The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published Social Media Guidelines last month. I was a bit skeptical: while the Church has said a lot about using modern media for communication and evangelizing, the boom in Catholic social media has come from the people in the pews – like the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Facebook page; none of the top-25 Catholic blogs are from official sources.
No focus on SEO. The Guidelines do include some tips for gaining readership, but they focus on behaviors and style, rather than the semi-science of optimizing one’s output for search-engines.
- Know the strengths of each type of social media, and use the one that best matches your communication needs
- “To keep members, a social networking site, such as a blog, needs to have new content on a regular basis,” says the USCCB.
- Be interactive: “Users of social media expect site administrators to allow dialogue, to provide information, and to acknowledge mistakes.”
Online persona. Online discussions can become heated. Even if a post is even-handed or moderate, open comments can descend into name-calling and worse. Church sites can get hit by Google attacks (the Vatican had one last weekend). The USCCB gave advice for developing a wise and effective online persona:
- The Church’s social justice teachings, including the pro-life aspects of those teachings, often elicit unfavorable comments. Some people determine that those topics will not be engaged with on official sites. Others provide guidance on how to engage in dialogue around these topics.
- Post a Code of Conduct for visitors and commenters in a prominent place. Include information on how to report problem posts or comments.
- Be clear about identities: Write in the first person, do not claim to represent the official position unless you are authorized to do so. “Identify yourself,” according to the Guidelines; “do not use pseudonyms or the name of the parish, program, etc., as your identity, unless authorized to do so.”
- Follow the law and netiquette when citing or using material by others.
- The distinction between private and official is not clear in the case of people known to be members or employed by the Church; they need to “understand that they are witnessing to the faith through all of their social networking, whether public or private.”
- A final admonition: “Practice Christian charity.”
For a short document, I was impressed at the breadth of information and the solid pragmatism of the advice. I’m looking forward to seeing more, and more effective, social media presence from official Church sites.
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