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Making connections through social networking in cyberspace (part two)

By Cheryl A. Hemmerle

SUMMARY: Dale Carnegie said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

Although his comments preceded Internet-based social networking, Carnegie was on target. With the contagious nature of social networking in cyberspace and a few well-tested relational strategies, your church can grow its ministry and fulfill its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In last month’s e-newsletter, you learned how to begin social networking in cyberspace by setting up an individual profile. You discovered how easy it is to connect with others, expand your network of friends, share information about yourself and find ways to explore common interests with people you would otherwise never meet. Now it’s time to extend your personal reach in cyberspace by creating a social networking group for your church.

How can I reach out and draw people in?
You can find many meaningful and creative ways to use social networking sites to take your church’s ministry and mission to cyberspace. Some churches create social networking groups for youth or young adults to stay connected throughout the week or to reach out to other teens and young adults across the World Wide Web. Some churches host social networking groups to attract seekers and visitors, while others focus on nurturing adult members and providing opportunities to strengthen their spiritual lives online. One way to learn how other churches use social networking sites for specific groups is to visit a site like Facebook or MySpace and search for the keywords "United Methodist" under groups. On Facebook alone, more than 500 United Methodist groups reach tens of thousands of people.

What is the secret to setting up a social networking group?
Most social networking sites require an individual profile before allowing you to set up a group profile. It is a good idea to gain the support of your local church leaders and Web ministry team. Likewise, it is a good idea to discuss the purpose of the social networking group, define the intended audiences and determine what information, events and resources you will share. Based upon the decisions you make about the purpose of your church’s social networking group and its intended audiences, you should select an appropriate social networking site. For example, if your goal is to strengthen church members’ spiritual lives, using a faith-based social networking site like MyChurch is appropriate. A group for young people wanting to reach other young people might be better situated on MySpace.

What are the benefits?
Establishing a group on a social networking site for your local church greatly increases your church’s visibility on the Internet. With a social networking group hosted by your church, you can include links to your church’s Web site or e-mail address, upload videos of sermons, share upcoming events and enlist others in causes sponsored by your church. The key to a successful social networking group experience hosted by your church is to maintain active interaction among group members. To accomplish this, you must infuse the group with relevant, timely information and moderate discussions to keep them focused, supportive and appropriate. With careful attention and a little time, your church’s social networking group can become a growing, vibrant place to developing meaningful connections that transform lives.

How do I set up a group?
It is quick and easy. Here are the basic steps, but remember each social networking site will have a slightly different set-up process:

  1. Establish an individual profile on a social networking site.
  2. Log into your individual profile and create a new group.
  3. Give your group a descriptive, succinct name.
  4. Add basic information about the group.
  5. Upload an image, graphic or avatar to represent the group.
  6. Decide if the group will be open to the public, by invitation only (private) but viewable by others who are not members of the group, or viewable only by those invited to join.
  7. Use the features of the group profile, such as forums, videos and photographs to begin sharing information.
  8. Locate and invite others on the social networking site to join the group.
  9. Enlist the support of group members to serve as moderators, hosts and regular contributors to the social networking group to keep content fresh and focused.
  10. Post links on the group profile to the church Web site, e-mail and any other Web presence for your church. Provide contact information and an address for the church so online interaction easily can transition to offline participation.

An alternative to setting up a group on most social networking sites is to use Facebook Pages. With Facebook Pages, your church can have its own professional presence without being created as a group under an individual’s profile. People become "fans" of your page and can interact in much the same way as groups. To learn more about Facebook Pages, visit the Facebook.com website.

---Cheryl A. Hemmerle is technical training specialist for United Methodist Communications. She develops online and face-to-face training and provides resources for using Web and Internet technology for effective ministry. She uses Facebook and LinkedIn as her social networking sites and hosts a group, Web Ministry Basics, on Facebook as well as being a fan of The United Methodist Church and a member of the "Nothing But Nets" cause.