There’s still plenty of debate in churches around the question of, “Is social media really relational?” It’s probably a fair conversation to have as long as it’s not just an excuse to quickly dismiss using social media because it’s new or too hard to do. But I’d like to layout my reasoning that social media is indeed relational.
In a recent interview with Christianity Today, Claire Diaz Ortiz, leader for social innovation at Twitter, talked about how social media makes perfect sense for churches. She said:
"It's about relationships and social media is about relationships. A lot of companies don't understand that. They think it's a new way to market themselves. In contrast, religious organizations have been relying on word-of-mouth marketing and relational marketing for forever, so they take to social media well."
Unlike some other tech companies—like Google who is restricting religious organizations from the free services they offer non-profits—Twitter is reaching out to the church to help them better use social media. Why? They see that there’s a lot of good interaction with Christian content on Twitter. While Diaz Ortiz says that some things, like daily devotions, can start to feel automated, other Christian leaders and organizations are getting high rates of engagement.
It’s not surprising to me that Christian content is finding an engaged audience online. The church has always been good about using the popular medium of the day to share God’s story and aid people in spiritual formation. It’s never been about the medium. Sending a letter or making a phone call to someone is no different than sending tweets back and forth. My experience in social media tells me that I can build meaningful relationships with people through conversations online who I’d never have the chance to meet face-to-face.
Also, I’ve seen social media work as a gateway to meeting people face-to-face – the pinnacle for hardcore relationalists. Like most sorts of media, online avenues can also serve as a way to make first contact with someone in hopes of meeting them in person. As a church, we’ll send out post cards, erect scrolling electronic signs and buy the occasional billboard in hopes of getting people into our buildings so we can have a relationship with them. Why not look at social media in a similar way?
Finally, social media can be a good way to stay connected with someone you’ve already met. For churches, this can be your members or visitors who are looking to become more involved. Part of any good relationship is communication and social media lets you be better communicators. People are already online, so why not be there with them where they’re already at? And as more social media outlets, like Facebook and Google+, are adding video chat, a face to face conversation is just a click away.
It’s easy to say social media isn’t relational because of old think and the easy out it provides from doing something new. But I challenge you to take the harder road and ask how you can use the newish medium of social media as a way to better engage with people and keep them connected to your church. In my eyes, social media is relational and online relationships have real meaning.
(Social media network vector graphic courtesy of Shutterstock.)