Twittering religiously

Research published today by Tearfund shows the ways in which people are communicating their faith via social media. Of those surveyed, 74% had welcomed ‘the opportunity to reveal their faith on digital platforms’ and nearly half had used Facebook (specifically) as a forum for sharing prayer requests. An average of 80% of respondents (across the age-groups who responded) also said that Facebook and Twitter inspired them to pray for others and specific situations.

It’s a relatively small (212) and self-selecting (the survey was advertised via social networks) sample, but it does show that social media is having an impact upon the way in which people live out their faith online and offline. Two days into Lent, this is a particularly relevant survey given the number of people who have decided to give up social networking for the duration.

It’s not something I particularly agree with – partly because of the results of this survey. Sure, if social networking is distracting you from working, studying or living in the ‘real world’ to the point of unhealthiness, then create boundaries, but will a 40 day fast really change your long-term attitude? But what about the role it has in our spiritual lives? Nurturing relationships; being challenged; asking and receiving prayer; staying up to date with international situations; learning new things – all of this now happens via social networks. Vicky Beeching spoke my mind on this subject in a blogpost yesterday entitled: Why I disagree with giving up social media for Lent’.

One of the things I’m becoming increasingly passionate about is the importance of churches and Christians using social media effectively. (Actually, I’m passionate about everyone using it effectively, it’s just that most of the time I’m talking about this within church-y circles. Most of what follows will apply to the rest of the world too.) I don’t simply mean in a marketing sense, but primarily in a building community way. I’d almost go as far as to say that a Facebook/Twitter presence is as essential to a church as a decent website is.

So I thought now might be a good time to share a few tips for individuals and groups on why they should care about their social media presence – and why, possibly, they should join Twitter. [Disclaimer: I am a massive Twitter fan. It isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it is worth a go – honest!]

1. Cross-platform consolidation
Let’s start with something that sounds pretentious, but is actually very sensible. If you’re a church/organisation, then create social media presences that work well together. Just like an individual might have Facebook, Twitter and a blog, so might a church have a Facebook page, Twitter feed and website. Make sure that you put the same information through all of them. You may think it’s pointless because it’s the same audience, but it’s not and the information can be used in different ways on each. On Twitter, for example, a church member might choose to retweet a church announcement so their followers can hear about it – something that’s harder to do with a Facebook status.
NB: If you’re going to do an auto-feed from one platform to another, make sure you do it from Twitter to Facebook, not the other way round. Feeding Facebook to Twitter doesn’t always work, because if the update exceeds 140 characters, you’ll be directed to a Facebook page – fine if you have a Facebook account, rubbish if you don’t. 

2. Save time by setting up auto-updates
There’s plenty of ways of doing this – some Twitter apps enable scheduled posting, so you can decide when you want something to go out. This means you can set things up even if you’re going to be on holiday, so Sunday services announcements can still go out, even if you’re not online one week. Our church’s website automatically sends out a tweet whenever new sermon audio is uploaded. [If you’re wondering about what a church Twitter account could post, the themes of Sunday talks and links to their audio would be a really good place to start.] Other platforms, like Flickr, will auto-Tweet whenever you add new content too.

3. Have a small team of people with access to your social media accounts
It’s kind of a simple rule of delegation really, but also means that it’s all dependent upon one person being at everything and online all the time. Mobile devices are particularly useful for this as it’s much easier to switch between Twitter accounts on an iPhone than on a computer (I currently have 4, this may be excessive…). This can also work by an individual person following lots of church people on Twitter, and being on the ball enough to re-tweet their stuff when relevant. You can also add specific accounts – so I now have a student Twitter in addition to the main church one and we complement each other, re-tweeting as appropriate.

4. Keep things private when they need to be private
The Tearfund research emphasises the ways in which Christians use social media for prayer requests. Some people are happy to share via very public forums like Twitter or Facebook, but others might want a safer space in which to do this. A church Facebook Page might work for certain things, but a closed group might be more appropriate for others – this worked brilliantly with my student group last year and I’ve just set up something similar for this year’s. I also belong to a brilliant women’s prayer group on Facebook which has become a place for sharing some really tough stuff, but also for reading truly inspiring stories. Having said that, it’s astonishing just how quickly a prayer request can get round the Twitter community – truly stunning and a really valuable asset of that network.

