Good social media creates community. Paul Reissmann explains how Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter connect God’s people across The Michigan Conference.
Senior Content Editor
Michigan Conference Communications is growing its Social Media network. Director of Communications, Mark Doyal, reported at the Michigan Annual Conference on June 1, 2019: “Last August we launched a whole new series of Social Media. Within 90 days, we jumped from 16th most liked and popular Annual Conference Facebook page in the world to where we are today, about 12th.” Doyal then added, “Do you want to be 12th?!?”
Now, 90 days after his report on the stage in Acme, Michigan Conference UMC has 3,346 followers and is 11th. Gaining. As our Social Media community continues to expand, we turn to the man who assists in that effort.
As the Michigan Conference Social Media Assistant, Paul Christopher Reissmann celebrates his middle name. “It means, “bringer of Christ” and “that’s right on the nose,” he says. Paul, currently living in Holland, MI, is in his third year at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. He is working on a Master of Divinity, and Paul hopes to be commissioned at the 2020 Annual Conference as an Elder. Let’s learn more …
Tell us a little about yourself and your philosophy regarding Social Media for the Michigan Conference, starting with why it’s a good tool for ministry.
I went to Western Michigan University for communications studies and creative writing. As a result, I learned to value words and how they interact with the reality around us. When you read John’s gospel…the word became flesh … all these deep understandings come out about language. That has been the basis of my theology ever since and informs my philosophy for social media. Social media is a way we affect the reality of others. It’s similar to how letters or the telephone or email revolutionized communication in the past. Social media changes the way we have relationships. As Social Media Assistant and as a pastor, I am interested in maintaining creative space online by giving people tools and resources they need to engage their faith with the Conference and the world. If I were to use one word to characterize Social Media, it would be “relationship.”
The Michigan Conference now communicates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Talk about the reasons to follow each platform.
Individuals use Twitter for directly engaging with people, brands, churches, and organizations they value and wish to follow. Twitter is really good for immediate news coverage. If you are in the know and want all the news all the time, then use Twitter. Twitter is the main platform we use to communicate Annual Conference and other large events because it is effective in reporting in real time, minute by minute. Instagram is useful for those who value content and good stories rather than a flow of information. Instagram is a more creative platform, with good pictures and more authentic representation of people. Instagram goes for pictures over text. Facebook is good as an amalgam for all of that stuff. It’s good for not only networking but also for direct following of your news and groups doing things in the world. Facebook is not as interactive as Twitter, but that’s changing a little bit. Facebook allows for more comments and larger comments. Most people are active on Facebook. If users on Facebook counted as citizens of a “Facebook Nation,” Facebook would be the 3rd largest country in the world. That’s how large it has become. Focus of Facebook is information whereas the focus of Instagram is image-driven content; expression through photos and videos rather than words.
The content that you post on Michigan Conference social media is not random. Talk about the pattern.
On Facebook and Twitter there is intentionality in how we produce and publish content. Daily at 6 a.m. we have a Bible graphic that highlights scripture in the lectionary. The first post of the morning centers us for the day. This goes back to the practice of praying through icons. In the past, the Church has used the icon as a window into our relationship with God. That is rooted in Eastern Orthodox tradition and is baked into Wesleyanism. At the end of the day at 9 p.m. we feature a Snapshot of Vitality, ministry happening in The Michigan Conference. So, we start the day with a piece that is more meditative, and then we end the day with appreciation and gratitude for what we have done as part of our ministry in Michigan. Both these posts acknowledge God is moving in our midst. God shows up in this cyclical pattern that begins and ends each day in our social media.
Then there is a weekly pattern, as well. On Sunday we focus on faith-oriented content. Monday, we feature promotional material for events in Michigan and beyond. Tuesday is an informational day … did you know this thing is happening in the church or in the world? Wednesday shares tools for ministry; UMCOM articles or planning for VBS, etc. Thursday is “connection day,” taking us across the nation or world to what is happening in other parts of the United Methodist Church we don’t normally hear about. Friday is about inspiration. I post something to be joyful for or very grateful for. We need a little extreme steam on Friday to get us through the end of week. Saturday is catch-all day. I try to focus on fun and odd and different stuff on Saturday; as Ann Lamott says, “carbonated holiness.”
Of course, we go off-pattern when we need to. Social Media can be a tool to galvanize people to do the work of the church in times of crisis. Some posts are designed to bring us spiritually present with suffering people, who may or may not be right around the corner. Our concern does not stop with social media posts, but it is a beginning as we raise awareness. It’s a balance. We can’t let the many tragedies overtake or overwhelm our whole platform.
Let’s return to the scripture for a moment. The lectionary includes several texts each day. How do you choose which one you feature?
