There is no doubt that Twitter is a unique form of communication. If you don’t believe me, just try explaining it to someone who has no prior understanding of twitter and you’ll soon see the glazed expression of incomprehension! How can pastors and churches best use twitter a) as an effective tool for general communication and b) as an effective tool for pastoral ministry?
Too much information
When someone follows you on twitter, it is a bit like they are sitting by a stream of running water. As they choose to follow you, your tweets are added to their stream like little messages in a bottle that float by at a steady pace. Imagine a family member or close friend chooses to follow you. They are primarily interested in your life, your family, and (to a lesser extent) what is happening in your work and ministry. Now imagine that someone in your church or ministry chooses to follow you. They are interested in the details of your ministry far more than the details of your life (if even at all).
Can you see the problem you now have? As you tweet about the detail of your personal life (what you are doing today, who you met, what you son did with the cat, etc), the messages flow along the stream and are gladly read by the family member or close friend, but are more likely to be regarded as clutter in the stream of the person only interested in the details of your ministry. Conversely, tweets about your ministry are exactly what the ministry member is interested in but may well be too much information for your relative or close friend.
So the first issue to solves is how to manage twitter so that we communicate and interact effectively with each group of people without excluding/frustrating the other?
Divide and conquer
The first thing to do is separate out the corporate profile of your ministry from your own personal profile by creating two separate twitter accounts. For example, Graham Daniels is the director of Christians In Sport here in the UK. He has a personal twitter account (@DannoCIS) while the ministry he serves in has a separate twitter profile (@CIS_UK). This enables people to follow him as a person without their stream (or timeline, as it is known in twitter) being cluttered up with content from his ministry that they might not be interested in, and vice versa. Of course, anyone interested in both can simply choose to follow both profiles.
Obviously, once you have separated out your personal profile from your ministry profile, you need to make sure that you maintain this distinction in the way that you publish content to your two respective profiles. This is where retweets prove very handy. Retweets allow you to effectively relay/echo a tweet from someone else to your followers. This is a very useful aspect of twitter for when you tweet something from one profile that overlaps with another profile. The key is determining which profile is the original source of the tweet, and which is the profile that retweets it. Here is a simple breakdown of possible scenarios, with a typical example to illustrate each one…
Content about your personal life:
Tweet via your personal profile@PersonalProfile: Had a great day with my son at the beach today. #fathersontimeisgreat
Content about your ministry:
Tweet via your ministry profile.@MinistryProfile: New sermon series on #ParablesOfJesus starts this Sunday. bit.ly/linkhere
Content that is about your personal life but relates to your ministry:
Tweet via your personal profile and retweet by your ministry profile.@YourProfile: Got a well earned day off after a brilliant Easter weekend. #bringonthesleep
@MinistryProfile: RT @PersonalProfile Got a well earned day off after a brilliant Easter weekend. #bringonthesleep
Content that is about your ministry but is linked to your personal life:
Tweet via your ministry profile and retweet using your personal profile.@MinistryProfile: Meeting with our mission partners today. Should be encouraging and awesome!
@PersonalProfile: RT@MinistryProfile Meeting with our mission partners today. Should be encouraging and awesome!
Free to be inclusive and exclusive
Splitting your personal twitter profile from your ministry profile also allows you to accomplish the diametrically opposed goals of being inclusive of everyone while being exclusively focused on a few.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus doing both of these things. Jesus preached to masses of people, but focused exclusively on a small number of people, namely his disciples. Jesus allowed people to join in his general ministry to people, while reserving a major portion of his pastoral efforts and energies on a few who would continue his earthly ministry after he was gone.
With only one twitter profile, it is almost impossible to accomplish both of these goals. However, with split personal and ministry profiles, you can be more inclusive under the ministry profile and more exclusive under your personal profile. For example:
- When using the ministry profile, you can have a policy of following everyone who follows you. However, on your personal profile, you can be very selective and only follow specific people such as other family members, close friends and key pastoral people (twitter lists can be a great tool at separating these out for you).
- Other people can be given access to the ministry profile, such as elders and deacons, to share the responsibility for this particular area, while your personal twitter remains exclusively your responsibility.
- You might choose to activate twitter’s ‘protected tweets’ functionality on your personal profile (where you need to approve people who wish to follow you), while keeping your ministry twitter profile ‘open’ to all.
The best of both worlds
Twitter is an amazing tool which, like all good tools, must be handled effectively in order to be effective as a tool. In fact, the principles above can be applied to any social media tool (Facebook, Instagram, etc). Distinguishing personal and ministry profiles and carefully selecting which profile to use when posting content will not only de-clutter the timelines of your various social media followers, it will also improve the perceived value of your social media stream as your followers will feel like they are gaining access to relevant content more quickly and more effectively. Plus, it gives you the freedom to be more reserved and focused in your use of one profile, while being relaxed and open with the other.