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Day 13: Community on Twitter? Really?

Building community over Twitter is hard. I have been tweeting now for almost half a month (yeah, well when you’re my age, that’s like dog years) and I am still having a hard time seeing community--oh, I've read people who say it's there--but I haven't seen it. In fact, I feel more like an outsider looking into other people’s fun lives. For instance, a couple of tweeters got engaged the other day and announced it on Twitter. It was really cute and as the congratulations came scrolling in (I almost sent one myself) I had to remind myself--I don’t know these people—at all! I am just a lonely follower who found their names on my Twitter recommended list and thought their picture or their screen name looked nice. As lovely as that is, is it community?  Is it the basis for community? Is it a small glimmer of community shining through a glass darkly?

According to David Hansen, blogger and frequent tweeter, Twitter is made up of “a group of stranger-friends” where we “offer one another mutual support and prayer. We mourn together, seek advice together, and rejoice together. I consider this community.” As much as I yearn for that, I simply don’t see it flourishing in my experiences, each made up of 140 characters.  According to Elizabeth Drescher, author of Tweet if you heart Jesus (and also a twitter “friend”), the power of social media is in the social aspect—not the broadcast aspect. It is when we share with others about our days or our thinking that we build the stepping stones of relationship. While that sounds SO compelling, the closest thing to an “interpersonal conversation” I have had is when someone told me I simply didn’t understand how to use Twitter. Those 140 characters cut me like a virtual knife--but at least he talked to me.

David Hansen asks an interesting question: “is being ‘face-to-face’ really the most important common denominator for community?”  After spending countless Sunday mornings talking to people who I know as well as my formless twitter friends, I would have to say "no", relationship-building is clearly the most important part of building community. When you don’t spend time interacting with one another, whether online or face to face, community won’t work. But, my bottom-line problem is that I haven’t figured out how Twitter works as “interaction”. It seems more hopelessly one-way and broadcast-based than Facebook.

So here I am.  Frustrated and skeptical of those who preach the gospel of ministry and love through Twitter. I want to believe. I really do.  I want to be a Twitter cheerleader, an agent of change, a virtual lover of all things new, but after “following” every person I know in real life and trying to “talk” with my new formless Twitter friends who don’t have a clue who I am, I am tired.  So if you happen to read this and DO feel community on Twitter, please talk to me. Tell me what it takes. Tell me what to do before I become a Twitter drop out.


Day 6: Search Engine Optimization (or getting more than 10 people to read your blog)

Blogging takes a lot of time and I am pretty sure writing 30 blogs in 30 days was not the best idea I’ve ever had.  The question I find myself continually asking is the same one I started with.  Can anyone hear me?  I routinely post each blog link to Facebook & Twitter, but let’ s face it; my friends are busy and my followers live cluttered lives.  Not too many of them actually read my blog.  So how do I get my name out there and get my content read by more than just my mom?

One answer is SEO or search engine optimization.  Now, true SEO is way beyond my novice blog.  I have students who work on SEO and even though I see their mouths moving, I never know exactly what they are saying.  Rookie SEO, however, is all about getting Google to notice. For instance, I Google the exact name of one of my blog posts.  After looking through 10 pages, I quit—Google doesn’t know who I am.  According to the experts, the real key is to get other websites to link to your site.  The better the website, the higher the rank in Google’s algorithm.

Sounds easy, right? All I need is to get Christianity Today to link to my blog, and I should start seeing traffic increase. Oh, wait.  That’s right. Christianity Today doesn’t care about me or my link. So what are other ways to get linked? One way is to leave comments on stories related to your blog or your product.  While comments left all over the web may actually decrease your ranking, it makes sense to comment on the articles or blogs that actually relate.  This accomplishes 2 things.  It will impact your SEO and people will start to notice your name.  One thing I have found is that the community of people who blog & tweet about certain topics is usually a fairly small bunch.  It doesn’t take too long that, with a little work, you can be part of the club. Once you are part of the club, people will link to you because they like you.

According to blogger Susan Gunelius, it is all about writing great content. “If you write great content, people will want to link to it… Get on the radar screen of popular bloggers and websites by leaving comments, writing guest posts, participating in forums, emailing directly, writing articles, and so on. Build relationships with people who write for high quality sites, and the number of quality, incoming links you get to your blog will grow organically over time.”

So that is my task for today.  I am going to find the best articles and the best websites and begin leaving comments. There is a real-time twitter forum tonight on my topic and I am going to suck it up and jump right in.  I am even going to take one of my blogs and re-form it into an article and send it to one of the websites I follow.  With a little work, I hope that by the end of the month, Google will actually know who I am.