5. Use hashtags
This may sound solely Twitter related, but it’s not. For those not in the know, a hashtag is a way of grouping together tweets – placing ‘#’ before something on Twitter turns it into a hyperlink through which you can see all other tweets mentioning the same thing. For example, the Greenbelt festival usually goes with #gb12 (or whatever year it happens to be). This is useful for several reasons:

  • It can create a buzz for an event and help people see who else is there and what’s going on.
  • It enables people to bring together all the tweets from one event and store them for posterity.
  • It can be used to create ‘Twitter falls’ in other places. The Methodist Conference used this to startlingly good effect in 2011. Any tweets containing the hashtag #methconf were displayed on the conference’s main website, alongside the live video feed and papers – meaning that people could join in conversations in real time. [See, it’s not just for Twitter!]
6. Follow what you’re interested in and share what others might like
Treat your organisation like an individual (or, if you’re an individual – be individual!). Follow what you’re interested in – people, places, groups – and share what grabs your attention if you think it might benefit others. For example, social media has been a great place in the last few days to share what people are doing for Lent – I’ve discovered 24-7’s prayer spaces; Tearfund’s carbon fast; Christian Aid’s Count Your Blessings and myriad other initiatives via the people I follow and have passed them on in turn. If you have a church account, follow your members and engage with their lives (within suitable boundaries, obviously), but aim to inspire them too. With my student Twitter account I have two weekly aims – firstly, to keep student Twitterers informed on what we’re up to and share our doings; and secondly, to share at least one inspiring thought from our gatherings. The latter is something that often gets picked up by the people who follow us, so in turn (hopefully) inspires others.

I could talk for hours about the joys of social media and there’s plenty more to say on this subject, but I think this will do for now. In fact, friends have started booking me for personal social media surgeries, which I’m more than happy to do (though I apologise to those sat near me on Eurostar when the woman sat next to me grilled me about Twitter from London to Lille…). It’s well worth investing the time and effort – honest!

On Christian goats and trolls

Something has got my goat in quite a big way – in fact, it got my goat quite a long time ago, but now I actually want to do something about it.

I love social media and social networking dearly. I write a blog(s); I tweet – probably too much; my life is organised via Facebook; heck, I’ve even spent time teaching people how to use it better. It’s definitely a good thing in my opinion, as long as it’s used with care and thought. The problem is that we are humans, and sometimes we’re not careful or thoughtful.

There are trolls (as they’re known) across the internet. Recently, there’s been a lot of coverage of the hideous comments many women receive on blogs or articles, simply because they’re women – especially if they’re writing on an issue that seems to be ‘feminist’ in nature. But they’re everywhere, from newspaper columns to blogs and random Facebook pages. Oh, and Twitter – there’s nothing like Twitter for a vicious, insult strewn argument…

I’m not naïve, I know that everyone gets annoyed or upset and does things that maybe, if they’d thought more about, they wouldn’t have done. This applies just as much to the internet as it does to the real world. Nor am I perfect – I’ve made mistakes just like everyone else. However, I have higher expectations of good online behaviour from my Christian brethren (perhaps that is naïve?), after all, isn’t the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself?

Is bitching about other Christians in a public forum an example of following this commandment?

What about haranguing an individual just because you’re fed up with the (Christian) organisation they work for?

What if the people making the comments are ordained? Shouldn’t they know better more than anyone else? [In every single case that’s recently got my goat, the person concerned has been ordained.]

My goat has been severely got over the last few weeks. Time and again I’ve seen examples of this behaviour and last week it made me so angry that I wrote an original version of this post, just so I could do some cathartic venting. Some good friends read it and said that, once I’d removed the specifics, it might make for a helpful blogpost – so this is it.

In a Facebook thread where some of the worst behaviour was found, came a response that actually proved inspiring:

“To say it’s ok to discuss xxxxxxx, as though they are not also a brother or a sister, someone who will flourish best with edification, support and respectful engagement kinda defeats the whole point of battling through a life of faith.

It is not ok to malign people as though they were not human, let alone fellow believers working, to the best of their knowledge, for the good of the Kingdom. There is a marked difference between expressing feelings of dissatisfaction and seeking solutions with like-minded people and aggressively hurling abuse!”

I’d also like to challenge the people making these negative comments.
Would they say these things in front of the people they’re insulting? Have they thought about how people would feel after reading some of their posts? Have they considered how they might feel if they read something similar about themselves?