I look through and do a gut check to see if there are any Apocryphal texts that may be fruitful, though not familiar. Some don’t like to include them as they are not in the canon, but I want people to be aware of them. Then I look for iconic texts that people know well and focus on 1-3 verses that tell what’s happening in the story. I look for images suggested by the text. Here’s my methodology. On Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday I make the gospel a priority. If there’s a prominent story I space the verses out on those days of the week. Usually I choose a couple psalms, placed Monday and Thursday. Sometimes there are alternative Old Testament or epistles I post on Tuesday and Friday. If the spirit moves, I don’t hold rigidly to the pattern. When I write the devotional introduction, I keep my mind on where the conference is spiritually. What needs to be said or prayed at this moment in the life of The Michigan Conference?
What are the challenges when doing Social Media for the Annual Conference?
Writing leads and devotions for the posts. What content to produce is challenging as I must keep everybody in mind. Social Media is an ark … we all get there together and to do so, each of us must live with the discomfort of relating to people who are different from us. Social Media is a barometer of our learning to live together. For me, developing social media involves maintaining community. My role is to figure out how to help people speak in a way that they can be listened to. The challenge is to create that environment and present that invitation.
What is the Social Media Policy of The Michigan Conference?
We follow John Wesley’s direction to do no harm, to do good, and to stay in love with God. We need to consider … Is what I am saying harmful to somebody else? Is what I am posting doing good for the Kingdom of God? Is what I’m posting keeping me in love with God and helping others foster their love of God? That’s challenging to uphold. It is deceptively simple but incredibly hard. Something might be good for you. Then your ego gets in the way and you justify what you say: certainly this is good and not harmful. I understand people believe that something is the utmost good, and so they post it. But it may put others out of sync with God. Unfortunately, our policy does not cover baiting. It doesn’t help us gauge how people may be cultivating division. These are not rules. They are guidelines that we hope people engaging with our social media will live up to. When they don’t, I must discern if I have to speak with that individual for the sake of the community. It all goes back to community … everyone is welcome on our social media, but not all behaviors are welcome.
How do we engage with Social Media in a healthy way? What tips do you have for this moment in social media history?
Zoom out a little bit. Yes, there’s a lot happening in the world influenced by social media. We need to recognize that social media as a technology has been used by outside forces to influence an election and that will likely happen again. There’s the prevalence of fake news on social media. Genocide has been generated through social media. Twitter is seen as a toxic place to be. We live in a time where algorithms generate what info we see, when we see it, and how we interact with it. Algorithms feed off human reactivity. The more likes, comments, shares you post, the more likely you are to see similar content in your news feed. We see the stuff that makes us angry, hurt, sad, and frustrated first and foremost. That’s bad news. But, the good news is we have a lot of control over what the algorithm shows us. With any form of media, you need to pick and choose intentionally what you are going to interact with, especially in your social media platforms. Yes, studies have shown that for a lot of folks, social media can be a machine that generate loneliness, depression, anxiety and chronic anger. Because social media platforms, in general, attempt to make you stay on the platform, you must use social media wisely and in moderation. All things in God’s world are God’s. So, I don’t think social media is a bad thing. At some level, it comes from God. We need to be good stewards of everything in God’s world and be careful how we interact with God’s gifts.
What would be your advice for churches wanting to use social media effectively?
Local churches can email me for consultation; email@example.com. That’s part of my job. Email me and set up time to discuss specific needs. In general, remember these five things. 1) Most people use a website or social media before they come to your church. That means social media is a worthwhile ministry to understand and do well. 2) Social media is not a bulletin board. It is not a place to put up all your events. Just because you’re doing something is not a reason why I should be there. 3) Good social media content comes from a church that can understand its vision and purpose for being and intentionally makes and publishes content around that vision and purpose. 4) Social media overlaps with vibrancy. Content generation is not hard. If your church is doing something there is always content available. You have a pastor who writes for your newsletter; you have a family whose story you want to highlight; there are people who have stories of faith in your congregation; there are accounts of your church history, like a plaque dedicated to a person who has been in this church since she was 4-years-old. 5) Social media is something that is a skill and a ministry, so it shouldn’t be given to just anybody, like a youth, “because they use it all the time.” The person doing your social media needs a vision for your church and skills to communicate that vision.
Complete the sentence: “I know I’ve done my social media job well when … “
When I read the comments on the posts and the insights and the gratitude match. It’s more than just getting likes and shares and comments. You can sense when the people interacting with our social media are actually enjoying the content. I love it when people say, “This is such a cool ministry!” Or, “That’s a funny costume the pastor is wearing!” Or, “Praise God for her!” Never underestimate the power of words to heal and to wound. That truth is so obvious working in social media. As Gods people, we are called to heal. Authenticity and transparency build community and foster trust.