Blog-alogue Fifth Question: Models for Social Media?

by Jim Manney

Meredith,

Easter greetings!  I wish you the joy of the season.

In this blog-alogue we’ve talked about “why” of social media, and last time you described some of the tools–the “how.”  Now I’d like to ask about “where.”  Can you point us to organizations that have used social media  particularly well?  I’m especially interested in places where it’s used to build a community among people with common spiritual interests.

Jim

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Jim,

And also with you! (Yes, I plan to continue responding this way . . . indefinitely!)

Social media has been around for less than a decade and many organizations are still in the throes of figuring out how to use it to build community. The ones that succeed, are those that recognize and honor time-tested principles of community organizing and development.

Not every group will become a community. Common interests might be necessary, but are not a sufficient reason for a community to emerge. Communities emerge when interaction among members is personal and ongoing.  I’ve observed how this holds true when individuals form groups online. I’ve also observed, with no shortage of  sociological glee, how social media enhances the speed with which interaction becomes personal, heartfelt, and ongoing.

Organizations that use social media particularly well to build community will:

  • carefully assess which social media tools would work best for the group they hope will become a community, and then choose one as the primary location for community development.
  • focus on generating and sustaining conversation, rather than broadcasting content on that primary location.
  • use community managers to support and encourage community development.
  • experiment with different ways to generate involvement, quickly ditching whatever doesn’t work.

Here are specific examples of social media-based communities that have emerged among people with common spiritual interests.

  • People for Others is a blog that will be familiar to dotMagis readers. I’m not being gratuitous! You can see how a community has emerged over time by studying the comments.  I believe has happened because Paul Campbell engages with readers in his posts and responds to comments about his posts. Also notice the level of interaction between readers, separate from their interaction with Paul.  Notice how many exchanges are expressions of concern, care, friendship, and support, rather than cerebral exchanges about content.  And I know for a fact that readers have reached out to one another via phone, email, and other social media as a result of meeting on this blog.  I’m the grateful recipient of this grace.
  • #Unco12 is the Twitter hashtag for an annual “unconference.”  Now in its third year, this ecumenical event emerged as a result of individuals chatting on Twitter about faith and church. Thanks to Twitter’s capacity for near-real-time interaction, this group quickly morphed into a community during conference planning. The hashtag and live streaming during the conference  makes it possible for anyone to participate, even if not physically attending. Twitter makes it possible for community members to stay in ongoing (and often rollicking) interaction in between conferences.  Again, I know for sure participants reach out to one another in between conferences via phone, email, and other social media. I’ve never attended a conference in person, but consider this a significant community of spiritual support…on Twitter!
  • Lent Madness 2012, which just finished, is a blog-based event that attracted more than 50,000 participants to the fun of learning about and voting for saints à la March Madness. It started a few years ago as the brainchild of Episcopal priest, Tim Schenck who, this year, collaborated with Executive Director of Forward Movement, Episcopal priest, Scott Gunn.  Community emerged on this blog and Facebook page within days as voters began engaging with one another in the comments box.  Notice the good-natured rivalry.  At first glance, Lent Madness seems to be a situational, temporary community, but I believe it will prove more durable.  Already a countdown widget for Lent Madness 2013 has been posted. Full disclosure: I was among the eight invited “Celebrity Bloggers” and not to brag (too much), but Mary Magdalene did end up winning the Golden Halo.
  • CatholicMom.com is essentially a group blog founded by Lisa Hendey long before social media was invented. I include this site because of the way Lisa has so fully embraced social media. Notice how social media buttons are featured right at the top, then click through to see how each social media tool is used support content and conversation on the site. Lisa is a community manager par excellence who, over the years, has hosted bloggers who have in turn created communities within the CatholicMom.com community itself.

I’m sure another social media enthusiast would come up with different examples, but I hope we’d agree that communities don’t get established by fiat. Individuals form groups and sometimes those groups become communities.  Social media helps move the process along, but that shouldn’t stop us from praying, “God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.”  Can I get an amen?

Meredith

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Jim Manney

Senior Editor at Loyola Press
Jim Manney is a popular writer on Ignatian topics (God Finds Us, A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer) as well as the editor of many books on Ignatian spirituality, including What Is Ignatian Spirituality? He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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April 12, 2012

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