Monday, January 18, 2010

Blogger, Facebook and Twitter: a field guide to social networking

In Sunday's forum, the team behind what we might call "The Digital Cathedral" introduced St Paul's on-line outreach. There were some questions about blogs, twitter, and facebook, so here's an introduction to these different ways of connecting on-line.

Blogging: What is it? Blogs are specialized websites that allow frequent posts of writing, including video or pictures. They also have a commenting feature that allows threaded discussion with no size limits.

What's it good for? A great way to describe events or experiences, discuss issues, and delve into ideas with some depth. Good for regular updates, or consolidating information. Think of it like an on-line coffee shop or restaurant, where you can sit at the table and have a conversation with a bunch of friends. If you have things to say longer than 1-2 sentences, this is where to do it. Also being a web page, it is (relatively) permanent.

What's it not? Not good for private networking (it's not private), or for immediate breaking news, or for status updates.

Basics/The Cathedral Blog: There are three ways to participate:
  1. Read the blog: you're doing it!
  2. Comment. Our blog allows anyone to comment -- you just go to the Comments link at the foot of the blog post. This opens a window where you can type a comment of any length. Our blog authors will be delighted even if you just drop in to say you liked the post! Just sign your name, or a nickname. You then type a word verification (prevents computer spam). You can sign in with an on-line ID if you have one, or just choose anonymous, and press the PUBLISH button. (THis sounds much more complicated than it is, so be sure to try out comments at the foot of this post.)
  3. Submit a post! Write up a review, commentary, story, etc, and just send it to . It can be short or long, serious or humorous. The main thing is that should be in your voice. We ask that you send a picture of yourself. We can also post video and other photos. Posts are put in a queue and posted every few days.

Facebook: What is it? A social networking site that allows you to connect with friends and community

What's it good for? Good way to find old friends, stay in touch with brief messages, share pictures, and highlight blog posts or other things you've read. If you have college-age kids, this is an essential way to stay in touch with them! Pictures and profiles are relatively stable; comments are more ephemeral.

What's it not? Not good for long posts or detailed conversations. More casual; if a blog is a sit-down conversation in the restaurant, facebook is running into someone at the supermarket deli counter, where you can have a brief chat.

Basics Go to and set up a profile with as much information as you choose. The system will use that info to help you find friends; for example, people who went to the same college.

The heart of facebook is a page called the user's wall which lists the user's status updates and posts. You can update your own status on your wall; for example, "Username is going to the St Paul's forum this Sunday." Friends may reply ("Great! I'll see you there.") or post something on their own wall. In either case, all these status updates aggregate to your news feed, where you can see them in reverse chronological order (newest first). Thus, in one place, you can see what everyone is up to, whether they have suggested any web links they like, or whether they are playing Facebook games. While these updates are public (all your friends can see them), you can also use facebook for private messaging if you choose.

In addition to friending someone on facebook, you can also join Facebook groups, which are often based around issues or causes, or you can become a fan of an organization.

The Cathedral on Facebook: The Cathedral has a fan page on Facebook, where upcoming events are often posted, as well as short exchanges. Once you become a fan, you can write on the Cathedral's wall or reply to someone else's post. Important: You can see the Cathedral's page without having your own facebook account; you just can't write on it.

Twitter: What is it? Twitter is a cross between a text message and a blog, and was originally called a "microblog". Messages are limited to 140 characters and may be sent on line or through phone texts.

What's it good for? Quick status updates, breaking news. Very immediate

What's it not? Not good for a conversation, not good for seeing all your friends in one place. Transient.

Basics Like Facebook, you go to and set up an account. You can then tweet at will from your computer or your phone. If you use your computer, you might want to use free software that organizes tweets for you in a nice interface; I like Tweetdeck.

There are two ways to see other people's tweets. One is to follow a person directly, by finding their username (these are sometimes preceded by an @ sign, as in @username) and registering to follow them. This means anything they tweet will be sent to your account.

The other way is to follow tweets that are based on a topic. Topics are marked by so-called hashtags which people include in their tweets, in the format #topic. During the political unrest in Iran, for example, the demonstrators used the hashtag #IranElection to keep each other informed. People at last summer's TEC general convention tweeted the votes from the hall with the hashtag #ecgc (that's still being used for general church discussions); the current Prop8 trial is being tweeted from the courtroom with #prop8, which gives a live public transcription of the proceedings. There's no rule to topic hashtags; as events happen, people eventually coalesce around one and use it repeatedly. Twitter is particularly useful for breaking news because it's immediate and unfiltered.

If you see a tweet that you like, and want to share it with YOUR followers, you can retweet it (RT). This spreads tweets further than their original distribution.

The Cathedral on Twitter: You can follow the Cathedral under the username StPaulCathedral . There are lots of Episcopal hashtags of interest; check out #episcopalianbecause , which you can see here . Important You don't have to have a twitter account to see tweets; you only need an account if you want to post your own tweets.

This should be enough information to get you started. You will find there is cross-talk between Cathedral entries on Facebook and twitter, and there are frequent links to the blog from both. Why not post a comment here to let us know what you think? Or, if you have any questions, post them and we'll try to help! Just remember, in Chris Harris's words, these digital aids are meant to be doors into the community, and to foster connections and friendships IRL (in real life): a tool, rather than an end to themselves. Happy tweeting/FB/blogging, and we'll see you at church!

Update 6/13/2014
Blogs on Blogger and Wordpress are still going strong, Facebook and Twitter are still going strong.  There are now numerous other forms of social media including Tumblr mini-blogs, image sharing sites like Instagram and Snapchat, and bulletin boards like Pinterist.  Our Dean encourages us to tweet the "takeaway" from sermons, and on 6/29/14 the Episcopal Church will celebrate Social Media Sunday with the tags #SMSunday and #Epsicopal.  Call it digital evangelism.  What are your preferred forms of social media today?

Susan Forsburg is the blogmaster


Chris Harris said...

Great job Susan! This is a great follow up to our forum.

SLF said...

There's a permanent link to this post over in the sidebar, so people can always find it.