Ultimately, what is it about social media that people feel gives them permission to behave in a way that they wouldn’t do in ‘real life’? And, how, as Christians do we encourage others not to behave in this way? How do we demonstrate Christian love and relationship in a virtual context?

I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions, but I thought they’d provoke some thought and possibly discussion. Interestingly, on the day when I needed to vent, a post along similar lines to this was published on the Big Bible blog, so other people are thinking about it too. In the mean time, perhaps the best approach is to challenge behaviour that isn’t appropriate – like my friend above did – and put ourselves alongside those who are being attacked. Oh, and to not press ‘send’ in haste…

The etiquette of tweeting and following

Rather frustratingly, the weekend’s fun and frolics in a former convent meant that I had to miss an event that dominated my Twitter timeline for most of Friday night and all day Saturday (once the rugby was over) – the Christian New Media Awards and Conference (#cnmac11). All day (while not concentrating extremely hard during 5 hours of Church History lectures) I saw tweets between friends old and new; ex-colleagues; long-standing Twitter buddies yet to have been met in the flesh and total strangers. It was like watching a party I hadn’t been invited to through a closed window…

The good thing about the tweeting was that it enabled me to hear when the Methodists – represented by the fabulous Jo in even more fabulous glittery red shoes [Jo, I now have some nail varnish that would match perfectly!] – won an award for Tell, Show, Be. It also meant that I could witness some of the post-conference discussion and some of the blogposts that are being generated by it.

By all accounts, the Digital Nun was rather popular. Her post, the 10 rules for online engagement, is a summary of some of what she said, and I have to say it makes a lot of sense. In brief, there are 10 key words (click through for the full explanation, it’s worth it):
1. Pray
2. Listen
3. Respect
4. Encourage
5. Spend time
6. Share
7. Be Welcoming
8. Be Grateful
9. Be Yourself
10. Love

One that might need expanding upon is one I feel very strongly about – #6: Share: not only what you are doing, but also what others are doing. This particularly applies to Twitter — don’t use it just for self-advertisement!’. I’m really not a fan of people who re-tweet compliments sent to them, unless they’re amusing or it’s for something really special. Occasional sharing of such things is fine; too much and it looks big-headed. Also, one of Twitter’s qualities is that it’s an ideal platform for sharing things with lots of people that they might not know about, but might be interested it. It’s how I manage to distract myself for far too vast a chunk of time!

Another outcome of the conference was a brief tweet chat with Becca who had been there on Saturday. She had tweeted: “does limiting who u follow on twitter create exclusive groups that become counter productive? Is fb not better 4 developing relationships?” [sic]
To which I replied: “Think I’ve developed much better relationships on Twitter – am much more restrictive about fb connections. ‘Real’ friends only!”
[As a sidenote, Becca is a ‘real’ friend, though in a slightly bizarre way – I know her parents, siblings and husband better, but I feel like we’ve bonded over the years thanks to our virtual contact.]

It needed further dissection, so more tweets followed and I concluded that it was far too complicated a question to adequately discuss on Twitter, so felt a blogpost was brewing. Essentially, I had four points:

1. I don’t mind casual acquaintances (or total strangers) following me on Twitter – but I wouldn’t accept their friend request on Facebook. Twitter is public and I know that, so I tweet accordingly (though it may not look like that sometimes!). Which connects with…
2. I choose what I put on Twitter. Interestingly, this includes links to every post I write on here – which is not something I do on Facebook. On Facebook I tend to protect my world more.
3. Facebook is for actual people in my life – I choose who I want to be there.
4. Twitter’s helped me get to know some strangers or friends a lot better, especially colleagues and co-students. It’s also created groups of people that I can connect with about specific things, but don’t feel at all cliquey.

It’s this last point that’s the most important (or interesting – as far as I’m concerned). Twitter is far less obtrusive, I don’t often hesitate about following someone in the way I might hesitate about sending a Facebook request. Take today for example: I was lunching with fellow vicars-to-be at college and we chatted about Twitter, resulting in the sharing of names – we’re now all following each other. We haven’t had a similar chat about Facebook, but that relationship will in all probability come later – it’s a different level of intimacy.