Day 5: What is my Twitter purpose?

As I begin to try and get twitter organized in this 30-day challenge, I am confronted with a nagging question….what, exactly, is the purpose of Twitter?  The question has arisen as I develop a list of people I want to follow.  My hashtag success pointed me toward social media experts like Social Media Insider. However, my students point me toward celebrities like Ashton Kutcher. The “most popular” list pointed me toward inspirational speakers like Rick Warren & Joyce Meyers. And my writing turns me toward people I know in real life in an effort to build community. The problem is, when I begin following all of these people, I am overwhelmed with tweets and more than a little confused by where I should go or what I should be doing in Tweetland. I had hoped to avoid the bigger questions of purpose and strategy until after I was more skilled at the tools. However, it is becoming clear that the tools won’t work unless you figure out why you want to use them.

Apparently, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is trying to finesse the same question.  In a conference in Munich this weekend (as reported by blogger Chris Crum and tweeted by Social Media Insider) Dorsey claimed Twitter is NOT about social connectivity.  Rather it can be characterized in 3 words: “public, real-time and simplicity”.  Apparently Twitter’s greatest success is in real time news-gathering. (And, might I say, Mr. Doresey, Twitter is the least “simple” thing I have done in a LONG time.)

If news gathering was Twitter’s highest calling, then I would have to say, there must be easier ways to accomplish that goal.  I think there is more. According to Twitter user TJ Therrien, the greatest benefit of Twitter is professional networking.  I have to agree with him.  Although the #, @ and links still overwhelm me, I am becoming increasingly educated on current trends and linked with the change leaders in my field (leaders I never knew existed).

However, if professional networking was the sole purpose for tweeting, then what about ministry?  Is it worthwhile for pastors, or any kind of person desiring to share the love of Christ, to use Twitter?  According to blogger Houston_proud, Twitter is more than links to blogs and a bunch of friends sharing what they had for breakfast.  It is about “presence”.  Sharing life’s tidbits helps us to feel like we are present with our friends.  When people need help, Twitter is a real-time way to listen and “be there”.  According to blogger Brian Humek, active use of Twitter has helped him encourage people, help friends with job leads, talk people down from suicide, and "make new friends along the way".  I don't think that getting to this level of Tweeting is easy, and at this point in my journey, I'm not sure it is worthwhile. 

So why worry about purpose?  It shapes how you use Twitter and what you expect from Twitter.  If you expect theological discussions and strong community, you may be disappointed and quit before you find a purpose that actually suits the tool. I think that figuring out how to use Twitter is wrapped up in where you are on the journey and what you want out of this social medium. I’ll end this blog with a chart on Twitter acceptance that I totally resonate with. I'm not sure if I will ever move beyond stage 3.But, of course, this is just day 5--who knows what I will think at the end of the month.


Day 3: Who is Mr. Hashtag and why is he my new very best friend?

Yesterday I tweeted. Thank you. Life is full of little victories and I celebrate mine.  What was even better than the excitement of hitting the tweet button was the introduction to my new very best friend. Mr. Hashtag (or # as I like to call him).  After days of reading through scrolls of tweets with this annoying little # interrupting anything that communicated with a flow, I decided to figure out why Tweeters were out to make reading sentences so difficult. So who is Mr. #? Why is he standing between me and Twitter competency? Well, let me tell you my discovery. # is magic. Pure magic.

I first found my favorite hashtag buried in an article I was reading.  Instead of skipping over the annoying #, I decided that, since I was on a social media journey, I would click on the link. I learned about the hashtag #chsocm.  It is like this happy little community who sit around chatting about social media and the church. Well, I like chatting about social media and the church, and I like being part of a special club, so I decided it was time to suck it up and try something new.  After all, this 30-day challenge is all about diving in and making mistakes. So I made a tweet and stuck a #chsom at the end.

Oh, I can't tell you the excitement I've had in the last 2 days. Because of that little #, people found me.  They retweeted me.  They liked me. I have new "followers", for Pete's sake!  The added benefit is that as I try and sort through which tweeters to follow and which tweeters are too boring or too complicated to follow, my new little very best friend has helped me find and organize the things I'm interested in.

In case you haven't been introduced to my new very best friend, let me formally get you acquainted.  Mr # is officially defined as a symbol "used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages."  I have seen people at conferences use Mr. # to organize everyone's tweets about the conference.  At the time, of course, that was way beyond my twitter expertise.  But now I get it!  I think the most helpful article was this one in the New Yorker.  Susan Orlean talks about the creative way people use hashtags to be sarcastic or as a "muttered-into-a-handkerchief" style-tool. She talks about how to blend them into sentences or how to make them serve as commentary.  Well, I thought to myself, I can be sarcastic. I can have commentary. So, even if I mess up Mr. #, I can just say I was being a creative writer.

