Where can you find more than two billion people engaged in conversation? On the three most popular social media sites — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — according to Inside Facebook.
It’s no surprise that ministries are utilizing ways social media can help them, whether by improving communication with parishioners, increasing participation in fundraisers or furthering organizations’ mission.
Facebook especially has become part of people’s daily lives. The site is a virtual photo album — last year, more than 250 million photos were uploaded daily, according to social media consultant Jeff Bullas. People use Facebook to listen to music — as of 2012, more than 210,000 years of music had been played on-site, according toGizmodo.com. Facebook is also a hub for the exchange of news and ideas.
Businesses have profited from Facebook by creating a presence on the site. In 2012, 77 percent of B2C companies and 43 percent of B2B companies acquired customers from Facebook, according to business2community.com. More than 1 million websites have integrated with Facebook, making it nearly impossible to go anywhere on the Internet without seeing the site’s logo, according to Uberly.com.
Holy Name Province and 33 of its ministries have a presence on Facebook. Out of those 34 entities, 12 of them also maintain a presence on other social media sites, such as Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Instagram. The Province began using Twitter in 2009 and Facebook three years ago. Since February 2010, the number of followers on the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province Facebook page has steadily increased to more than 1300.
Supplement to the Parish Bulletin
Some ministries use Facebook as a supplement to parish bulletins, posting news and events throughout the week.
“Our Facebook page tends to be mainly communication from us to our people, but social media also gives them the chance to comment and ‘like’ things,” said Joseph Nuzzi, pastoral associate at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City.
Gonzalo de Jesus Torres-Acosta, OFM, said he has had a positive experience using Facebook to share parish news with the Latino community of St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J.
“I was surprised to find so many people using Facebook, especially parishioners,” Gonzalo said. “They might not read the weekend bulletin, but they all use Facebook. Facebook is a good way to share news and invite people to the church’s events.”
St. Mary’s Parish has found social media especially useful in communicating with their youth ministry.
“Social media is quickly becoming our main avenue of communication with the youth,” said Frank Sevola, OFM,pastor of St. Mary’s. The youth ministry has a separate own Facebook page, which is used to share upcoming events and photos. The ministry also uses Instagram, a popular photo-sharing application.
The Young Adult Ministry at St. Francis of Assisi Parish on West 31st Street uses Facebook’s ‘groups’ feature to plan upcoming events and schedule meetings.
“I think for the younger crowd, Facebook is just something they expect to see,” Nuzzi said.
Furthering the Parish Mission
Some ministries have used social media to help encourage donations during fundraising campaigns. In Raleigh, N.C., St. Francis of Assisi Parish used Facebook to encourage donations during a turkey drive. In Facebook posts, the parish thanked individuals who donated turkeys, which inspired comments and more donations from parishioners.
“As we approached our goal and needed only a few more turkeys, everyone seemed to want to be the one to make a difference,” said Diogenes Ruiz, communications specialist at the Raleigh parish. “Ultimately, we exceeded our goal and collected 187 turkeys.
“Use Facebook, Twitter and any other social media tools strategically,” he advises. “They each have a role to play in marketing and fulfilling the overall mission of the organization.”
Philadelphia resident William DeBiase, OFM, a member of the Province’s Ministry of the Word, is using his personal Facebook account to promote the sermons he films and posts on his blog, Franciscan. His audience is spread all over the world. Yesterday, he created a new page named Fr. Bill, which has already accumulated 60 ‘likes’ or fans.
“I was surprised that I could sit in the comfort of my room, press two buttons, and be in contact with people in Japan, Australia and Singapore,” he said. William has used social media for five years and received over 9,000 hits on his blog. “I am sure this is not a world record, but it is still 9,000 people … that I would not have spoken to without the wonders of modern technology.”
Tips from Social Media Users
As the use of Facebook and other social media tools has grown, so too has the knowledge of their users.
Once, someone told Daniel Horan, OFM, that he thought blogging and Facebook were egocentric, prompting a discussion.
“His point was, I presume, that posters to Facebook and Twitter, for example, actually anticipate or believe others care about the minutiae of his or her day,” Daniel said. “However, the brilliance of social media is that it is consumer-driven — people sign up and ‘follow’ the people and organizations that they elect to follow. There is a demand for a given stream of information and therefore there is a following, whether large or small.
“What this person misunderstood was that it is not about the producer of the information, but rather the people who wished to ‘consume’ or receive the updates,” added Dan who maintains several Facebook pages and a blog.
Friars and ministry leaders around the Province have noticed patterns in how to best attract not only readers but interaction. Facebook and Twitter work best when users share what they read, said Jocelyn Thomas, communications director for Holy Name Province.
“The value of social media is not only the speed with which it enables news to be announced but the way users can tell their friends, relatives and colleagues about the news,” Thomas said. “When our office notices that a photo or post has been shared or even ‘liked’ on Facebook, we know the news is being communicated almost exponentially.”
Posting relevant content and eye-catching photos has proven essential to effective social media use.
“Don’t post minutiae on Facebook and Twitter,” Ruiz advised. “People don’t care that a ministry leader just got an office chair. Post about things that matter to fulfilling the parish’s mission.”
With over 42 million pages on Facebook, ministries need to be creative to catch the attention of their audiences.
“Remember the seven-second rule. If you don’t capture their attention in seven seconds, then the reader is apt to move on,” said Mary Giardini, communications and development services coordinator at Mt. Irenaeus in West Clarksville, N.Y. “Social media sites are designed to give you that “in your face” pop and let you move on. The author has to maximize that time.”
To attract that attention, Mt. Irenaeus’s staff frequently posts photos to Facebook. Many other ministries do the same.
“I have found the best way to draw people to the page is with pictures,” said Susan Cinquemani, a member of the mission advancement team at St. Anthony of Padua School in Greenville, S.C. “We provide a narrative, but the photo usually tells the best story.”
The Franciscan Vocation Ministry of Holy Name Province carefully tailors Facebook content to be of interest to the page’s target audience — young males interested in Franciscan life.
“We try to do timely updates on vocation and formation events, HNP events, holy days, feast days and the like,” vocation director Brian Smail, OFM, said. “We try to use informal language and pose questions to draw visitors in and engage them in conversation.”
John Anglin, OFM, a Ministry of the Word friar stationed in St. Petersburg, Fla., advises social media users to have a clear goal in mind when creating posts and Tweets.
“I post on Facebook things related to my ministry, things of interest that I come across and major events in my family. I stay away from trivia and extreme political comments,” said John in an informal survey of social media users conducted by the HNP Communications Office. In addition to being on Facebook and Twitter, John runs a blog. “On Twitter, I strictly post religious messages and follow people of the same ilk. Twitter can become easily silly and trivial if you’re not careful.”
Consistency is also key, according to Linda DiPietro, administrative assistant of the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia, Athens.
“Dedicate resources to maintain and update social media frequently or the audience will shrink, not grow,” DiPietro said. “Also, monitor what is being submitted by others to make sure the message is appropriate and to watch for posts that require a response or removal.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. The HNP Communications Office welcomes social media users to share their comments.