Test: Is Your Church Ready for Social Media?

Is your church ready for Facebook? If your church isn’t involved in social media yet, here’s a test to see how prepared your church is to get started.

Scenario #1 — Controversial Second Collections

Imagine it’s time for the annual collection for the CCHD — the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Your parish is participating as directed by your bishop. A group of parishioners who is upset about CCHD’s previous funding of ACORN and other controversial organizations plans to boycott the collection. These parishioners are going to insert an envelope stuffer in the basket from http://www.reformcchdnow.com/.

Discuss:

  • If your church had a Facebook page and the discussion spilled over there, how would your church respond?
  • Who would respond?
  • How fast would you do it?
  • Who would need to review and approve the comments?
  • Would you allow all comments or would you remove any?
  • Would your comments differ whether or not your pastor agreed with the collection?

Scenario #2 — A Not So Anonymous Crude Comment

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked online readers about the craziest things they’ve ever eaten. Unsurprisingly, they received some crazy responses. And some crude ones. One vulgar response in particular, after being deleted, was submitted again from the same IP address. The site’s director of social media (!) saw that the comment came from a school so he called them about it. The comment was traced to a school employee who resigned on the spot. (ReadWriteWeb, ArtsTechnica, and Jeff Geerling have more on this).

Discuss:

  • Imagine some inappropriate comments are submitted to your church blog or Facebook page…
  • Are you going to moderate responses ahead of time? If so, who will do this and what kind of lag will you audience accept? If not, is your congregation willing to accept the crude or anti-Church comments that will inevitably show up?
  • If your pastor asks you to find out where an anonymous comment came from, what will your response be?
  • If your privacy policy says you won’t share information with third parties, does that include situations like these?
  • What would it take to ban a commenter?

[Update] Scenario #3 — Misinformed Attacks Saying Faith and Reason Can’t Exist

The tech discussion site, Slashdot.org, covered Vatican Debates Possibility of Alien Life, which led to the usual church bashing and skepticism online. But one commenter who was obviously outside the faith gave a very fair defense of the church. “Current Catholic theology is the result of about 1500 years where some of the most powerful minds of occident contributed to build a quite solid intellectual building. It might be based on nonsenses (sic) but still it’s internal coherence and its resistance to foreign attacks is quite good.” Are you ready to do the same?

[Update] Scenario #4 — Acknowledging and Responding to Criticism

Mack Collier points out a solid example of Mashable responding to criticism about their editorial decisions: they showed appreciation, calmly gave their side of the issue and explained what they would do next.  Are you ready to reply as quickly and openly?

I’ll add another scenario from my own experience. We haven’t opened up comments directly on my parish site because we don’t have the staff or volunteer personnel in place to moderate comments. One Thanksgiving I decide to open up our what-are-you-thankful-for poll to also include an editable “other” option, figuring it was a safe topic.

Wrong. It wasn’t long before someone noted that they were thankful for a victory by one particular party, which was quickly seconded by someone else. Next, someone from the other political party commented that they wouldn’t be joining our church because it had the wrong politics. Living in a suburb of Washington, DC, I should have seen this coming.

Social media can have huge upsides for churches and I want you to be successful. Just be prepared before you get started so that one early blip doesn’t sideline all of your social campaigns.

What are some social scenarios your church has faced that the rest of us can learn from?

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