Well, my relationship with Mr. # just keeps getting better.  According to the experts, you don't want to put more than 3 in a tweet--that's just showing off.  I found some of the most commonly used hashtags at  So, when I put in #socialmedia and #chsom in one of my tweets, anyone who searches for those keywords, or is one of my new homies at the #chsom club, will find me.

Thank you Mr. #.  You are truly a very good best friend.


Day 2: Tweet time. Must I?

Today is my Twitter day. I'll be honest...Twitter scares the socks off me. I sent my first twitter message 2 years ago. It was something like "hey, how do you use this thing?"  No one answered. That was my last tweet. Oh, I've gone back a few times.  One time a figured out how to follow people, so I signed up to follow about 40 tweeters. Kind of a mistake.  I was overwhelmed with messages from strangers--most of which I couldn't understand. That's the other problem--no one uses complete sentences.  I see symbols like # and @ and links that ... into nowhere.  And how can people say anything of value in 140 characters--other than "I just had a cup of coffee #help @blahblahblah http://linktonowhere...."

So why worry about Twitter? Why clutter my day? Why learn to speak Twitter instead of Italian (which is a lot sexier)? Unfortunately for me, Twitter is a new way of communicating that probably isn't going away. According to the Huffington Post, Twitter now has 105,779,710 registered users and new users are signing up at the rate of 300,000 per day. But just because everyone else is sharing about the coffee they just drank or the lame thought they just had, doesn't mean I should.  According to Social Media Today, however, "It’s not just about what you are doing and what others are doing. It’s about the world around you and it’s about the community you create within Twitter." That has clear implications for ministry. This is the kind of social media that happens in real-time and in real space.  When people experience an emotion, have a question, need a friend, seek a deeper connection, they probably aren't going to wait around until Sunday morning. They go to the friends they keep in their pocket.  And the thing is, those pocket friends can minister in new and creative ways.  For instance Rick Warren has over 432,000 followers and Joyce Meyer has over 435,000. Somehow, their messages of hope are infiltrating the lives of almost half a million people--one tweet at a time. Well, I don't have that kind of following, but why can't I send a little hope out there too?  I'm not sure what it will take to build a community on Twitter, or what that even looks like, but I guess it is time to figure it out.

So into Twitter I go. First step--what do I say? I think about what I am doing that I can share with the world. I just ate breakfast. No. No one cares. It is cold outside. No. No one cares. The dog just woke up. No.... This is harder than I thought.  I know, I will start with a quote from Pope Benedict XVI.  It is hard to really bomb if I quote the pope. It took me another 20 minutes to get the post whittled down to 140 characters. I hit the "Tweet" button and off it goes.  It wasn't the best thing I've ever done, but I tweeted. Yes, I have overcome my first tweet fear. Twitter, this is your warning...I will conquer you!!!



Day 1: Social Media Challenge--Can anyone hear me? Anyone?

It is day 1.  It is cold and quiet here in Minnesota and it is cold and quiet in my social media world.  I woke up ready to be the super social media player I know I can be. I posted my first blog. Yeah! My first success! Then I went back and read the blog, quite satisfied with myself.  As I sat there, watching my lovely blog, something became very clear to me. Nothingness. I just spent a long evening crafting a beautiful entry, but if I was lucky, two or three of my friends, and maybe my mom would read it. The question became clear. Was blogging simply my personal form of shouting into the darkness? Would anyone hear?  Would anyone care? It is like if I opened my front door and yelled into the frozen Minnesota woods--yeah, I'm pretty sure there is no one there.  Even the squirrels are too pre-occupied to take notice of what I have to say.  I think the same could be said for my blog.

So, here is my first social media task: let people know I have just blogged something fabulous. I begin by considering the tools I have.  I will start with what I understand. I have a Facebook page and I know how to do a status update.  In fact, if I do say so myself, I have been known to craft a couple of tremendous posts. They don't come around often, but when they do, I know some people fall to their knees, moved by the 3 or 4 sentences I choose to share with each and every one of my Facebook friends.  Yeah, ok, I am a lurker, not a poster.  Sometimes I think about what I could say, but then look at that big empty space under the "update status" button and quickly hit escape, praying I didn't somehow just send some weird link or swear word by accident to all 224 of my closest friends.

I understand that to be an effective social media minister, I have to somehow conquer this fear of Facebook failure.  But, for now, I am going to use Facebook as a megaphone. I already worked really hard on putting together that blog, so I might as well capitalize on that and use it to jump start my new Facebook life.

