By John Voelz, author of Follow You Follow Me: Why Social Media is Essential to Ministry
When I jumped into the world of social networking, there weren’t many people talking about the do’s and don’ts. Soon enough, there was a lot “out there” about the don’ts. Few do’s. You can search “social networking do’s and don’ts” on Google and find a lot of advice. Most advice seems to be in regard to building your profile, protecting your brand, and making sure your children are protected.
Let’s talk about some practical do’s and don’ts that deal with the state of our hearts. I’d like to see a conversation where we talk about the decisions we make online in order to better follow Jesus. How are we engaging in conversation online and developing relationships? How are we inviting the Holy Spirit into online conversation and how does he affect our online profile?
Here are my Top 5 of each at this point in my experience:
. . . engage in conversation. Be interested more than interesting.
Carry on conversations via private messages. Ask people how you can pray for them. I like to go through my friend list everyday and ask God who I need to encourage.
. . . argue. Don’t start fights or spend time trying to tell the world how right you are. People who are argumentative in a social networking scenario are loud. The absence of non-verbal communication such as tone and facial expression leave too much room for error. WHEN YOU PRINT IN ALL CAPS we think you’re yelling. Social networking is a hotbed of mockery at times. Don’t make it your soapbox.
. . . be honest. Make sure the online version of you is as close to the real human you are as much as possible. I like to do this by occasionally sharing my struggles and having a bit of self-disclosure.
My friend describes himself as a “Christ Fumbler.” I appreciate that and identify with it.
. . . name drop. It’s okay to mention you are friends with someone from time to time but the constant social networking feed that makes it sound like one is best friends with everyone who is a celebrity is exhausting and off-putting. If you are friends with every cool musician in Los Angeles, just enjoy the free backstage passes. There is a danger inherent in social networking to sound cooler than you actually are. Guilty.
. . . talk about Jesus. Tell how he is working in you. Your failings and victories. Your new discoveries.
. . . post a constant stream of biblical warnings and verses about sin. You are not the sin police and it is not your job to manage the spiritual fallout of people’s choices. Don’t become the new judgmental street preacher. I stop following those who do this so I resist the urge to respond.
. . . share with your husband or wife about conversations you are having “offline” with people because of social networking. Share with your spouse all the individual messages that don’t show up on your public profile. Innocent conversations turn inappropriate with the strike of a key and it is too easy to underestimate the potential damage of beginning inappropriate online relationships. Online conversation makes us feel closer to someone than we actually are. I tell my wife about every conversation she can’t readily see on my Facebook Timeline or Twitter feed. I tell her about every email that becomes conversational with another woman.
. . . do your conflict resolution online. The best way to resolve conflict is face-to-face. There are other ways to communicate (phone, handwritten letter) but communication vehicles diminish in their effectiveness the easier it gets for us to communicate without immediate response or repercussion. Electronic communication leaves too much room for miscommunication. Invite someone to lunch.
. . . set up boundaries for the time you spend online and the places you have online interaction. Think about what you communicate to those around you when you are buried in your laptop or mobile device. If you have permission to utilize social networking while at work, make sure you don’t get carried away by making yourself constantly available to people. There is no right or wrong here necessarily-boundaries are about sensitivity, stewardship, ethics, and responsibility. Figure yours out.
. . . think it doesn’t matter. Don’t underestimate social networking’s power to form people’s opinion. Be careful what you post. It’s the world-wide-web. When you make a comment about a political candidate, remember they have kids and they are real people. Don’t think that avatar doesn’t have a soul. On the other side of the screen is a heart that hurts like yours and longs for peace, restoration, and relationship.