SOCIAL MEDIA BEST PRACTICES FOR PARISHES
Online communications have significantly shaped the way people interact with each other, and continue to influence how and where people look for information. Among various forms of online communications, social media continues to be a significant tool that could be used for the Church’s mission of evangelization.
As a Church, we have the opportunity to use social media for the twofold purpose of information and formation:
- Information – to update parishioners with Mass and reconciliation schedules, liturgies they could participate in, ministries they could help in, parish events they could join, and other information relevant to them as members of their parish community.
- Formation – to help parishioners in their faith journey through curated Catholic content (videos, blogs, articles, etc.).
Also, the Church has the opportunity to use social media as a platform of influence. In a day and age where hundreds of millions of people are active online, social media can be effectively used to reach not only those in the pews, but also those who are not. Building an active, welcoming and friendly parish social media presence could foster engagement even among those who are not in the Church.
The goal of this Best Practices and Guidelines is to help parishes that are not on social media create and maintain an active and engaging social media presence. Additionally, offer tips and insights from the experiences of the Diocese of Calgary Social Media Committee. Consequently, the aim of establishing a parish social media presence is not only to share your weekly Parish bulletin, nor is it only to post Mass times. Since we share in the life and mission of the Catholic Church, our ultimate aim is to engage our parishioners (information), help them in their faith journey (formation), and to help spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ online (platform of influence/evangelization).
Among all other social media platforms, Facebook is the largest by number of monthly active users (1+ billion). Considering its prominence and the level of detail and information one can put, it is fair to say that you can treat your Facebook page as your secondary source of information online — next only to your official parish website. Click here for Facebook’s official Getting Started with Pages how-to guide.
How to use Facebook
- Populate your Facebook Page’s About section with all the important and relevant details about your parish (e.g. Parish’s street address, website, parish office telephone number, contact email, Mass and Reconciliation times, etc.)
- Take advantage of Facebook’s Events feature. By creating one for each of your parish events, you can share it to your followers, on which there is a feature where they can RSVP. In turn, your followers can share your event with their friends.
- Share opportunities where parishioners can volunteer in the different parish ministries.
- Share links to Catholic news.
- Follow the Facebook Pages of other Catholic organizations, ministries, parishes, and Dioceses – this makes curating Catholic content easier.
- Create a Page: some people make the mistake of creating a Facebook profile for their parish instead of a Facebook Page. The difference? A Facebook profile is for a personal user (i.e. you as an individual), while a Facebook Page is for an organization/business. As a parish, a Facebook Page is what you need. Note that a Facebook Page is different than a Facebook Group. Don't choose Group, choose Page.
- Assign roles: In your Facebook Page’s settings, you can assign other Facebook Users a role in managing your Page (Admin, moderator, editor, etc.), with each role having varied accessibilities and rights. This will make maintaining your Facebook presence easier.2
- Live Video: want to broadcast an event, live? While Facebook Live started out only for personal profiles and only from a mobile device, it is now available for Pages and from a computer. Click here for more.
Twitter is another social media platform where users can post and respond to short messages called Tweets. Tweets are limited to 140 characters and can be about virtually anything. You can post a tweet, reply to one, share a tweet you like (called a re-tweet or RT). You can also attach images, video, or links to every tweet you post. There’s a huge Catholic “population” on Twitter, collectively known by the moniker Catholic Twitter. And who exactly makes up Catholic Twitter? A lot. Priests, nuns, bishops, catholic bloggers, and yes – even Pope Francis. Don’t forget to follow him at @Pontifex! Click here for Twitter’s official getting started guide.
How to use Twitter
- The details we’ve listed above on Facebook generally applies to all of social media, Twitter included. So populate your Twitter profile with the necessary information (a short bio of who you are, your parish website, etc.)
- Twitter pioneered the use of Hashtags. Not sure what a hashtag is? Click here. You can use this to create a unique identity for your parish’s social media presence. For example, the Diocese of Calgary uses #CatholicYYC in its posts online. Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore, Alberta, uses #OurLadyRocks. Be creative, and share it with your parishioners! Use this handy guide for creating your hashtags.
- You can share on Twitter what you also share on Facebook: links to Catholic news, curated Catholic content, your own parish news, and volunteer opportunities.
- Follow other Catholic users and see what they tweet about! As with Facebook, this also helps make curating Catholic content much easier.
- Keep it active. If Facebook has a Timeline where you can see others’ posts, Twitter has a Feed. This feed is constantly updated; so don’t hesitate to tweet multiple times a day.