So, I get the link to my blog. I see my first problem---the link is like 3 pages long.  I spend another 20 minutes looking through my blog program and find a "URL shortcut" process that renames and shortens my link.  Be aware, you probably don't want to make the link too short or mysterious.  According to United Methodist Communications, people on Facebook like to see where they are linking to. I guess not even my friends will completely trust a weird-looking link.

I provide a blurb, add the link and the Facebook post is up! Then I see something that takes my breath away.  Within the first 2 minutes, someone "liked" it! I actually think it would take longer than 2 minutes to read the blog--but that's ok, I'm not complaining. Someone likes me!  Someone actually likes me! Oh, maybe this social life is better than I thought.


30-Day Social Media Challenge: A one month journal of learning to love (or at least not hate) a confusing, abnormal, humiliating, & really frustrating way of communicating

Social media has become a thorn in my flesh, a burr in my saddle, an "F" in my report card of life. I study its effects, I teach about it, I write about it, some people think I am an "expert" in it.  But I have a dirty little secret.  I hate it. What few people know is that I only have 4 names in my cell phone, it takes me hours to come up with a good Facebook status update, and Twitter is just too scary to figure out how to use.

So what is the problem?  After all, life is more than updates, tweets, and pokes. In fact, I wrote a whole book about that topic.  Well, here is where the dissonance comes in.  My colleague and I are examining how churches and pastors can use social media effectively.  In that process, I have run into a number of writers who preach the gospel of social media. For instance, Aaron Marshall, in a presentation entitled "The New Gutenburg" makes a compelling argument that, if we want to be reaching others for Christ, we need to go to where those people are at--whether it is in the ghettos of Los Angeles or the tweets of a co-worker.  Matthew Lee Anderson, in a Christianity Today article, says "When done well, social networking can enhance the fellowship of the church by providing congregants a window into each other's lives. It can mobilize congregants to serve their neighbors and enhance the church's mission by embedding the community of church relationships in the broader community." Even Pope Benedict XVI has articulated the benefits of technological engagement by saying that new media can "facilitate forms of collaboration and greater communion in ways that were unthinkable in the past.”

Yes, I truly believe that social media is good and necessary.  Yet, as I put together a study, articles and presentations that tell pastors exactly how use these new tools, this small voice inside keeps whispering my failings.  I can't tell you how many passionate, frustrated pastors have confided in me that they want to use these tools, they really do, but they just can't figure them out; they don't have the time and, in truth, they find this way of communicating unnatural and uncomfortable. I usually give them some "blah, blah, blah" thing about balance, taking small steps, choose what works for them, but, on the inside, I think "yeah, man! You are SOOO right!"

Well, the time has come. The time has come for me to step out of my confessional, to acknowledge I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to most of these complicated new media tools, to acknowledge I don't even like this way of communicating and to suck it up.  I am going to figure this out.

I invite you to join me on this journey to social media competence.  For 30 days, I have committed to tweeting, posting, blogging, commenting, and everything else I tell people they should do.  Some of it will not be pretty, but if this is what effective ministry looks like for the next generation, then it's time to figure it out. 


"Social Media and the Church" Study: Brief Description

The Problem:

It seems like everyone from Best Buy to Aunt Emma is using Facebook, Twitter, blogs—all sorts of social media.  If that is the case, it seems reasonable to think that churches can use these tools as well. But is a church Facebook page really the same as a Facebook page for Pepsi or Garth Brooks?  There is currently very little data that examines how churches are using social media and what benefits and sacrifices accompany this venture into high-tech ministry.

The Solution:

We know that churches are full of creative and motivated ministers and  communication specialists, each with his or her own stories of success and failure when it comes to social media.  We are hoping to compile those stories to get a better understanding of how US churches are currently using new media in ministry.

The Study:

Dr. Peggy Kendall, a faculty member in the Department of Communication Studies at Bethel University and Kirk Livingston, a free-lance writer and social media marketing expert, in a study that hopes to get a better handle on how churches are using social media.  The first step in this study is a short survey being distributed to churches across the country. The second step is follow up interviews with pastors and communication specialists to better understand underlying principles related to using these new technologies in ministry.

The Benefit:  Once the data is compiled, the findings will be presented at the biennial Converge convention in Washington D.C. in June.  Resources will also be made available that will help churches more effectively use and evaluate their use of social media.

Your Help:  We are asking that you or the person in charge of using social media in church ministry take approximately 15 minutes to complete an online survey.  

The survey can be accessed by clicking HERE

Thank you so much for your help.  If you have any questions concerning this study, please contact Dr. Peggy Kendall at