Twitter Tips from the Ted Kennedy Funeral

When your pastor is an old friend of Senator Ted Kennedy who officiates at the prayer service and funeral, you can expect to attract some attention—even on Twitter. His participation swelled the pride of the senator’s supporters in our parish while it infuriated parishioners who were opposed to Kennedy’s agenda. In the process of providing updates via the @StCharlesChurch account I run for my church, I learned a few lessons for how churches can use Twitter more effectively.

We first shared via @StCharlesChurch that our pastor was close to the Kennedy family along with a link to a homily to that effect. Later, we tweeted a change to our celebrant’s schedule — the most popular feature of the website – to reflect the fact that our pastor was going to be out of town because he was serving at the Kennedy funeral. We also tweeted about our pastor appearing on a national news program to discuss Kennedy and later provided a link to the transcript. This was all in accordance with our Twitter strategy.

Without getting into the details of the Twitter responses we saw, here are some tips for Twittering churches.

  • Have your church’s profile link to a social media-specific (or Twitter-specific) welcome page that gives an overview of your church and how you use the account. You can easily point to this page to explain why you are providing certain updates. In this example, I could have explained that the parish’s Kennedy coverage on Twitter was related to our goal of sharing information when our parish or clergy are in the news.
  • Be prepared for divergent responses that come in different forms.
    • Positive responses came through in private DMs and other non-public channels. Negative responses came in public @replies and were often retweeted.
    • This split makes me wonder if something similar happens in other campaigns that attract negative publicity. Does the public side of such a discussion—for example, searching Twitter—sometimes show only one side of the story?
  • Regardless of how you feel about the funeral itself, the content of the @KennedyNews Twitter account is a good example of how to handle funeral coverage in a nuanced way. (Except for the background image and avatar, which are too stark.) The feed gave an insider’s view, including photos and the funeral program, while avoiding the ick factor. It’s hard to strike that right balance when tweeting live from a funeral, as the Rocky Mountain News learned.

Is your church on Twitter? What lessons have you learned in practice or while thinking about whether your church should start?

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