Posts tagged ‘facebook’

Social Networking and Congregations

This article by Center for Congregations Information Technology Director Aaron Spiegel appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Congregations magazine.

Social Networking and Congregations

by Aaron Spiegel

A recent YouTube video titled “Social Networking in Plain English” claims networks are only as valuable as the people and connections one can see. If I think about real “friends” and connections in my life this makes perfect sense. The piece goes on to assert that social networking sites help us see the real world connections that are hidden. So, by allowing me to see who my friend’s friends are, I can connect with a broader community than the one I can “see.” Simplistic? Yes, but this is really the essence of social networking.

Social networking sites are a phenomenon. Sites like Facebook, My Space, YouTube, LinkedIn, and others are redefining personal social experiences. They have even redefined the use of the term “friend.” The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future’s 2007 report was titled “Online World as Important to Internet Users as Real World?”and the 2008 study reported that membership in online communities has more than doubled in only three years.

These sites are also changing the way people communicate with their congregations. We see more congregations creating Facebook and LinkedIn groups, using YahooGroups as extensions of congregational communications, and even pastors Twittering (microblogging). To find out what congregations are really doing with social networking we conducted a survey. The results are interesting!

Of the congregations surveyed, only 32 percent reported that they had a Facebook or MySpace page for their congregation. When we asked why, some reported suspicion of the medium and a general lack of knowledge about its purpose. Several commented that clergy won’t support it. Some report that they are still trying to get a functional website up and running (an interesting reminder that we can’t assume all congregations are using even basic technology tools). One of my favorite responses was “My church does not see the need to have a website. They still treat the Internet like it is a novelty.” Interesting, since someone from that church saw this survey and thought it important enough to fill it out! Of the 32 percent who answered that they did use Facebook or MySpace, nearly 60 percent affirmed that it enhanced communications between the congregation and its members.

While 32 percent of congregations reported using these tools, almost 50 percent of those surveyed answered “yes” when asked if the pastor or rabbi has a personal Facebook, MySpace, blog, or other such account. So, while almost half of congregational leaders are using social networking, respondents don’t consider this to be part of the congregation’s communication strategy!

When we asked, “Do you think online social networking enhances or worsens congregation/member relationships?” 90 percent responded that it enhances them. While the use of these tools is far from widespread, the perception that they enhance member-congregation communications is resoundingly positive. One respondent said, “Intuitively, I believe it has the potential to enhance it, but we have no experience to back that. We are working toward exploring this.”

We included blogs in social networking strategies and the survey. Only 26 percent of respondents reported using blogs. We expected more. Those who reported using blogs gave some interesting and varied uses: clergy sermons with commentary, building construction updates, podcasting, a sabbatical travelogue, and personal thoughts from clergy and staff. While I don’t mean to pick on anyone, some responses were downright funny. One commented, “No, but I would like to start one. We are forming a committee to explore maximizing the uses of our church website, and a blog makes sense to me…” Great, another committee! And my favorite, “Most folks here are introverts and writing thoughts down seems redundant.”

There seems to be widespread perception that social networking tools target a certain age group. When we asked, “Does social networking target a specific age group (i.e., next-generation twenty- to thirty-somethings)?” 57 percent of the responses were either “definitely” or “we think so.” “Not sure” accounted for another 21 percent. “No” trailed at a mere 6 percent. Recent data shows a different picture: The average age of Twitter users is between thirty and forty-nine. According to comScore in 2007, the average age of social sites like Facebook and MySpace was twenty-five and trending upward. According to Inside Facebook, the number of users over thirty-five has nearly doubled in the last sixty days (dated March 25, 2009). The fastest growing demographic is women over fifty-five. “The biggest growth in terms of absolute new users over the last six months occurred among users thirty-five to forty-four.” The majority of U.S. Facebook users are now over twenty-five.

Clearly these are not tools for young people, at least not anymore.

I understand the reluctance of congregations to venture into the world of social networking. Caution is certainly warranted—but I don’t think we can wait too long. People are spending large amounts of their time in the virtual world. We need to be there to greet them!

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is the information technology director of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations.

Congregations, 2009-07-01

Summer 2009, Number 3

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July 8, 2009 at 8:26 pm Leave a comment

Social Networking and Congregations Survey

(This survey and article originated at www.centerforcongregations.org )
 
Thanks to all who participated in our survey on social networking and congregations. The response was great, and the results are interesting! So, numbers first.We received 175 responses, most of which were from congregations in Indiana. While the survey was open to anyone anywhere, most of the ‘advertising’ was to congregations in our service area. I did solicit feedback from my social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Some of those folks took the survey as well as provided some interesting observations and feedback. 
 
