You are likely already using two basic forms of digital communication: email and social media. The following tips will result in more time to spend doing ministry in the “real” world and to maximize effort spent in the digital world.
Digital Communication: Policy/Protocol
Explicit protocol and policy are critical. Remember this truth about digital communication: It is not confidential. It can be printed, copy/pasted, posted, shared, and linked in less time than it takes to tweet. Protocol and policy address proper use of email and social media by staff and ministry leaders.
Use these points to develop your policy/protocol:
- Use of work email for personal business
- Point of confidentiality in exchanges with minors and staff (a.k.a. “Don’t tell my mom and dad, but …”)
- Social Media Golden Rule: Friend/Follow requests should be initiated by congregants only, not by staff or ministry leaders.
- Boundaries and privacy settings of staff personal pages and accounts (especially as applies to adults working with youth)
- Email lists are not to be used outside of church-related activity (no personal or business promotion).
- How are Unity values of tolerance and inclusivity expressed via digital communication?
Email: Efficient Experience
Does managing your email feel like a second job? There are endless ways for you to customize your email workflow for efficiency. Here are a few to get you started:
- Take Control: Schedule 2-3 times each day to respond to email. This will increase space and focus in your daily schedule.
- Prioritize: Immediately reply to emails that can be answered in two minutes or less. Move emails that require more attention to a folder for later. Delete emails that you will never read (auto notifications, spam, etc.).
- Rules & Folders: Create folders to maintain organization. Examples: YFM (Youth and Family Ministry), Music, Chaplains. Most email clients allow you to create Rules, which are actions you set that will apply automatically to messages. For example, set messages from your music director to go to your music folder. Google search how to set rules for your specific client (Outlook, Gmail, etc.).
- Precise & Concise: Keep emails precise—say what you mean—and concise—say it briefly. This reduces the number of clarification responses you will get, which only further clutter your inbox.
- Emoticons: Make minimal use of emoticons when necessary, but keep to a smiley :-) or winky ;-). Emails tend to be taken negatively in tone. An occasional emoticon can help with that. Avoid :-( or :-/ as the empathy is lost in translation. Words matter. Better to use them well and emoticons sparingly.
- Stop! Know when it’s time to pick up the phone or meet face-to-face. Email is prime real estate for miscommunication. If emotionally charged communication arises, stop and pick up the phone. Then send a brief follow-up email which can be affirming.
Social Media: Effective Experience
Facebook, Twitter, blog, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, .com, .org, .net, .guru. Most ministry leaders will agree that utilizing social media is necessary to stay relevant and connected with congregants—and as many feel unsure about how to effectively utilize social media. Here are some tips to consider:
- Maintenance: Whatever platform you establish, stay active on it but don’t bombard your followers—one to two posts per day max. Don’t forget to update your website. If the last video you posted is from 2012 or the Upcoming Events page shows something for January 2013, you have left the viewer wondering if your spiritual community is in decline or even exists anymore. Update! If you don’t have the support to keep each page current, remove the pages you can’t maintain and leave the basic info.
- Sociable: It is called social media. Be social! Retweet, respond to comments, share Facebook posts from like-minded organizations (Unity Worldwide Ministries, Unity Institute, Silent Unity, Daily Fillmore, other Unity communities). Show pictures from the women’s retreat, from the youth lock-in (just don’t post the names of the youth), from the ice-cream social. These are virtual invitations to the next event.
- Support: If you don’t have a staff position, get a volunteer or two to help manage the social media. This includes not only posting, but analyzing and reporting the activity on a quarterly basis. What posts are getting the most action? What events have increased attendance? Can this be attributed to social media promotion?
Digital communication is an inflow and outflow. The energy you put out is the energy you get back. Protocol and policy along with efficient and effective use will bring digital communication into the flow of your ministerial activity, and—done well—will invite a deeper experience of community for your ministry.