelines that have worked well in your experience as a lay leader or professional religious educator — please comment!

Q: Does the UUA have a sample “new media policy” for congregations?

A:

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?”

Welcoming Visitors

  • 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:

“The UUA has the right to delete any inappropriate content from this page, including but not limited to: irrelevant content, hateful content, attacks against an individual, financial solicitations, endorsements of a political candidate or party, and content that violates Facebook’s terms of use, code of conduct, or other policies. Content that violates Facebook’s policies may also be reported.”

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!

Q: Where can I find statistics about new media usage?

A:

The Pew Internet and American Life Project is a good online resource. To find out more, you can browse their reports and charts (focused primarily on the demographics and online activities of internet users).

There are also some interesting statistics on the Nielsen Wire blog.

Readers, can you suggest other resources?