Blog-alogue Fifth Question: Models for Social Media?


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.




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.
  • 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 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?


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Jim Manney
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is What Matters Most and Why. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  1. I have been involved with UNCO since 2010 and our first gathering of 30 or so folks. UNCO started as a tweet-up and has grown into an open source event of over 100 folks in two cities this year.
    I know some are doubtful of the power of social media to truly connect. They feel that it further separates individuals and causes them to tune out in person relationships for a relationship with their ‘devices.’
    My experience has been just the opposite. Social media had brought the UNCO community together and even gave us the desire to meet in person and communicate in other channels besides Facebook and Twitter. The community prays and walks with one another through the joys and struggles of life.
    Thanks for sharing this article Meredith and thanks for mentioning the UNCO community.
    Want to learn more:

    • Chris: Thanks for sharing your experience with UNCO, reinforcing how the online engagement led to the (physical) conference. The community does indeed pray and walk through joys and struggles together. Over the years I’ve valued the privilege of first observing and then participating in conversations with the UNCO community. Big tent = big heart.

  2. Meredith – thank you for your inclusion of on your list! I never could have imagined that what one mom started with an AOL account and an outdated version of Microsoft Frontpage could turn into the vibrant entity that I now have the joy of overseeing. So many of our contributors are fantastic authors — I feel blessed to have the chance to read and share their work every day. It’s definitely the Holy Spirit, guiding us and opening up opportunities for growth and more service.

    • Glad you mentioned AOL, Lisa. The chat rooms of AOL and CompuServe, bulletin boards, and IM applications were precursors of social media platforms we have today. You and others like you had the vision to build community with those tools. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was involved.

    • You would’ve been on it for your Facebook community building, but I knew that if I started mentioning individuals (other than Paul), I’d quickly find myself in deep … trouble.

      • I’m just getting to know “People for Others” and Fr. Paul… wonderful blog & community. I wish I had time to blog all day! I understand how you can’t, Meredith, but I’m going to mention Fr. James Martin, SJ Facebook and Twitter ministry. It has changed my life! Not only do I get spiritual nourishment there, but I have a network of Catholic friends who delight me with their comments and stories. I think we support one another in our spiritual journies and our justice making. There are some people who use the internet as a way of venting their anger, and that saddens me… because I think it exhausts evangelists like Fr. Jim trying to keep up with deleting inappropriate posts. I noticed Fr. Edward Beck is struggling with that, too. Just getting to know him; he seems like a wonderful priest. There are more “ad hominem” comments on his site, I think… maybe because he doesn’t want to delete them… or doesn’t have the time. This is Fr. Jim’s funny article about the issue:

        • That is an incredibly humorous article but also a very sad commentary on our society. I have to admit that I did laugh out loud. Thanks for directing us to it.

        • Thank you, Sara, for understanding! Jim Martin’s work is certainly at the top of a long list of fine Catholic teachers (Jesuits and others!!) and I’m delighted his work has been life changing for you. I treasure my copy of his book, My Life With the Saints.
          Re: deleting comments. I’m currently in favor of just letting all the nasty stuff hang out there for everyone to see. I find it nauseatingly instructive about how fractured/damaged the Body has become. Back in 2009, I went a little nuts about this on my personal blog in a post titled, “Christian Love Abiding. Not.”

          • Well yes and most of us would simply consider the source. Life is not all happy happy joy joy and dissenters will always be with us. They have something to offer too even if it does not fit the religious paradigm, after all, we are supposed to look at a person’s soul, not what their mouth does. If God looked only at our behaviour the world would have ended eons ago.

    • Fran, I’ll have to go hunting for your Facebook community building! Thanks so much for offering to help me with my question about my linking to my blog (earlier… I think last week). I’ll be e-mailing you… maybe next weekend, since this one is packed. I want to take some time to try to figure out what I can by myself.

  3. Amen…loud and proud to Meredith! all of the contributors to this Ignatian Lenten Adventure…please accept the heartfelt gratitude of this resurrected soul. Peace..deep and abiding to you all!

  4. And I’m back! I toyed with the idea of listing a few sites to illustrate how community is not — and probably won’t — emerge because most of the comments are negative potshots at the writer and other readers. Obviously, I ditched that idea, trusting that anyone reading dotMagis already knows that approach to social media doesn’t work!


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