In the run up to starting my new job, several of my new colleagues started following me and I reciprocated – it meant that they knew an awful lot more about me (perhaps too much?!) by the time I started work. In turn, I knew a little bit more about them and felt very supported during my summer of transitions. It’s also helped to maintain and grow relationships that began in human interaction – like a few of the people I holidayed with, who I can now keep up with via Twitter. Generally, I feel that Twitter relationships are better quality than Facebook ones. There’s a quality of communication and feedback (particularly on blogging) that I really appreciate and that I find very encouraging.

Something else Becca mentioned was a stat relating to followers and reciprocal following. My understanding (though I may be wrong) is that we are generally only followed by 10% of those that follow us [please correct me if I’m wrong!]. It seems I had got it a bit wrong – in a comment below, Becca says it’s more to do with our capability to have meaningful relationships with 10% of those who follow us. 

Interesting, but I’m not sure that I care. Sure, I’d be annoyed if an actual friend didn’t reciprocate, but I follow who I want to follow because I want to hear what they say. Who am I to impose my own thoughts upon other people who might not want to hear me? Watching a fellow Tweeter complain recently about people they followed who hadn’t followed them back irked me considerably – it is your prerogative who you follow and people shouldn’t get offended by it.

My general rule of thumb when unknowns follow me is that I’ll check out their profile and establish if they seem to tweet stuff I find interesting – if so, I’ll follow them back straight away; sometimes I’ll wait a while and check again when I’m sorting through my followers for bots; other times I’ll follow back after a couple of @ mentions that get me involved in an interesting conversation; sometimes I won’t follow at all – and I don’t feel guilty about it. Life is too short for following too many people. My feed becomes cluttered (and yes, I know I could move to lists via Tweet Deck, but I prefer everyone in one) and it gets unusable – especially if I’m out and about and can only check in infrequently on my phone.

So, those are my thoughts. Maybe next year I’ll get to #cnmac12 and can share them in person (though, knowing my luck, it’ll clash with another residential). In the mean time, I suggest you reflect upon Digital Nun’s thoughts and ponder upon whether you ought to make some changes in the way in which you engage online.

Etiquette is fun and so are children

It’s rare that I’d include something for Friday Fun that’s basically an advert for an opera. Call me uncultured, but I’m really not a massive fan of it. That’s not to say I don’t go (I have a good friend who’s an opera singer and I go faithfully when I’m able), it’s just that given the choice between an evening at Glynebourne and a night at Wicked, well – you know where I’d be. But this little gem is less about the opera and more about how we live our online lives these days:

[If you’re thinking what I was thinking at the end of that video, his name’s Jolyon Rubinstein and he’s on Twitter.]

That gem arrived in my inbox on Monday morning, thanks to a friend who’s giving a talk on intimacy at New Wine next week. Last week he’d asked me if I knew any examples of ridiculous Facebook or Twitter updates where people over-shared. No idea why he thought to ask me…

I could think of a few examples – a friend who had recently shared a rather detailed story of her baby’s birth; a couple who gave each other sex toys via some random Facebook virtual gift service; someone who celebrated their boyfriend’s divorce – I could go on. However, what I sent him instead, was something I’ve been thinking of sharing on here for a while, but needed to be done in a sensitive way.

STFU Parents is a brilliant site. Less crass than Damn You, Auto Correct! and the like, its author actually thinks carefully about the submissions she posts and writes (often hilarious) commentary to go alongside them. The premise is simple: do you have friends who overshare about their children and make everything – even things you post that have nothing to do with children – about their children? If so, this is the place to share such things.

We all have such friends, to a greater or lesser extent (see the birth example I gave above) but honestly, some of the stuff on the site is beyond belief. I’ve been sitting on this for months [i.e. even before it appeared on The Hairpin, Annabelle…] because I didn’t want to offend friends who have children. I like seeing updates about funny things babies and toddlers do, I’m happy to read endless updates about sick children who need prayer, I love a cute photo as much as the next single, female 20 something…but sometimes it just goes a little far. However, I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend post a photo of their child next to a stuffed coyote

Then there’s ‘Mommyjacking’, where Mom’s hijack a non-child related status to make it all about their child (e.g. this innocent post about an incompetent HR department which suddenly becomes a breastfeeding tutorial). Actually, hijacking statuses (statii?) is generally inappropriate – you respond to the content of the post, it’s not a place for a general catch up – am I alone in this? What about photos involving faeces? Just wrong, plain wrong, but so many people share them.

