Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How I Use Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook to Encourage the Saints

Social media can take a lot of time and be a huge distraction. Yet I recommend ministry leaders and teachers explore opportunities to use these tools for two purposes:

1. Amplify your voice for the Lord, and share encouraging information to build up disciples
2. Learn more about the condition of those whose souls are entrusted to your spiritual care

In this article I’ll lay out my own strategy, all with no-cost tools, that lets you do both without having to be “online” constantly.

Individual Twitter tweets are limited to 140 characters. Blogs can support any length text, links, and embedded images, audio, and video. You have a lot more control options for Facebook in terms of who sees the information, than you do with Twitter or blogs. All three have a significant place in online ministry.

There are two key principles to follow:
1. Use each tool to its strengths, and schedule your posts so you set up information when you have blocks of time available, and then drip out the content over time so it’s a constant stream of encouragement.
2. Interlink the tools so that the same content is used multiple ways and different audiences.

Let me work through the tools.

I currently run two blogs, each with a different intended audience. Be Bold, Be Gentle is aimed at encouraging husbands and fathers. Teach to Change Lives is aimed at Bible teachers. I use Blogger (a free service) to host both. Were I starting over I would strongly consider using Wordpress on a domain I controlled.

Blogs let me share all kinds of information in multiple formats. Some blog posts are my own writing, and some are designed to point people to valuable content others have published. I tend to get ideas for blog posts in spurts, so I’ll write posts as I can, and then schedule them in advanced to be published. It takes a lot of stress off when you hit a dry spell for ideas, but know you have 1 to 2 weeks of material scheduled for publishing. My goal is to publish a blog post every other day on each blog. Some people are much more ambitious than this, and some publish less frequently. I can’t really create a good level of content at any higher frequency, and it seems to work for me.

I have years of blog posts that are all available to search engines. I can’t really control who sees this information. So I write with a mindset of providing generally helpful information to a broad audience of a lot of different folks.

I use Twitter to publish short, encouraging bits to a broad audience. I do have some controls of who sees Twitter information, but not very much. I assume anything I write on Twitter could go anywhere and be seen by anyone.

My objective for every tweet is that it will encourage people. Therefore I try to have a mix of quotes, Bible verses, prayer reminders, and a very few personal comments. I avoid the temptation to tweet about politics or world events – plenty of others do this. I do not tweet about my exact location or my travels or anything that would affect the privacy of my family. (See my blog post about why I don’t talk about my family on blogs or Twitter. ) I also set up my blog posts so they’re picked up by Twitter, so that’s additional content. (See for help with this.)

I use TweetDeck a few times a week to monitor tweets from people that I’m following. I’ll retweet things which will be helpful to my audiences.
I like to have at least four tweets a day: before 5am, mid-morning, noonish, and afternoon or early evening. But I don’t want to have to be online at those times every day. So I use a free service call SocialOomph which lets set up tweets in advance and specify the day and time they will be published. A few times a week I spend about 15-20 minutes and will crank out 2 or 3 days worth of tweets and schedule them. This approach lets me create the content on my schedule, but drip it out steadily to my audience(s).

Facebook gives me the most control over who sees what information. My personal guideline is to only friend people I know in person, or have some unusually close online presence with. I’m not trying to get to 5000 friends or anything like that. I created a fan page for “Teach the Bible to Change Lives” which is broadly public, but otherwise I’m picky about my Facebook friends. Most are from our church.

The majority of my Facebook posts are actually redirects from Twitter and my blogs. I’ve simply set those up to automatically be posted on Facebook. I also comment on information others post, and occasionally message someone I know on Facebook.

Facebook is a place where many people are expressive about what’s going on in their lives. It’s a avenue for me to hear about family issues (positive and not so positive). As an elder in our church this is very helpful information, and gives me much to pray about. I notice that more women are active on Facebook than men. It’s probably partially because women are more expressive with words than most men, or represents a lack to time.

Putting It All Together
I’m writing up tweets and blog posts, and scheduling those to be published over time I set up Facebook to publish my blog posts and tweets, so that takes care of the Facebook content being updated over time. I’m checking for tweets from others occasionally, and Facebook once or twice daily. I need to update the Facebook fan page for Teach to Change Lives two or three times a week. (Someday I need to figure out how to automate this process!) That keeps my total time for social media in check, and the emphasis on creating helpful content rather than just being a consumer.

Key tools:

My sites:

I encourage you to think about using these tools for ministry. There are already people in these channels, so use the voice God gave you to get His messages in front of them! But guard your heart and use your time wisely.

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