Friday, July 23, 2010

Faith Facts Friday -- USCCB Social Media Guidelines Edition

The USCCB has finally put out some ground rules for use of social media by Church organizations. "Finally" is not a criticism, but rather an observation; it seems that they have realized the global implications of the social media realm. Without having to hold a synod to address what this means to the changing face of society, they have issued a document that addresses both its value to the Church and the community, and its risks. These guidelines for use in parishes and organizations are essential to set the appropriate boundaries and to limit unintentional hazards that are ever present on the Internet.

Below are excerpts from a document issued from the USCCB's Office of Communications entitled, Social Media Guidelines - United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is very important that anyone who works with social media, in relation to parish ministries and organization, read and understand these guidelines.

From the USCCB:

Social media offer both opportunities and challenges to Catholic organizations. These can be grouped into three primary categories:
  • Visibility
  • Community
  • Accountability

1. Visibility

Online social media communities are vast and are growing at a rapid pace. For example, there are more than 400 million active users on Facebook, which is greater than the population of the United States. Given the size and scope of these communities, they offer excellent forums for the Church’s visibility and evangelization.

The key question that faces each church organization that decides to engage social media is, How will we engage? Careful consideration should be made to determine the particular strengths of each form of social media (blogs, social networks, text messaging, etc.) and the needs of a ministry, parish, or organization. The strengths should match the needs. For instance, a blog post may not be the most effective way to remind students of an event. However, a mass text message to all students and their parents telling them that the retreat begins at 9 a.m. may be very effective.

Because of the high volume of content and sites, and the dynamics of search engines and computer networking, social media require constant input and monitoring to make the Church’s presence effective. To keep members, a social networking site, such as a blog, needs to have new content on a regular basis. In the case of social media, the axiom “build it and they will come” is not applicable. It is important to set internal expectations regarding how often posts will be made, so that your followers can become accustomed to your schedule.

2. Community

Social media can be powerful tools for strengthening community, although social media interaction should not be viewed as a substitute for face-to-face gatherings. Social media can support communities in a myriad of ways: connecting people with similar interests, sharing information about in-person events, providing ways for people to engage in dialogue, etc.

A well-considered use of social media has the ultimate goal of encouraging “true friendship” (43rd World Communications Day message [2009]) and of addressing the human longing for meaningful community.

3. Accountability

Social media provide tools for building community. Membership in communities also requires accountability and responsibility. Users of social media expect site administrators to allow dialogue, to provide information, and to acknowledge mistakes. The explosion of information available to social media consumers has meant that they often only use information from trusted sites or sites recommended by those whom they trust.

While not every demand or inquiry can be met, it is important that creators and site administrators of social media understand how much social media are different from mass media and the expectations of their consumers. Creators and consumers of mass media generally accept their one-way conversations (letters to the editor being the exception). Social media’s emphasis is on the word “social,” with a general blurring of the distinction between creators of content and consumers of content. Many communication experts are describing the adaption of social media as a paradigm shift in how humans communicate, a development as important as that of the printing press and the discovery of electronic communication.

No comments: