This week I was away on a conference with my fellow clergy from the Diocese of Exeter. From the start of the conference we were given permission to sit engrossed in our laptops, tablets and smartphones as this was to be the first Devon clergy conference with a “social media element”.
As I quickly pointed out using the #DevonClergy hashtag, this wasn’t really anything new, we used to call it passing notes, and it used to be frowned upon if you did it too obviously.
Now it turns out that there are a lot of Vicars in Devon who have Twitter accounts, but many of them have a tweet count in double figures, rather than the thousands which it is possible to rack up if you post on a more regular basis. They had signed up, but not really found a use for Twitter.
As Erasmus commented “In the country of the blind, the one eyed man is king” so even with my fairly modest 1,234 tweets I found myself in the rare position of being an early-adopter. I also found myself being repeatedly asked the question by colleagues “Should I be on Twitter?”
So here is an answer to the question – which doesn’t make recommendations, but does give an insight into how I see my own Twitter use, and how I want to develop it from here.
I my personal Twitter account in three main ways:
First, as a way of connecting with local people, businesses and organisations. I’ll typically do this by mentioning places I’ve gone, things I’ve been impressed by, and sometimes things I’ve been disappointed with. Most businesses, charities and venues have a Twitter account these days, so if you mention them by their account name you should expect some sort of response. Recommendations on social media are generally thought to be a good thing, and I’ve found that retailers get to know you as a customer if you interact with them online. I’ll often share photos here too, especially if something special is going on and I want to help publicise it. Here’s a couple of recent examples, both positive and negative:
(I wasn’t being kind by leaving the Twitter username off this Boots tweet, I couldn’t find a relevant account to aim it at.)
Second, as a way of announcing news, notices and insights related to ministry or my blog. These are typically announcements rather than invitations to dialogue, but I occasionally retweet comments I agree with or pass on links to articles and blog posts, as in the example below. As a rule I tend not to retweet things I don’t agree with ‘as discussion starters’. Under this section I’ll also engage on a fairly superficial level with discussions or disagreements, but try to avoid protracted or heated exchanges in this public sphere. I’m also not a big fan of retweeting aphorisms from well know Christian speakers.
Finally, I use Twitter as a way of sharing personal thoughts, anecdotes and photos with friends. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a public forum, so I have quite strict rules about what I do and don’t share. I try not to give away any personal information that might help identity fraudsters; I never use my son’s name or put any identifiable photos of him on Twitter or my blog; I don’t advertise if the house is going to be empty, and I’m careful what I write about alcohol, eating out or spending money. I always need to think ‘would I be happy for my congregation, neighbours, parents (or Bishop) to read this?’
This does keep the sharing to a fairly superficial level, but I’ve found that it is possible to be truthful and humorous in a way that does help people to build up a picture of you are a person. Like a true Brit, my best humour is self-deprecating, and this seems to work well on Twitter too.
Now the thing to keep in your mind as you tweet, is that if you are interesting and courteous (follow others and mention them) you will gradually build up a list of followers who fall into one of these three categories. As such, you want to keep them all interested, and not flood their timeline with stuff that isn’t relevant to them.
It’s a temptation to set up several accounts for different audiences, but as Christian leaders we ought to be able to integrate our life and ministry in such a way that we are presenting the whole person to those who are looking on.
Having said that, there is one additional category which I’m just starting to explore, which is using my presentation software to automatically tweet from lectures and sermons. Because the volume of information is likely to exceed the spam-tolerance on those who are not in the lecture, I’ve set up a separate profile to handle this information. (@JonMSpeaker) If I want to interact with my own lecture material, I will then do so by retweeting or replying from my personal account.
As I reflect on these three ways I use Twitter, it seems that there is one thing that they have in common, which is that Twitter is a great way of making friends. Twitter allows you to interact with people you don’t know or you hope to get to know and breaks the ice quickly. In a conference setting, it’s difficult not to speak to someone you’ve been interacting with online just a few moments ago, but for many, Twitter is now the starting point.
So yes, you probably should be on Twitter, but you also need to know when to put it down and have a real conversation.
If you don’t already follow me, the you can find me on Twitter using the name @jjmarlow. Now you know what to expect.