Instagram is a popular photo-sharing social media platform where users can post images, video, as well as live-video. Unfortunately, content can only be posted on Instagram from a mobile device — meaning no computers.
Tips: You can link Instagram posts to automatically share in Facebook. Use this feature with discretion.
Other Social Media Platforms
There are several other social media platforms that may be useful for your parish’s needs that are not included in this guideline. Below is a list of other platforms at your disposal that you could use, and a brief description of what they are for.
- Youtube: video hosting and sharing
- Vimeo: video hosting and sharing
- Flickr: hosting and sharing images
- Pinterest: a virtual board on which users can pin and visually share interesting finds on the internet
- Google+: Google’s own social media network, useful to boost your website’s SEO (search engine optimization)
- Snapchat: a mobile-only social media platform where users can send visual (e.g. image and video) messages — hence, snap-chat.
OTHER Important Tips
- Be visual
Social media is largely visual, and having a visual element to your posts will help you get more Impressions (social media term for the number of times your post is displayed) and Engagement (likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc.). Thus instead of posting your Pastor’s Easter message on Facebook in plain text, why not create a short video?
- Keep your Identity Consistent
Keep your social media handle/username consistent on all social media platforms so people can find you easily. For example, the Diocese of Calgary’s handle on all social media accounts is @calgarydiocese.
- Be Active
If you do decide on creating multiple social media accounts on different platforms for your parish, you must commit keep it active and updated constantly. Also do not just post content – be sure to engage with your followers by replying to comments and tweets. This makes your presence personable.
- Respect Intellectual Property
Obey the law. Understand the copyrights accompanying any online content, whether they be images, music, videos, etc. Content posted online are to be treated similarly with content in other publications.
- Account Access & Credentials
Login credentials for the parish’s social media accounts such as usernames, emails, and passwords must be constantly updated. Also, this document must be accessible by the social media administrator and the Pastor, or whomever the social media administrator reports directly to. This file must be treated as highly confidential. Regarding passwords: complexity is good, but length is also important (8-10 characters).
- Privacy and Safe Environments
Do not disclose information that is to be held in confidence. Also, any individual involved in managing social media accounts must not engage in private online conversations with children. A good rule of thumb is to keep all forms of engagement public (through comments, replies to tweets), instead of Direct Messages, commonly called DM’s.
Permission to photograph children cannot be assumed, and neither is posting their pictures on social media. Photographs of children shouldn’t be posted on social media sites without the prior approval of the child’s parents or legal guardian. Also, take great care to avoid including identifying details or information with an image posted online. For a sample photo release form, see Page 6 of the Diocesan Social Media Policy.
Creating a Social Media Team
Creating and curating content for social media, as well as the overall maintenance of the parish’s social media accounts, can be challenging. Having a social media team of about 3-4 people that handles all these tasks is very valuable. There are a few things to consider when selecting the right people for this team.
Members must be carefully selected, screened, and have references and background checks obtained, just as with other parish ministries. Remember that just because someone is social media savvy does not mean that they are perfectly fit for the task. Social media admins represent the Church on every single post and comment that they write — these individuals must have good moral character, well-formed in the Catholic faith, and have the ability to think through the implications of what they are about to write. It is important that the team works closely with their parish priest and office. In addition, it would be significantly beneficial if members of the social media team have a sense of brand consistency when creating content.
Social Media Team Email
It is also worth considering creating a special email account for use by the social media team. This email account will then be the one used when creating social media accounts, instead of having to use someone else’s personal email. For example, the Calgary Diocese Social Media Committee uses a Gmail account that members use when logging in, signing up, and as backup email.
Scheduling and Creating Content
Social media administrators do not always need to be on a computer or mobile device in order to post content. Free resources, such as Facebook’s own Scheduling tool, HootSuite or the Buffer App account give social media administrators the ability to queue posts to be released on a certain date and time.
Each tool may have unique features of their own, but essentially they all allow you to schedule social media posts in advance and monitor your accounts when someone mentions you or leave a comment.
PROMOTING your Social Media Presence
Don't forget to promote your social media presence. Start engaging with your parishioners to ensure effective communication and build a loyal parishioners base.
Tips: Include social media buttons on your bulletin, website and provide accurate links to your parish social media networks. Integrate your social media information with your other Parish communications channels such as the:
- Email (in the signature)
- Bulletin Board
- Stationery - Letterhead, Business Cards
- Website & other social media presence
Compiled by the Diocesan Social Media Committee, November 2017.