Engagement in social media must occur within an overall communication plan. Parishes and school must discuss and determine the various ways through which the communication occurs. This communications plan does not need to be an official written document. It does need to examine the strengths and weaknesses of different forms of communication. It also needs to recognize that a variety of communication methods must be used within parishes and schools. Social media does not replace the parish bulletin any more than the bulletin should replace personal invitation and conversation.
Parishes and schools need to ask the question, “How will we engage?” Careful consideration should be made to determine the particular strengths of each form of social media (blogs, social networks, text messaging, etc.) and the needs of a ministry, parish, or school. The strengths should match the needs. For instance, a blog post may not be the most effective way to remind students of an event. However, a mass text message to all students and their parents telling them that the retreat begins at 9 a.m. may be very effective.
Because of the high volume of content and sites, and the dynamics of search engines and computer networking, social media require constant input and monitoring to make the Church’s presence effective. To keep members, a social networking site, such as a blog, needs to have new content on a regular basis. In the case of social media, the axiom “build it and they will come” is not applicable. It is important to set internal expectations regarding how often posts will be
made, so that your followers can become accustomed to your schedule.
Social media can be powerful tools for strengthening community, although social media interaction should not be viewed as a substitute for face-to-face gatherings. Social media can support communities in a myriad of ways: connecting people with similar interests, sharing information about in-person events, providing ways for people to engage in dialogue, etc.
A well-considered use of social media has the ultimate goal of encouraging “true friendship” (43rd World Communications Day message ) and of addressing the human longing for meaningful community.
The use of social media should not be restricted to announcements. True community is built on shared understandings and values. Social media can be an effective forum for evangelization and catechesis.
Social media provide tools for building community. Membership in communities also requires accountability and responsibility. Users of social media expect site administrators to allow dialogue, to provide information, and to acknowledge mistakes. The explosion of information available to social media consumers has meant that they often only use information from trusted sites or sites recommended by those whom they trust.
While not every demand or inquiry can be met, it is important that creators and site administrators of social media understand how much social media are different from mass media and the expectations of their consumers. Creators and consumers of mass media generally accept their one-way conversations (letters to the editor being the exception). Social media’s emphasis
is on the word “social,” with a general blurring of the distinction between creators of content and consumers of content. Many communication experts are describing the adaption of social media as a paradigm shift in how humans communicate, a development as important as that of the printing press and the discovery of electronic communication.
When developing guidelines for church personnel to use social media, consider including the following elements:
Establishing a Site
Websites or social networking profile pages are the centerpiece of any social media activity. The following are recommended guidelines for the establishment of a site. These can apply to a profile or fan page on a social networking site such as Facebook, a blog, a Twitter account, etc.
Social Networking with Minors
Be sure to have permission from a minor’s parent or guardian before contacting the minor via social media or before posting pictures, video, and other information that may identify that minor.
Parents must have access to everything provided to their children. For example, parents should be made aware of how social media are being used, be told how to access the sites, and be given the opportunity to be copied on all material sent to their children via social networking (including text messages). While parents should be provided with the same material as their children, it does not have to be via the same technology (that is, if children receive a reminder via Twitter, parents can receive it in a printed form or by an e-mail list).
Church personnel should save copies of conversations whenever possible, especially those that concern the personal sharing of a teen or young adult. (This may be especially important with text messaging.)
Everyone must be aware of the Children’s Online P rivacy Protecti on Act . . . , which is federal legislation that oversees how websites interact with children under age 13.
Personal sites of church personnel should also reflect Catholic values. Parish and Catholic School personnel should be encouraged to understand that they are witnessing to the faith through all of their social networking, whether “public” or “private.”
Parishes and schools may expect their personnel to include a disclaimer on their personal sites. For example: “The views expressed on this site are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.” Even with such a disclaimer Diocese of Belleville Board of Education and teacher contracts apply regarding code of conduct and criticism of the Catholic Church, Diocese of Belleville and parishes and schools within the diocese.
How to Report and Monitor
Parish and school personnel should report unofficial sites that carry the diocesan or parish logo to the catechetical leader or principal. If it is an unofficial diocesan site the catechetical leader or principal must report it to the Office of Education. It is important that the owner (the diocese or the parish) is able to protect its brand and identity.
Diocesan, parish and school personnel should inform their immediate supervisors regarding defamatory, libelous, or slanderous comments—not original postings, but comments—on a site, such as a blog.
Parish and school personnel should contact the Chancellor of the diocese if they find misinformation on a site. This is especially important when responding to an incorrect wiki, such as Wikipedia, Masstimes.org, etc.
Approved: September 20, 2011
Office of Education
Diocese of Belleville