On Monday, I posted the first part of my address to the URC Pastor’s Conference on “Blogs, Facebook, and the Flock: What is the relationship between social media and the local pastorate?” Part 1: Be Positive. Yesterday was Part 2: Be Intentional.Today is Part 3: Be Sociable. Of course, much of this is applicable to non-pastors too.

In 6 Tips for the Social Media Loudmouth, Christian social media expert, Nathan Bingham, says:

Remember, social media—by definition—is intended to be social. Social media is in many respects akin to an online dinner party or market square of ideas and dialogue. So whether you’re an organisation, business, church, ministry, or an individual, if you want to use social media well you’re going to have to be social, present, listening.

If social media is sociable, that means:

1. Make it two-way
Don’t be just a broadcaster. Follow others, comment on others, interact with others, reply to others, encourage others. Erik Qualman said: “You will attract more followers digitally in two days than you will in two months if you show interest in them versus trying to get them interested in you.”

2. Reveal
One area that requires a bit of trial and error is how much to reveal about your own personal life or church life. Some let it all hang out, while others prefer to be a “Reformed Robot,” a stoical humanoid like Dr. Spock. This is something I’ve found very hard to get right, and I’ve probably tended to err on the privacy side of things.

In face-to-face conversation, we don’t just talk theology. Rather, we usually reveal a bit about ourselves and expect others to do the same. Transparency and honesty builds relationship and trust. Ed Stetzer testifies that “on countless occasions, young pastors have thanked me for blogging and tweeting about my family and how I prioritize them. Many listen more readily to me because they feel they know me already.”

However, also consider the impact on your family. Not just baby scans, but pregnancy tests, nappy and potty pictures are now routinely shared online. In Parents, do you think before you post? Jen Wilkins suggests “imagining a 13-year-old version of them reading over your shoulder.” “Ask yourself,” she says, “Does it provide short-term gratification for you or honor long-term relationship with them?” Tell your story without compromising theirs. Same goes for your congregational details. Not everything is for everyone.

3. Add value.
As in all social situations, ask, “What can I add to people’s lives?” rather than just adding to the hub-bub and noise. Some easy options for pastors to get started in blogging are sermon summaries, sermon snippets, or sermon discussions. Or you could try a reading plan where you work through a book in an online community. You could write historical or theological articles, or you could make it more practical, evangelistic, or topical.

Even when you do find your niche, it’s a good idea to break the mold from time to time. Just as you do in ordinary conversation, mix it up by varying frequency, length, and subjects of posts, Tweets, and updates. Experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.

4. Learn from experts.
Again, as in ordinary social life, we learn from people we admire. In The Digital Leader, Erik Qualman wrote:

Determine a digital leader you admire. Spend at least 20 minutes a day watching his or her activity. Pay attention to: Who is he conversing with? What topics does she post and in what tone? Why does he post? When does she post? Where does he post and what tools or sites does he use? The best digital mentor is generally someone that is in your industry or shares similar interests—someone that you find intriguing. Learn from these mentors and practice what they are doing.

The three men I’ve learned the most from, and continue to do so, are Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, and Nathan Bingham.

5. Be accountable
We’ve all driven home from social occasions with a silent wife (or husband). “Okay,” you eventually ask, “What did I do/say wrong this time?” Similarly we need loving accountability in our social media use. In A Social Media Heart Check Tim Challies explains how you can access all your Facebook activity at a glance – what you’ve seen, people you’ve searched for, comments left, things “liked,” etc. He suggests sitting down with your wife and reviewing this regularly. And with all your social media he proposes the following questions:

  • Ask for input from family, friends, elders. What impression am I creating. Is it real, helpful?
  • Am I “present” when I am present?
  • Am I stoking controversy or making peace?
  • Am I using this as a diversion to avoid real problems, real people, real world?
  • Am I modeling and mentoring by my social media presence and practice?
  • Am I taking a regular digital Sabbath, a weekly time of unplugging, and maybe even a digital fast for longer periods to allow spiritual growth?

Be positive, be intentional, and be sociable. And you’ll be a blessing to many.