Friday, April 18, 2014

Social Media Etiquette for Houses of Worship

Known for his unconventional ways, Pope Francis is no stranger to the world of social media and even selfies.
Last August, for example, the head of the Catholic Church broke the Internet after taking this epic selfie with a group of believers inside St. Peter's Basilica.

In January of 2014, the Church of England revealed new social media "commandments" for their faithful  'Tweet unto others as you would have them tweet unto you'! The Church of England has come up with a new way of adapting its teaching to the digital age.

  • Church of England creates nine commandments for worshippers to follow when on social media sites
  • Rules include not breaching confidentiality and not over-sharing
  • Guidelines based on 'common sense and good judgement'
The Diocese of Bath and Wells created the nine commandments for the modern day tablets to help people 'navigate the landscape of social media'.

Many people have posted something on social media, only to regret it the next day. But embarrassing updates could soon be a thing of the past now that the Church of England has issued nine commandments to help guide people through the perils of social networks. The rules warn people not to publish anything they wouldn't want their mother to see, be aware that their posts could be permanent, and not to hide behind anonymous accounts.
Rules on a different kind of tablet: The Church of England's Bath and Wells Diocese has issued commandments for social media

It said: 'All are based on principals of common sense and good judgement.


1. Don’t rush in

2. Transient yet permanent

3. You're an ambassador

4. Don't hide

5. Blurring of public/private life boundaries

6. Safeguarding

7. Stay within the legal framework

8. Confidentiality

9. Be mindful of your own security

'Your actions should be consistent with your work and Christian values and you take responsibility for the things you do, say or write.'
The rules address both Christians and Church of England workers. The first rule states 'don't rush in' and advises the user to question whether they would want 'God or their mother' reading their post.
While it praises social media for its ability to allow people to communicate quickly, it warns that this can mean that in the rush to publish something, people can post something without thinking it through.  It says: 'The immediacy is one of its benefits – we can respond quickly to questions, correct misunderstandings, give our perspective about a breaking story in the news media. 'Responding quickly doesn’t mean doing so without due consideration.

'Ask yourself, is this my story to share? Would I want my mum to read this? Would I want God to read this? Would I want this on the front page of a newspaper?'.

The Diocese asks people to consider whether they would want their mother or God to see what post before publishing

The third rule is that: 'You’re an ambassador.' It says: 'like it or not, if you are ordained, lead in or are employed by the Church, others will see you in your public role as a representative of the Church.'

The Archbishop of Canterbury and senior head of the Church of England will no doubt follow the rules.

The fourth rule is 'don't hide'.  The diocese warns that 'anonymity on social media is frowned upon. 'It’s also at odds with what we consider the main reason for using social media networks. How can anyone really connect with an alias? 'On any social media platform, if you choose a username or profile different to your real name, include brief personal details in the about section.'

The church warns its clergy and employees to use privacy settings safely in its fifth rule about being weary of 'blurring of public/private life boundaries'.  It warns that there are risks associated with personal opinions being seen as public statements, a minister’s private life being invaded and the difficulties of detaching from work. 'Consider setting up different accounts for ministry and personal use to help set definite boundaries.'

It also warns about 'safeguarding', reminding users that a private message is like meeting someone confidentially.  'The informality that social media encourages can mean that it might be harder to maintain a professional distance that is required when working with children, young people and the vulnerable.'

One of its lessons is about staying 'within the legal framework', which warns people that publishing some posts can mean committing an offence - such as defaming someone.  It warns: 'If you wouldn’t say something in a public meeting or to someone’s face or write it in a newspaper or on headed paper – don’t say it online.'

The Church also warns people of the perils of 'breaching confidentiality' and its last rule is not to over share personal information.

The United Methodist Church goes even broader with it's very specific advice to the faithful, covering popular social media sites.

Social media etiquette handbook 

SUMMARY: Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums or websites, proper etiquette can set the tone for how people view you and your church.

Completely avoiding social media etiquette pitfalls is difficult because it is such a personal world and users’ opinions are subjective. However, you can limit the chances of embarrassing or annoying people by using common-sense guidelines.
Along with adhering to your church’s official online communications policy, consider the following:


Greetings and salutations: Whether it is your personal page or the church’s page, not everyone you want to “friend” or “like” will know you. Do not add users without introducing yourself.
Avoid unsolicited marketing: If you are in a Facebook group for “NFL fans,” do not abuse the “invite” ability and send out mass notices about your church. Stick, for the most part, to the content topics identified.

It is all about you: Do not use your Facebook page to “over promote” your church connection. Facebook is about relationships, not fundraising or events in and of themselves. Use your church’s fan page for those promotions and more.
Put it in the vault: If people ask you to pray for them, they are not asking everyone to pray for them. If you want to share your prayer with others, ask the individual who requested it. Remember: If you put it on Facebook, it is like putting it on a billboard. Consider sending a message rather than posting the prayer on someone’s wall. It may be better to respond by a personal e-mail. Keep private things private.


I will follow: Twitter users should be respectful. After you sign up to “follow” certain users, invite them to follow you. Give people time before you decide to stop following them. Be polite. Do not “unfollow” someone who has just started following you.

Give them love: Do not use Twitter for hour-by-hour promotion of you or your church. Twitter is about sending 144-character snippets of interesting information in a rapid manner. It involves ongoing reciprocity—much like personal relationships. Information is like love; it should be given with no strings attached. The effort is not genuine if you have an ulterior motive.
Keep it short: Twitter limits characters in a message just as you should limit the messages in a conversation. Do not use a Twitter feed as a chat room.


Let YouTube do what it is designed to do. The value of the videos you post will be apparent by the number of views. Constantly asking others to view your videos is amateurish and annoying.

Social News Sites

When using social media news sites such as Digg, Sphinn, Mixx, Reddit and Tip’d, maintain your professional persona. Stay on topic with your submissions, be respectful in your comments, and be a give-and-take participant — reciprocating votes and not repeating posts.


Give sources their due: Using commentary and ideas from others in your blog keeps things interesting. However, don’t use content from another blog without attributing (and linking to the original source).

Add variety: People don’t want to read about the same thing over and over. Current events provide an ongoing resource. When news is slow, consider writing about a personal experience or observation that offers insight, meaning or a glimpse behind the scenes. Don’t repeat a blog entry even if it’s been a while since you’ve written about it. Readers will remember and think you can’t come up with original material.
Be humble: While blogs certainly are good places for personal opinion, don’t overdo it. You will come off as boorish if you don’t acknowledge the valid opinions of others. If you are wrong, acknowledge the wrongdoing and focus on the lesson you learned.In general, it is a good idea as a church leader to do the following.

Limit frequent mass communication.

Encourage church members to share birth announcements and other news on a designated Web site page or Facebook posting rather than having them e-mail everybody in the church directory. Similarly, avoid multiple mass messages from the pastor or church staff, i.e., “It’s fundraising time again!” Use mass broadcasts only when vital information must be distributed quickly.

Make online information accessible.

Not everyone participates in social media at the same level. Your church website can close this gap. Think about your home page as the front page of a newspaper, and the group Facebook pages, RSS feeds and blogs as the special “sections.” Provide links to these and explain how people can register and use these social media tools. (A short-course or overview might be good for a Sunday morning or midweek evening program.)