Cultural Barrier #4: Communicating solely through paper publications and websites
Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?
We have now reached an era in which most of the world (and definitely the United States) is organized around social media. Many people under the age of forty use social media as their exclusive source of information and communications. If we do not engage meaningfully with social media, the younger generations will never know we exist. Even our own younger generations—those who have grown up as Friends—often have no idea what’s happening in our monthly and yearly meetings; we simply aren’t communicating information in a way that will reach them. You can’t be meaningfully included in a thing if you don’t even know the thing is happening.
Culture Flip #4: Developing a meaningful presence on social media
What does this look like in a monthly meeting?
I hear all kinds of arguments about why we should or should not, as Friends, engage with social media. Some of the points made are really good ones. I, too, carry very real concerns about social media, particularly the ways in which the algorithms are contributing to a country that is more sharply divided than ever. And more generally, the misuse of mathematical algorithms and computer programming are a significant threat to social justice throughout the world.
But we can’t allow ourselves to make this decision less than what it really is. For a group of Friends, collectively, to decline to use social media is akin to the same group of Friends declining to use cars. Just as we live in a world organized around cars, we now live in a world organized around social media. To decline to be engaged in this is to reject being full participants in what’s happening in the world.
If we decide not to use social media, we should understand the gravity of the decision we’re making. If we decide to use social media, we should learn how to do so meaningfully.
But what does a meaningful social media presence look like? I’m going to offer here some basic practical tips, because that’s what I hear most Friends asking for.
First of all, when developing a social media presence for your church or meeting, start with Facebook. This has the broadest reach (68% of people living in the U.S.), is the most user-friendly, and serves Friends’ multiple purposes well. Once you are doing solid work on Facebook (this will take several months at a minimum), then you can consider adding Instagram, then maybe Twitter or Pinterest or SnapChat. It’s not necessary to be on all of these platforms. Beyond Facebook, use additional platforms if you have the time and ability to use them well; otherwise, don’t make the attempt.
In the same way that printed materials and websites can be used for multiple purposes, social media can be used for multiple purposes–specifically, as a vehicle for information, communications, pastoral care, and outreach. I recommend that meetings set up a Facebook page with up to four separate co-admins, though it’s just as reasonable for a single person to serve all four functions.
Your Information Admin, possibly the same person who publishes your newsletter or webpage, posts upcoming events and announcements. For events, the information admin should invite individual Friends and consider paying to boost the event if the public is invited. For announcements, relevant individuals should be tagged. This person should also share relevant events and announcements from other Quaker groups and other groups in the local community. (If you’re feeling iffy about the definitions of words like ‘boost’ and ‘tag,’ just go over to Google and ask. You can type into the search box a question like, “What does it mean to boost an event on Facebook?”
Your Communications Admin, possibly the same person who answers email inquiries that come to your meeting, should check the page at least three times a week and should answer all private messages, respond to comments on posts and ads, and ‘like’ and ‘share’ posts that other co-admins have created.
Your Pastoral Care Admin, possibly a member of your ministry and counsel, is specifically responsible for posting in times of general distress. When an upsetting event occurs—natural, social, or political, whether it’s local, national, or global—the pastoral care admin posts relevant, grounding, and empowering messages. These messages are not news articles. They are blogs, videos, images, quotations, and pre-existing Quaker statements relevant to the event that has occurred—messages about grieving or peaceful resistance or earthcare or loving our neighbors, etc., as seems appropriate.
Your Outreach Admin, possibly a member of your outreach committee, is responsible for posting a consistent stream of content (at least three posts per week, year-round) that is grounded in Quaker Faith and Practice and also comprehensible to non-Quakers who may find your Facebook page. These posts might include QuakerSpeak videos, quotations and queries from Faith and Practice (if possible, superimposed over images), epistles from various Quaker gatherings, Scripture or quotations from historic Friends, and simple blog posts from Quakers around the world. If your meeting is using Facebook ads, this person is also responsible for maintaining those.
A few other quick tips: Not every post you make on the page is seen by everyone who follows the page. Sadly, Facebook’s standard algorithm shows your posts to only 10-15% of your page’s followers. But there are some ways to increase the viewership. First, publish in the “sweet spot” for your community, meaning the time when lots of your viewers are likely to be on Facebook–for my meeting, this is the after dinner hour, but experiment a little to find yours. Second, make the posts as visual as possible, always including pictures or videos–text alone doesn’t get shown very much. Third, empower members of your community by asking them to volunteer to visit the page two or three times a week, liking and sharing the posts that they find there.
Lastly–social media demands agility and adaptation. For now, Facebook is the dominant social media platform and arguably the most useful social media platform in which to invest resources. That will not always be the case. We need to reassess at least yearly—is Facebook still the best platform for our meeting’s purposes?
A note about trust. Social media moves fast. It will be necessary for the meeting to choose Friends to this work and then say, “We trust you. We trust that you will not post in a way that is inconsistent with our Faith and Practice, and knowing that, we do not have the need to approve the placement of every comma.” If a post is questionable—by which I mean not that some Friends disagree with some part of it, but that one or more Friends believe it should not have been posted at all—then I recommend a conversation offline, according to gospel order.