Here’s the data:
 
Does your congregation have a MySpace or Facebook group?
Answer Options Response Frequency
Yes 31.6%
No 68.4%
 
If ‘no’ to question 1, why not?
Answer Options Response Count
  110
answered question 110
skipped question 65
 
If ‘yes’ to question 1, does it enhance communications between the congregation and members?
Answer Options Response Frequency
Yes 40.6%
We think so but not sure 17.2%
We don’t think so 3.1%
No 7.8%
We really don’t know yet 31.3%
 
Does social networking tarket a specific age group (i.e. next generation, 20-30 somethings)?
Answer Options Response Frequency
Definitely 21.3%
We think so 35.5%
Not sure 20.6%
Probably not 6.4%
No 16.3%
 
Does your congregation use YahooGroups or something similar to host online conversations?
Answer Options Response Frequency
Yes 12.4%
No 87.6%
 
Does your congregation have a blog(s)?
Answer Options Response Frequency
Yes 25.9%
No 74.1%
 
Do any congregational leaders (pastor, rabbi, staff, etc.) use their own Facebook, MySpace, YahooGroups, blog, etc. to communicate with the congregation?
Answer Options Response Frequency
Yes 41.7%
No 48.8%
Not sure 9.5%
Other (please specify)
 
Do you think online social networking enhances or worsens congregation/member relationships?
Answer Options Response Frequency
Enhances 89.7%
Worsens 10.3%
Why?
 

The data is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the comments. We’ll look at each individually.

Question 1: Does your congregation have a MySpace or Facebook group? Yes – 32%, No – 68%. Most responded no. The comments for this question ranged from ‘the youth group(s) have one’ to ‘lack of technical knowledge’ to ‘we’re thinking about it.’ Several commented they’ve created a Facebook or MySpace group but no one uses it.

Question 2: If ‘no’ to question 1, why not? The reponses for this question were wide ranging. Some report suspicion of the medium and a general lack of knowledge about its purpose or advantage. Several commented that clergy won’t support it. Some report they’re still trying to get a functional website up and running.

One of my favorite responses was “My church does not see the need to have a website. They still treat the internet like it is novelty.” Interesting, since someone from that church saw this survey and thought it important enough and was interested enough to fill it out! Many saw social networking as something to ‘keep up with,’ like maintaining a website. They reported a lack of administrative capacity to do this. One reported, “We’re probably not techie or hip enough.” Finally, several gave age as a barrier – average membership is ‘too old’ to use these tools.

Question 3: If ‘yes’ to question 1, does it enhance communications between the congregation and members? Most of the answers were affirmative – either yes or we think so – 58%. The next highest category was ‘we really don’t know.’ One can presume then that those who use Facebook or MySpace believe it helps with congregational communications.

Question 4: Does social networking target a specific age group (i.e. next generation, 20-30 somethings)? ‘Definitely’ and ‘we think so’ accounted for 57% of the responses – followed by not sure (21%). ‘No’ trailed at a mere 6%. This didn’t surprise me – there’s a general sentiment that social networking is targeted at younger people. However, statistics don’t support this contention.

Comments regarding the range of targeting was all over the place. Many said it targeted college students. Others claim the target audience is high schoolers. Some acknowledged that they have seen a wide range of users on these services – “I’m in my mid 40’s and I’m on Facebook.  I have Facebook friends of all ages.” Another was so specific as to say, “This is by and for 20s and 30s, especially 30s, urban workers in an urban church with a dominant member base of suburbanites. Part of the ‘re-urbanization’ of the church, whose ministries are focused on the downtown area, especially the homeless.”

Question 5: Does your congregation use YahooGroups or something similar to host online conversations? Yes – 12%, No – 88%. Some reported use of listservs and email groups, but by and large reporting followed in line with Facebook and MySpace use.

Question 6: Does your congregation have a blog(s)? Yes – 26%, No – 74%. The ‘yes’ number was higher than I’d expected. While congregations aren’t using secular social networking tools, many have realized that members want more than one-way delivery of information (traditional websites). The blog uses were varied and creative; building construction updates, clergy sermons with commentary, podcasting, sabbatical travelogue, and personal thoughts from clergy and staff.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone but some responses were downright funny. “No, but I would like to start one.  We are forming a committee to explore maximizing the uses of our church website, and a blog makes sense to me…” Great, another committee! And my favorite, “Most folks here are introverts and writing thoughts down seems redundant.”

More than a few reported blogs were in the works for 2009.

Question 7: Do any congregational leaders (pastor, rabbi, staff, etc.) use their own Facebook, MySpace, YahooGroups, blog, etc. to communicate with the congregation? Yes – 42%, No – 49%, Not sure – 9%. Wow! So while almost half of congregational leaders are using social networking, respondents don’t consider this to be part of the congregation’s communication strategy?!

Question 8: Do you think online social networking enhances or worsens congregation/member relationships? Enhances – 90%, worsens – 10%. By far, the answers to this question surprised me the most. Previous responses showed a clear trend against using social networking, either from suspicion, lack of interest or simply inability. However, the overwhelming numbers of respondents clearly believe these tools enhance congregational relationships.

These answers were summed up by one respondent who reported, “Intuitively, I believe it has the potential to enhance it, but we have no experience to back that.  We are working toward exploring this.” Well, so are we! Stay tuned for part 2 of this report where we explore the trends in social networking tools.

Aaron Spiegel

February 3, 2009 at 7:54 pm Leave a comment


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