How to Use Social Networks without the Ego

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged priests to blog. This year, he blesses social media and networking. In his message during the Catholic Church’s celebration of the 45th World Day of Communications (2011), he said, “I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible” (Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age).

How do we get the ball rolling? This is not just for beginners but for those who are in these social networks. How do we build up our sites without being about ego?

Start with your name. We begin with who you are. We do have a personality or a persona that is associated with our name or our expertise. For example, once you hear the name Michael Jackson, you associate him with pop music of the 80s. You do not think of waltz or New Age or Original Pilipino Music (OPM).

The same thing when we blog: what can you share? In what are you good at? Your name or the name of your ministry should be associated with something worthwhile. The extension your name has may be important: Dr, Engr, PhD, Sr., Fr., SJ, OP etc. They give your ‘persona’ a certain credibility if you talk about a topic in your own field.

And then within your social network, you protect your reputation, profession or service genre. Be mindful too of the people you represent like one’s congregation, organization or professional colleagues.

Why is it important to have this ‘persona’ in the internet? Because social media is the way to the future. People now have transparent relationships. We can have our own niche in cyberspace; like putting up our own office where people can go to and consult. We are programmed to recognize faces than abstract images for profile picture or avatars. Our DNA are oriented towards real people than texts like archaic pseudonyms writers took in the past.

Those in the upper echelons of technology said that the people with the greater connection and network will be the ones who will be most influential in immediate future. This is the direction of the world. And if we would like to contribute in building the Kingdom of God, we first follow Jesus: Go and preach to all nations. Then, from it flows heeding the Pope: go and blog! Go and facebook! Go and tweet! Everyone now can preach across the globe! (Above is a picture of facebook friends connections around the world.)

But the Holy Father also cautioned us this year, “It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives,” he wrote. Our online lives are not at par with our personal ties. Nothing beats face-to-face relationships.

To me, social networks should enhance and enrich what we already have. Social networks should bring people towards a more direct involvement and engagement with the world. Thus, we can use our social networks to advocate human rights and to help in the awareness of violations done all over the world. We have seen how social networking influence media and politics.

Second, set up a facebook page and/or a twitter account. If you’re in a ministry, you can set up a page for your specific ministry. Since each page needs a ‘face’ you can set it up with your name on it (advisable) like Bishop Antonio Tagle DD of the Diocese of Imus in the Philippines who has his own work in media. (Mine is here.)

You can also use your ministry such as the Jesuit Communications Facebook Page. But be sure that it is owned by your whole team, or else, should you decide to transfer to a new job, someone can take over as the administrator of the page.

And then, you can set up a twitter account so that the people whom you pastor can receive updates. It can supplement the announcements after communion, save you some money from mobile text brigades and spare you some free time from email blasts. (Mine is here.) Or if you want an online bulletin, you can use Tumblr which is a free platform with lots of themes to choose from. Tumblr is micro-blogging so it is easy to use. (Mine is here.)

Third, focus on great content. In all social networks, this is the most important. Have something to say. Have something to share. If you hold a doctorate in sociology, then give the world the perspective of a sociologist; if you are a teacher in philosophy, then help us understand how people today regard the world. (Mine is here.) You’ve got to be follow-able.

You can answer these two questions to FOCUS: Follow One Course Until you Succeed (Mari Smith).

1. What experience do you want your audience to have when they come in contact with you on your page or twitter? What would you like the people to feel when they land on your page or check your tweets? Would you like them to feel positive, challenged, inspired, optimistic? Do you strengthen or weaken their sense of God?
2. What would you do to get your message across? What is best for your targeted audience: do they like to read or watch videos? Do they like reading long texts or short ones?

We sometimes want to put everything out. But take a closer look: in the process of friendships, self-revelations are done little by little. We are first known for something. And then we branch out.

In social media, we first find our niche. And when we are known in that niche, we can move on. Simple: have you ever been overwhelmed by a person who puts all the cards on the table the very first time you’ve met? The best stories have movement. The skilled storyteller gives out information one by one until it reaches the climax.

I believe the most beautiful story is the history of salvation. But it is up to the storyteller of today to make the stories exciting or otherwise.

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