It is past time that something was done to promote and co-ordinate what I call 'soft evangelisation' at a diocesan level.
'Soft evangelism' is using social media to provide reminders of God to the unchurched. The aim is to get trickles of good Catholic content into the Facebook, Twitter and RSS feeds of people who live in your diocese; so that among the Aunt Acid jokes, pet pictures and holiday snaps would be an article about the Pope's latest homily, an image of the mother of Jesus, and a photo from a local parish event. Things that people can easily flick through, and opt in for a read if they wish, but which even for that very brief moment are reminders that God exists.
Soft evangelisation has the capacity to plant seeds of faith that one-to-one evangelisation and/or parish evangelisation can later reap.
By and large our social media reach is very poor. Perhaps a tenth of parishes using social media well. Among the less than 10% of priests who are using Facebook, not many of them are taking hold of its evangelistic potential. Even in the pews social media use for evangelisation is weak. I can count on the fingers of one hand, out of a parish with around 800 at weekend Masses, those who are regularly trickling holy content into their Facebook feeds.
Facebook is very good for getting out messages to local people. A significant percentage of a person's Facebook contacts will live in the same parish, and those contacts will also be in contact with another set of local people. A single message about pre-Christmas Reconciliation times could have a large reach if it was liked by even 2 or 3 people; and it would get to people who don't have access to the parish bulletin and who would never think of looking up a parish website. Even doubling the number of people in our parish intentionally using Facebook for soft evangelisation would make a big impact.
Twitter is less local and more international than Facebook, and apart from myself and the local guru for evangelisation in the diocesan curia, I have yet to find anyone else in my own diocese regularly using it for evangelical purposes. Your situation is likely to be similar. If you want to find out where the thinkers, writers and creatives are, then Twitter is the place. I am very impressed with what @BhamCatholics is doing with Twitter from the other side of the globe.
Blogging is lamentably the same. Apart from one blogger with whom I often disagree, I don't know anyone else in my diocese who is regularly blogging Catholic content. But they must exist. The difficult thing is that for a blog to succeed it needs a minimum of 2.5 years of regularly published content, and most bloggers don't persevere that long. Any blog-post has a much longer lifespan than a Facebook post or a Tweet.
It is an apostolate (lay ministry)
Apart from priests and deacons, who preach the Word of God mostly within church walls, those believers who are intentionally using social media for evangelical purposes are the front line troops in the culture war and battle for souls. It is more than time that these believers who up until now have been lone rangers fighting the good fight and lacking encouragement (and support for when they get attacked by 'trolls') were officially connected into the mission of the church and the mission of the diocese.
Anyone in ministry/apostolate needs mutual support and encouragement, and also needs direction and inspiration.
There are global networks, like the Guild of St Titus Brandsma and the Catholic Bloggers Network, but after no many solitary hours at the keyboard you really need face-to-face local support.
Get it co-ordinated
Just like Fr Michael White at The Nativity in North Baltimore of 'Rebuilt' fame prepares messages to be taken up and integrated into the various parish ministries, a bishop should be in contact with his bloggers and social media evangelists, and able to give them topics and resources to work with. So that together they are all working towards the same broad-brush message plan.
For example: a plan for August-October to encourage posts on marriage and family; and a plan for November-January to encourage posts on Mercy, especially the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Bringing social media users together would encourage collaboration. Everyone is more likely to like, comment on positively, re-tweet or share the work of someone they know rather than the work of a stranger. The more that happens, the higher ranking the social media algorithms will give that content, enabling it to reach a wider (and therefore more unchurched) audience.
Coming together also enables the sharing of technological information, 'tricks of the trade', decreasing common mistakes made and increasing efficiency.
Most social media content creators will welcome topic suggestions, and will definitely welcome resources. One of the major reasons bloggers stop blogging is that they run out of ideas to write about.
The other big reason bloggers stop blogging is that it is a huge time commitment for very little reward and almost non-existent feedback.
A once a month commitment to post something related to the diocesan topic is reasonable, and shouldn't overwhelm the raison d'etre for the blog/ twitter feed etc.