If you have children, or like me, are very young at heart, then you should appreciate the final component of today’s fun: a quiz. Who doesn’t like quizzes? This week the Guardian challenges you on your knowledge of schools in children’s books. I’m loathe to admit that I only got 6/10, but my knowledge of later Jaqueline Wilson is patchy; I’ve not read/watched Charlie & Lola; and I made a tragic Famous Five error…

A lazy list

This week Facebook enforced the latest new profile upon me and tonight, while alone in a hotel room up north, I’ve been exploring it. In doing so I rediscovered a series of notes from a couple of years ago when various memes were making the rounds. Re-posting it here is incredibly lazy, but it vaguely amused me, contains some information you may not know (and some you might) and makes a valuable addition to my ‘about me’ tab.

So, for your edification, here are 25 valuable nuggets of information about yours truly:

1. I was born in Tonga (South Pacific) because my parents were missionaries there.

2. As a result, I have a Tongan middle name: Lesieli (loosely translated means Rachel). My full name in Tongan would be Eisapesi Lesieli Clutterbucki and no, I’m not going to use it.

3. When I was 9 I ran through a plate glass door and shattered it completely. I was left virtually unscathed.

4. I have only been to A&E twice, both times the result of trampolining accidents in 6th form. For several years afterwards my school used me as an example of how not to trampoline.

5. I have never read Lord of the Rings. Or seen the films. I don’t intend to change this.

6. An inordinate number of my closest friends over the years have also been called Elizabeth, probably because it was the Times #1 girls’ name for a couple of decades.

7. I hate trolley cases with a passion. Especially those stupid short ones men tow around. I am filled with dread whenever I’m behind one on an escalator.

8. If I applied myself I think I’d be good at foreign languages. However, I don’t (or didn’t at school) and as a result only remember random and useless phrases, like ‘I can’t hear you, I have a banana stuck in my ear’ in Latin and ‘how wonderful, it’s nearly Christmas’ in Italian. I can also remember all the words to a random Romanian kids worship song – complete with actions.

9. I like to complete sets of things. As a child this was mostly books – Famous 5, Malory Towers, Narnia – now it’s DVD box sets. It can verge on obsessive. My parents made a mistake in giving me the first few books of a 62 book series when I was 8 – it took me 15 years to complete the set.

10. I love broccoli.

11. I will only eat fruit if there is an adequate fruit-to-pip ratio. Therefore grapes with seeds are out, as are mandarins & clementines. Satsumas are fine, but cherries are a bit dodgy.

12. I won’t eat raw tomato. It’s the difference in consistency between the skin & the inside (and the pips). This isn’t an issue with grapes. I never said I was consistent.

13. I have a rather worrying encyclopaedic knowledge of London bus routes.

14. When I was very small, my parents were concerned that I might be a kleptomaniac.

15. I often confuse ‘narcolepsy’ and ‘necrophilia’. I occasionally suffer from the first but never the second.

16. My childhood ambition was to be a Blue Peter presenter. This was briefly replaced by a desire to be Britain’s second female Prime Minister when I was an idealistic teenager. Now I’d like to be a Blue Peter presenter again, but this is unlikely, particularly owing to #4 above.

17. I love useless pieces of information and random facts.

18. My family groans every time I begin a sentence with “Did you know….”.

19. I will eat quiche only when warm. Cold quiche is too reminiscent of church functions.

20. I write an anonymous blog. I’d love to say it was scandalous, but it’s not. It’s also very hard to find (since a friend found it). One day it might become the basis of the novel I’m going write.

21. I choke – on air – frequently. It usually sounds like I’m about to die and people are initially very sympathetic. They soon harden and usually just laugh at me.

22. In my first year at university I took a course entitled “Race, Sex & Slavery: the Western Experience” (it was a social history module). One of the essays I wrote answered the question ‘Why was there a 19th century panic over masturbation’. [If anyone’s interested, I’ve still got a copy.]

23. I seem to fall over too easily, often tripping over my own feet or clothing. I choose to blame this on mild dyspraxia, which may or may not be true.

24. My favourite place on earth is Auckland. I’d be happy to move there if only it wasn’t so far from everywhere else.

25. I love to write…

[Incidentally, as this was written two years ago not all of it remains true. However, I’ll leave you guessing as to what may have changed.]