Ask and learn

Posted Jun 29, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Verity A. Jones

What have we learned so far?
With more than a year of study and reflection under our belts, the New Media Project research fellows have put together a set of recommendations for using social media. Our blog posts for June 2012 will focus on suggestions for everything from “why use social media?” to “how to know if what you’re doing is working.”


Here are few of my favorite recommendations from the New Media Project. From “how to use social media well:”

Learn from the practitioners. Studies, including our own, reveal pervasive use of social media among young clergy and young people. Not all of them love social media, but many do. If they don’t love it, they use the tools anyway. If you are not young, talk about social media with people who are. And regardless of your age, or theirs, talk to people who really understand social media and can help you.

The Millennial Impact Project did just this. In a 2012 report intended for nonprofits, the researchers asked Millennials—defined by the project as those ages 20 to 35—about their giving patterns and community involvement. Rather than listen to nonprofits wring their hands in bewilderment at this generation, the Millennial Impact Project asked younger people about themselves directly. The researchers learned some gems of information like the fact that 65 percent of Millennials surveyed prefer to learn about nonprofits from websites, compared to 17 percent who prefer to learn about nonprofits face-to-face. And a whopping 67 percent have interacted with a nonprofit on Facebook.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it, to learn from practitioners of social media about social media.  Then I remembered Nadia Bolz-Weber’s plea on this blog last Fall in a post entitled, “Listen to Millennials, please.” Even if all Millennials don’t love social media, they know it.

Likewise, another entry from “how to use social media well:”

Ask friends to show you what they do and share with you their favorite apps. There are not a lot of classes out there that teach social media. If social media are about relationships, then use your relationships to learn about social media. And share what you are doing with others. Getting into a social media mindset means you have to share, too.

This lesson comes from being willing to let social media practitioners teach us about their practices. And lo and behold, we find that their practices reflect basic principles of generosity and sharing. Yes, some companies are making money off all this sharing. But remember that you can stop sharing particular products just as quickly as you start to do so. In fact, boycotting a bad product can be just as nice and generous as sharing ones that work.

From “how to know if what you are doing is working:”

Evaluate social media initiatives by the quality of the relationships that they encourage, or establish, or nurture. Ask qualitative questions, instead of just quantitative ones, like “Did you learn anything about the people in this Facebook Bible study group that you didn’t already know? Did it contribute positively or negatively to the body of Christ? Did you meet a new person, or deepen a connection?”

We learned that the best social media practices are grounded in faithful Christian thought and practice; that mission and purpose ought to shape the use of social media for every organization and person; and that keeping the goal in mind when evaluating social media is key.

Let us know what recommendations are helpful to you or your church, or what we might be missing here.

Verity A. Jones is the project director of the New Media Project, and a Research Fellow at Union Theological Seminary.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmedia@uts.columbia.edu.

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