How to Jumpstart Social Media in Your Diocese
I'll admit it. In the past, I've been tough on my diocese's social media policy. I felt it was too strict and overly cautious. The Pope and USCCB have been encouraging us to use new media for years but the Diocese of Orlando seemed to resist it with almost equal force.
And I wasn't alone in that critique. For many months, when you Googled "Catholic social media", the top hit was an article from our local secular newspaper pointing out the limitations of our policy (the article still appears on the first page of results.)
The major problem with the policy was that it discouraged dialogue, defeating the whole purpose and power of social media. Under the old diocesan rules, for instance, a parish or pastor could start a blog, but no comments were allowed. Likewise, Facebook pages were only OK as long as they featured no discussion. The policy made clear that you must "monitor your Facebook profile, page, or group daily and delete all comments from 'friends' and 'fans.'"
But then something changed. The Diocese of Orlando spent several months revising the rules, and eventually changed course. They just launched a fantastic new social media policy. And instead of 'no commenting' and 'no discussion', it says things like:
"The purpose of any [Catholic] social media page is to provide an interactive forum where readers can gather and discuss information about the wide range of issues addressed by the work and mission of the Catholic Church, specifically through the Diocese of Orlando.
Followers are encouraged to post questions, comments, and concerns, but should remember this is a moderated online discussion.
The Diocese of Orlando appreciates healthy, constructive debate and discussion; that means we ask that comments be kept civil in tone and reflect the charity and respect that marks Christian discourse."
That openness to questioning might not seem novel to most folks, but for a Catholic diocese—especially my diocese—this is a huge deal. Whenever I speak on social media the most common objection I hear is, what if people post comments that question or doubt the Church?
And here's what I say: first, assume they will, but second, see it as a great opportunity instead of a problem. Here are people who have deep issues with the Church, issues that will likely never be brought to a priest or parish leader offline. These people won't schedule an appointment with a pastor or bishop to ask why the Church "oppresses women", or "stands against science", or "hates gay people."
Yet they're not shy about discussing these concerns through comment boxes, Twitter, and Facebook. For us, that's huge. That's a unique opportunity to connect with them, help correct their confusions, and lead them one step closer to Christ and his Church. Therefore this questioning is a gift, not a problem, and with their new policy the Diocese of Orlando now recognizes that.
The policy isn't perfect—the language is a bit rigid and even inconsistent at times. For example, section 3.3c—"[You] must avoid debate of Catholic Church teaching."—"seems to conflict with statement 2.5 (quoted here again):
"The Diocese of Orlando appreciates healthy, constructive debate and discussion; that means we ask that comments be kept civil in tone and reflect the charity and respect that marks Christian discourse."
In addition, the rules governing the ways ministry leaders should relate to young people, while understandable in light of the abuse crisis, are still quite stringent:
"Leaders of ministry must say “no” if asked to be a friend on a social media page of a youth (under 18) and should say “no” to parents, parishioners or other individuals who interact with them only through this leadership role."
But overall, after reviewing dozens of diocesan social media policies, I believe that Orlando now has the best, most comprehensive policy I've seen. It strikes the right balance between caution and openness. It encourages conversation while setting needed boundaries around it. It explains how each tool works before governing its use. And it's not too technical for the parish administrator, nor too simplistic for the social media veteran.
In a word, it's prudent. And that's just what you want in a diocesan social media policy. So to Teresa Peterson, Mike Harker, and everyone else who had a hand in preparing it: Great job, and thank you!
If you want your diocese to be social-media-savvy—and when I say "your diocese" I mean institutions *and* individuals—consider creating or revamping your own social media policy. Check out Orlando's for inspiration (and see the USCCB's own social media guidelines, too):
In addition to a new policy, here are two other ways to help jumpstart social media in your diocese:
- Read Chapter 7 in The Church and New Media.
It was written by Scot Landry, Secretary for Catholic Media in the Archdiocese of Boston. No diocese is more adept at social media than Boston. They have super-active accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. They have custom mobile apps. They have several websites for different inititatives. And they have one of the few blogging Cardinals, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who considers digital communications a top priority. In The Church and New Media, Scot shares all the secrets behind their success.
- Bring the Digital Church Conference to your diocese.
One reason the Diocese of Orlando revamped their social media policy was to prepare for the Digital Church Conference they're hosting on December 3.
Matt Warner (Flocknote), Josh Simmons (eCatholic), and I created the Conference for one reason: to help Catholics use new media more effectively. This one-day event features engaging workshops, live demos, helpful question-and-answer sessions, and several take home materials. It's all pre-planned which means you don't have to organize a thing—just bring us out!
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis
"The Internet is relevant to many activities and programs of the Church—evangelization, catechesis, and other kinds of education. Efforts like the Digital Church Conference help us to expand that relevancy and grow in our ability to use new media to spread the Good News."
President of Our Sunday Visitor
"Brandon Vogt, Josh Simmons, and Matt Warner are the best of the best: Catholics with real world experience, a strong sense of mission, and a desire to help their Church. Don't miss the opportunity to get them on your team."
"Why use new media? Because that's where the people are. As Jesus did, we need to speak in a language that they can understand and use familiar media. I hope that the Digital Church Conference will help you learn this new media language and speak it effectively."
If you'd like to bring the Conference to your diocese, pass this on to your Communications Director, Faith Formation department, or diocesan staff. We'd love to help spark your social media revolution.
Does your diocese encourage social media? Does it have a policy?