Good resources to provide your social media evangelists would be copies of 'One Body Many Blogs' http://www.amazon.com.au/One-Body-Many-Blogs-Burdick-ebook/dp/B009LBZI1K, 'Tweet others as you would wish to be tweeted' https://catholic.org.au/world-communications-day-2015/tweet-others-as-you-would-be-tweeted , copies of 'Familiaris Consortio' and 'Dives in Misericordia', 'Love and Responsibility' http://www.ignatius.com/Products/LRE-P/love-and-responsibility.aspx and any good material on Theology of the Body.
Good resources would also include access to diocesan image banks for images upon which copyright has already been paid, and information on effective ways of producing memes to go with the text on social media channels. Attaching a relevant image to a social media post significantly increases the number of clicks that post receives.
Plan – Step 1 Find your front line troops
Should you have convinced your bishop that a social media 'army' is what he desperately needs....Using social media and print media (email, Facebook, Twitter, website, diocesan newsletter etc) get the word out that the bishop wants to connect with his social media apostles. Criteria should be used similar to that used for submissions to Top Catholic Blogs http://topcatholicblogs.com/submit-blog/ would be appropriate, for example evidence of using a social media channel regularly for over six months, with a minimum monthly posting, content must be Catholic in nature and in line with Church teaching, the social media channel contains links to official Catholic content, eg www.vatican.va/en www.catholic.org.au
Plan – Step 2 Get them together
A Saturday at the diocesan offices would be best, to enable the maximum number of social media apostles to attend. On Saturdays workers are usually at leisure and mums can find someone to look after the children. Start the day properly with Mass, after registrations, a welcome and a vision for diocesan social media will be presented. First session is on using social media to evangelise. Second session is an overview of how various social media channels work, with a maximum 10 minutes per channel (just because you are proficient in one of them doesn't mean that you know how the others work or what the possibilities are). Third session is where your social media apostles each get 2-3 minutes to introduce themselves and their blog/twitter handle/facebook page etc and what they are trying to achieve with it. Some will be more focused on apologetics, others more focused on theology, bible study, vocations or family life. Fourth session is where people get split up into groups based on social media channel, (bloggers and tweeters, Facebook users, Pinterest and Instagram, Podcasts and YouTube) and learn from each other. Fifth session is re-presentation of diocesan vision, distribution of free resources, blessing and commissioning. NB Only get people who are actually proficient in evangelising through the various social media channels to lead sessions, and make attendance free.
Plan – Step 3 Do it again regularly
Aim for four times a year, and make sure you achieve three times a year. Subsequent Social Media Days should have opportunities for feedback at diocesan level and individual level about how things are going (statistics, reach, followers, comments, troll management etc)
Because currently very little diocesan content is being liked and shared. That needs to change.
Because in the culture wars of all the 'isms' and political moves to undermine the Judeo-Christian foundations upon which society rests, a united and co-ordinated response is needed. And it needs to be built now. When the government announces the next bit of anti-life legislation will be far too late. If you have no social media troops, then what you say as a bishop has no hope of trending on social media. If you have 50 social media apostles, you have a fighting chance. And troops take time to build, and time to establish online credibility. It takes perseverance, vision, dedication and real support.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us
St Paul the Apostle, pray for us
Blessed James Alberione, pray for us
Getting people onto Facebook is best done at the parish level by proficient parishioners. It can start with a gathering of parishioners for an introductory session to Facebook, what it looks like, how it works, privacy considerations, good pages for Catholic content, and how to use Facebook for soft evangelisation of family members. An achievable aim is three likes and one share of holy content per week. That's enough to be interesting but not overwhelming for unchurched friends and family. After the session parishioners would be invited to sign up for a one-on-one tutorial with a proficient parishioner. That tutorial will take place in the parishioner's own home and on his/her own devices, and is likely to be of two hours duration in order to go through all the set up profile and privacy procedures. It will also give time for the parishioners to get to know each other better. Inevitably new Facebook users will get stuck, confused and puzzled, so having a proficient parishioner who can easily stop by for 5 minutes and help them out on that learning curve is essential. NB. The introductory session needs to be conducted by proficient parishioners so that the other parishioners begin to trust their knowledge.
This page has proved so continuously popular that it seemed like a good idea to update it, and add some further thoughts.
You can read it here.