9 ways to promote your UU congregation’s Twitter feed

If you’re asking “So our congregation is on Twitter, now what?”, the nine tips below may help you plan the next steps for enhancing your Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation’s Twitter presence.

  1. Keep Twittering! Generate content that is relevant, unique, and spiritually-nourishing, in order to attract and serve followers.
  2. As you Twitter, stay focused on your congregation’s mission and values. Let those guide you in making decisions about what content to post and how to interact with followers.
  3. Publicize the Twitter feed to members of the congregation and encourage them to follow it : email your Twitter URL to congregants, include an announcement in the congregation’s newsletter or order of service, and talk to other members about why the congregation is using Twitter.
  4. Tag your Tweets with relevant keywords. Tags are formed by adding the # symbol directly preceding a keyword in the Tweet. For example, #uu can be used to denote a post about Unitarian Universalism. Here’s a sample post, including the #uu tag, from the UUA’s Twitter feed: Nov. 09 congregational bulletin with news and resources for #uu congregational leaders is now online: http://tinyurl.com/Nov09CongBulletin (One or more tags may be placed anywhere in the Tweet).
  5. Follow other Twitterers that are connected to your congregation, or write about topics that are relevant to your congregation (such as Unitarian Universalism, your local neighborhood, or a social justice issue that is important to the congregation). A Twitter list of UU congregations on Twitter can be found at: http://twitter.com/uua/uu-congregations You may also want to follow most or all of the Twitterers who follow you.
  6. Retweet posts that are relevant to your congregation or reflect the congregation’s mission and values.
  7. Reply to Twitterers commenting on your Tweets or on related subjects.
  8. Send a reply or a direct message thanking Twitterers who follow your congregation’s feed and/or who Re-Tweet your congregation’s Tweets.
  9. Evaluate your experience with Twitter at regular intervals, with an openness to incorporating feedback from followers and changing course as needed to further your congregation’s larger mission and values.

For those readers who are on Twitter: What other suggestions do you have for Unitarian Universalist congregations on Twitter?

And for those readers who are not using Twitter but would like to learn more, Twitter has a nice Frequently Asked Questions section that explains terms like “reply”, “retweet”, “direct message”, “follower”, and other Twitter terminology.

Beacon book explores internet use by teens and young adults

In the comments on a previous post, UUA Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director Erik Kesting recommended The Young and the Digital, by S. Craig Watkins. So I picked up a copy and now that I’m finished reading, I’m happy to second his recommendation!

In this Beacon Press book (yes, we’re biased!), Craig Watkins explores how teenagers and young adults are using new media. This is not a how-to book on new media, but rather a sociological exploration of to what ends new media is being used. Watkins draws on qualitative and quantitative research to make the case that young people go online primarily to develop and strengthen real-world relationships. Watkins writes:

A great irony of life on the computer screen is the fact that we usually go online alone but often with the intent of communicating with other people…Granted, connecting via a mobile phone or Facebook is a different way of bonding, but, as I argue in the following pages, these practices are expressions of intimacy and community.

For those who are interested in the statistical and anecdotal evidence backing up Watkins’s premise — or in considering how the concepts of online intimacy and community relate to the use of new media by congregations — the book provides plenty to chew on.  Equally interesting are Watkin’s explorations into how young people’s online/offline relationships are developed. I was particularly intrigued by the following of his observations:

Teenagers and young adults differ in their use of the internet to build relationships. Watkins describes teenagers, who have fewer opportunities to gather and socialize in real-life, using the internet to bond and have extended conversations. By contrast, “the Web, for young twenty-somethings, [is] less of a destination for hanging out and more of a place to life share and communicate with friends in between the next face-to-face encounter.” (See Chapter Three.)

Ideas about race and class influence the way that young people view their engagement with social networking sites and other people on those sites. Jumping off from danah boyd’s essay “Viewing American Class Divisions through Facebook and MySpace,” Watkins argues that there is a strong urge to self-segregate among young Facebook users. Watkins concludes, “Despite all of the hype about how the digital age is changing our lives, it has not changed one essential aspect of human life — who we form our strongest social ties with.” It’s notable that while Watkins’s central argument about the use of the internet to build social relationships dovetails with that of the recent Pew survey, he presents a very different picture of the relationship between internet use and the diversity of one’s social networks. (See Chapter Four.)

Young people struggle with the darker side of internet use. The internet-related dangers that Watkins describes young people facing are similar to those confronting adults: internet addiction and excessive multitasking. (See Chapters Six, Seven, and Eight.)

I enjoyed this book without having a background in professional religious education, but I imagine that it would be especially interesting and useful for congregational leaders and staff who work with teens and young adults.

Technology use, social isolation, and the implications for congregations

The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently released their “Social Isolation and New Technology” which investigates the relationship between social isolation and the use of mobile phones, the internet, and online social networking. The report is complex, as the it attempts to account for varying degrees of social isolation, different types of technology use, and unresolved questions about causation. The following are some of the key findings of the survey (as found in the report conclusion):

  • The “size and diversity” of Americans’ social networks has declined (although the prevalence of severe social isolation has not increased): “Compared to the relatively recent past, most Americans now have fewer people with whom they discuss important matters, and the diversity of people with whom they discuss these issues has declined.”
  • The changes that Americans are experiencing in their social networks are harmful: “Smaller and less diverse core networks diminish personal well-being by limiting access to social support. There are simply fewer people we can rely on in a time of need – whether it is a shoulder to cry on, to borrow a cup of sugar, or to help during a crisis. Small and narrow core networks also impede trust and social tolerance; they limit exposure to the diverse opinions, issues, and ideas of others.”
  • Use of social networking tools is not correlated with the trend towards “smaller and less diverse core networks.”  The headline-worthy news from the survey is: “[The] survey finds the opposite trend amongst internet and mobile phone users; they have larger and more diverse core networks.”
  • The report doesn’t prove that engagement with certain technologies causes users to have larger and more varied social networks: “We do not know if use of new technologies contributes directly to larger and more diverse core networks, or if those who use technology in a certain way are likely to have better networks from the beginning.”

The survey — and the larger debate about the connection between internet use and social relationships — raises questions that may be relevant to congregational life, such as:

  • What is the role of congregations in responding to the deterioration of social networks and the resultant challenges facing individuals?
  • Are there ways that congregational leaders and religious professionals can use new media to help build more robust and diverse social networks within the congregation?
  • Because of the relative size and diversity of new technology users’ networks, do congregations have a greater likelihood of reaching a diverse audience through social networking tools, rather than relying solely on word-of-mouth and other traditional outreach methods? (This question relates not only to the composition of online networks, but also to the patterns of how content is shared among social media users within networks).
  • What are the unique challenges of promoting a congregation or faith movement through social media? The Pew report also found that “Users of social networking websites are 40% more likely to visit a bar, but 36% less likely to visit a religious institution.” Egad! Is this because of the demographics of social networking users, because religious institutions aren’t using social networks as successfully as possible, or due to some other factor?