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The New Media Project is a research endeavor funded by the Lilly Endowment aimed at helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology.

 



Should black churches use social media differently? Part 2

May 08, 2012
By Monica A. Coleman

Best practices: During February, March, and April, 2012 the New Media Project bloggers looked intentionally at new media “best practices.” Today, we continue. Join the conversation: What are the new media best practices in your church or organization? What are some other examples of how communities engage in new media well? 

In a previous blog post, I raised the question of whether or not black churches should use social media differently than churches with other racial demographics. I noted that while African Americans represent approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population, 25 percent of blacks online used Twitter in May 2011. Recent numbers indicate that as many as 40 percent of Twitter users are African American.

This implies that black churches—if they are interested in reaching black people—should be active on Twitter. While I haven’t seen any statistics on the religiosity of the black people on Twitter, if the recent Pew study is correct that African Americans are more religious than the U.S. population as a whole (as measured by things like belief in God, church attendance, and frequency of prayer), then it’s worth assuming that some of the black people on Twitter have a decent level of interest in church.

So black churches should seriously consider Twitter when selecting social media outlets. The clergy at Community of Hope AME Church (COH) regularly give verbal references to the Twitter-followers and live-streamers during worship service. In this way, COH indicates that they are paying attention to the people whose bodies are not in the sanctuary. They are part of the church community as well.

To get attention on Twitter, one needs to be a serious Twitter-er. Studies show that most people on Twitter see items posted within the previous two minutes of the time they check Twitter. One should post 4–10 times an hour for Twitter recognition, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the highest traffic days for Twitter users. Given these trends, it’s clear that it takes a lot of time and attention to get Twitter-juice.

Tips for making it easier:

  1. I find Twitter user-friendly via a good smartphone app, and it enables tweeting-on-the-go.
  2. Live-tweeting an event (such as a worship service or program) can generate a lot of attention and far more than 10 tweets an hour.
  3. Choose a hashtag for your church that other church members can use.
  4. Allow more than one person (i.e., the pastor) access to the church Twitter account so that the responsibility is shared.
  5. Offer a theological perspective on what’s trending on Twitter.
  6. Follow religious new sources and websites.
  7. Retweet religious articles or news of interest—which is good Twitter etiquette. And it can generate conversation with followers.
  8. Reference Twitter followers during a church service.
  9. Encourage Tweeting during sermons. People might actually pay more attention, and it’s a good way for the preacher to get immediate feedback about what parts of the sermon were the most salient for listeners.
  10. Use a social media management program, and catch the insomniacs/partiers/people on the other side of the globe during one’s normal sleeping hours. (Who couldn’t use inspiration in the middle of the night?)

I can’t guarantee that black churches will see jumps in membership and giving if they take to Twitter. I can’t even say that the black people on Twitter are black church people. Yet given the percentage of black people who are active on Twitter, it seems like it could be worth the effort.

 

Monica A. Coleman, a research fellow for the New Media Project, serves as Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in southern California.

The New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmedia@uts.columbia.edu.


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