This is the first of many “Geekology 101″ courses on Media
BLEEP. Every so often, we’ll take a look at popular emerging technologies and give you a crash course on how they effect your ministry. Have a course suggestion? Toss an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll see what we can do.
Ah, Twitter. Perhaps never before in the history of the online world has there been an emerging social technology so equally adored and ruthlessly mocked. Although it’s been around for a few years now, it seems Twitter has recently transcended the geek world and is just now hitting it’s stride in the mainstream.
Let’s take a look at the heart of this technology and delve into the ways it can impact your ministry.
Twitter was invented to help its users share the answer to one simple question: “What are you doing?” In 140 characters or less, Twitter users post a stream of “tweets” (think micro-blog-posts) while they’re at work, out and about, bored in the waiting room, etc. By posting tweets and “following” other Twitter users, the idea is to keep in constant contact with what your friends are up to without the need for elaborate blog posts or emails. Users can also tweet directly at each other (@username), send private direct tweets (d username), and post mobile photos and links to content elsewhere on the web (usually through twitpic and tinyurl).
Of course, as with any other online networks, Twitter’s user base and functionality has grown in several unexpected directions. The posts from the entirety of the “twittersphere” have become an interesting way to measure the collective interests of the world at any given time. For instance, on a Wednesday night, the hundreds of thousands of posts including the term “American Idol” demonstrate a trend when looked at as a whole. Tweets are now searchable, and you can view the current trending terms directly on Twitter’s search page.
Extending this concept, Twitter users recently created a type of markup called a Hash Tag. By tagging your tweets using community-elected conventions, users have found a way to contribute their thoughts and activities to a specific topic. For example, to contribute your thoughts on the most recent episode of LOST, simply add #LOST anywhere within your tweet.
As Twitter’s user base continues to experience massive growth (it’s up to 7 Million members this March, compared to 500k last year!), it’s obvious that Twitter’s concept has caught the imagination of the public.
Users are fickle, and there’s a growing overlap in functionality between Twitter and Facebook. As with many other online fads, we may be in the middle of an excitement-fueled boom in users that will quickly dissipate when folks realize that they don’t care about what you’re having for lunch (or if they do, they’d rather just find out through your Facebook status update).
There’s also a good chance that folks will eventually grow weary of the increased burden to produce witty content, and will abandon these types of social news feeds more more traditional forms of communication (though I have to admit that this prediction doesn’t hold much merit in the continued boom of user-generated content).
Whatever the future holds, the fact is that Twitter is becoming hotter by the second and your ministry can probably benefit by taking advantage of it’s popularity.
The Right Way to Use It
It seems that Churches across the Nation are just beginning to explore an official presence on Twitter (if I’m honest, the Church I serve with created a profile only a month ago). In just a few short months, I’m seeing some popular trends beginning to emerge from the ministries that are doing it right.
Update regularly. Churches are bad enough at updating their own websites; a monthly or weekly update on Twitter isn’t going to gain you any followers.
Be approachable/conversational. Twitter is not the place to dryly post news items and upcoming events; if your users want quick updates about upcoming events, they’ll subscribe to your RSS feed. Tweets like “Awesome youth service tonight – 2 students accepted Christ!” and “We apologize for the Adult Pastor’s denim shirt this morning.” are engaging and have some human interest.
Engage users through trends. Keep an eye on the latest Twitter trends to find some relevant opportunities to engage your audience. Are users in an uproar about bad financial news? Post a tweet with a relevant scripture. Is there a tragedy on the local news? Post a tweet encouraging members to pray and help out.
Maybe one of the most promising ways you can use Twitter is to directly respond to tweets that mention your ministry. At Long Hollow, we regularly reply to tweets to follow up with new visitors and thank folks for being a part of certain activities. The possibilities are endless.
Twitter can be a great extension of your online efforts, but only if you use it in a compelling fashion. Although no one knows where people will be gathering a few years down the road, it’s a great idea to take advantage of the communities like Twitter that are popular right now.
Does your ministry use Twitter with any success? Do you hate it with a passion and avoid it like the plague? Let us know in the comments below.