A How-To on Outreach Online
Although Friends enjoy singing “This Little Light of Mine,” it seems as though we have a tendency to “hide it under a bushel” anyway.
Early Friends made use of the printing press, the latest technology available to them to spread their message. Today that latest technology is social media, though how many local meetings and Friends churches are making use of it? My own meeting, Adelphi (Md.) Meeting, started a Facebook page only this year, when I wanted to run ads for our annual strawberry festival. Some meetings in my area have a Facebook page or a Facebook group or both, and some have neither. Other forms of social media are even rarer.
What is the difference between a Facebook page and a Facebook group? If you’ve used other online communication, you’ll notice it as the difference between your homepage and your discussion listserv. On Facebook pages, you post things you hope will be shared far and wide, for example, events like my meeting’s strawberry festival. Facebook groups, on the other hand, are for chatter: you might let others know who’s in the hospital or ask if anyone accidentally took home your casserole dish after the potluck. Since I want to talk about online outreach specifically, I’ll only focus on Facebook pages.
Why should you care about Facebook? There are 1.3 billion people on Facebook; there will be a fair number within close proximity of your meetinghouse. Facebook event advertising can be focused on people who are within the surrounding ten miles. Should you want to reach out to an underserved population with a word of encouragement, you could do that! Imagine being able to tell your local lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans/queer community that you love them after a tragedy like this summer’s Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida (I did).
How can a meeting’s Facebook page be effective? First, you need to post frequently. Daily posting is the gold standard but if you only manage weekly, that’s fine. We’re mostly volunteers, so find some assistance!
An idea that I heard at Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) annual sessions was for the yearly meeting to create posts and then share them with the monthly meetings. It then would show up on the monthly meeting’s Facebook page. This tactic only partially works, as the local meeting’s commentary will be lost upon resharing by individual Facebook users. Friends of those individual users would only see the yearly meeting’s commentary. Therefore, pages should focus on original content from the monthly meetings.
Just because a Facebook user has liked your meeting’s page doesn’t mean users will see everything you post in their personal feed. Videos often get the most views; you can livestream events or adult religious education, or share videos from YouTube. Images come next in Facebook’s algorithm determining what is and isn’t shared, followed by plain old text. It’s good to have an image in just about everything you post.
Facebook’s recent changes make text posts by individuals rank higher than text posts by pages. Pages whose posts you’ve interacted with more show up in your feed more often, as your friends will see when you interact with posts. If you want to help others see what Quakers are doing, interact by clicking the Facebook like button, typing a comment, or sharing the post.
Are you going to your meetinghouse for an event? When you get there, open the Facebook app and check in to your meeting’s page. You can write something about what’s going on and tag the friend who came with you so that the post will show for their friends too. If your meetinghouse has a device called a Facebook Bluetooth beacon, the meeting’s page should appear as soon as you open the Facebook app, offering information about your meeting.
If you want to post about a planned activity at the meetinghouse, type the at sign, @, followed by your meeting’s name. If you’ve already liked the page, a link will be created from your post to your meeting’s page. Sweet!
Instagram is owned by Facebook but has a different audience. While fewer high school and college students are using Facebook, Instagram reaches that younger demographic. Instagram is only for images and occasionally videos. Should your meeting have an Instagram account? Maybe. Should shutterbugs use Instagram? Yes.
Using Instagram for outreach requires good captions. You can tell an entire story with your picture. Look around your meeting. Who’s done something unusual as part of their Quaker witness? Has anyone risked safety or comfort in service to a cause? Take a photo of that person with something related to the action; tell the story in the caption. You can add hashtags (words preceded by a pound sign) to help others find the story; you might want to include hashtags such as #Quakers, #SocialJustice, #Testimony, #Peace, and #NoWar. Maybe meetings around the world could agree to do this and add #QuakerStories.
If you’re taking photos of an event or its preparation at your meetinghouse, remember to tag your city, county, and any nearby college campus. Find the popular tag for your community by searching variations on the name in Instagram and comparing the number of results. I found that #CollegePark can apply to several states, but #CollegeParkMD means the area near our meetinghouse (don’t worry about capitalization on hashtags, as it doesn’t matter).
Twitter is more useful at the national level or regional level. Friends Committee on National Legislation has had great luck with using it to reach out to members of Congress and American Friends Service Committee shows up frequently with news articles in Twitter.
Twitter is better for conversations between individuals. There’s a limited amount of space for each tweet (a Twitter post), but if you reply to your own tweets they will display together as a comment thread and you’ll be able to tell a longer story. It’s also common to discuss the goings-on at an event by using Twitter. At this year’s Baltimore Yearly Meeting annual sessions, I tweeted select bits of the plenary address by Christina Repoley, executive director of Quaker Voluntary Service.
On any given day, you can find a cadre of Friends posting on Twitter using the #Quakers hashtag (along with a few people talking about oatmeal). We discuss our faith; we link to articles; we ask questions; we discuss history.
If you want people to tweet about an event such as annual sessions, it’s a good idea to designate a hashtag for the event. For Baltimore’s sessions, we used #BYM345; Central Yearly Meeting recently used #CYM2016. You can put a sign in a common area like the registration desk to publicize the hashtag.
Resources for Outreach Committees
If you want to make compelling images for social media, I’d recommend that you check out Canva (canva.com). It has a ton of templates that let you edit text, change images and colors, and add a meeting logo. You can even learn about design with its free and paid lessons.
You can find free images to use from stock photo websites. You can also go to search.creativecommons.org, which lets you search Google, Flickr, and many other websites for photos that are already licensed for reuse.
If you need ongoing guidance, it’s not a problem. There are church social media chats on Twitter (I’d recommend #chsocm at tchat.io/rooms/chsocm) and on Facebook (join the Church Communications group at facebook.com/groups/churchcomm). Here users can ask questions about strategy and share resources. After finding that people in these groups tend to be perplexed by unprogrammed Friends practices (We let entire committees make decisions? We don’t have a pastor to decide things for us?), I started a specifically Quaker communications and outreach group (facebook.com/groups/QuakerComms), so we can ask each other questions.
I also recommend checking out the book The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould. Though it’s not specifically for Friends, it’s full of good tips (just as Liberal Friends are accustomed to translating each other’s language for God or the Divine, you can find ways to translate the advice for Friends’ use). Also, of course, check out what other Quaker meetings, churches, and organizations are doing online. New England Yearly Meeting and Quaker Voluntary Service both post regularly and have great social media.