To many people, the thought of having a Facebook or Twitter accounts to casting your pearls before the Internet swine.
I have a different perspective.
I think it can be a powerful tool to bring others to Christ. The LDS Church is using this tool as well, to great benefit to share their message and try to convert people to their organization. There are good reasons many LDS missionaries are now sitting behind screens to proselyte. I think we can learn from them in at least how powerful theses tools can be, in a way that ought to help some of us overcome our aversion to social media. Being someone who works with social media as a profession, I thought it helpful to outline some approaches that could help those in awakened Mormonism to share their testimonies with others.
All that I state, I do as opinion and expert in the field.
Understanding the Value of Facebook
Several studies note the power and impact of Facebook. It is the most used social media platform by leaps and bounds. Thus, if you want to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible, Facebook is the best way to go. It’s has 1,000 times more users than Twitter. Younger people tend to use Instagram, SnapChat, and Kik, usually to avoid interacting with adults, but you can use tools that post to both Facebook and other platforms at the same time (Hootsuite is such a tool). I have found that the best and most valuable discussions occur on Facebook. Twitter tends to attract more trolling and bullying because of the gotcha element of less characters per post.
Facebook also allows for boosted posts and paid advertisements that are relatively inexpensive compared to other forms of advertising and more impactful these days due to eyeballs on smart phones. One $200 ad purchase could get your message in front of over 10,000 eyeballs, for example, over a period of time. You could target certain audiences (LDS, Christian, those who like John Pontius books, for example) as well as certain geographies.
Facebook, at least right now, is still the way to go.
Using Facebook Wisely – To Witness
Facebook is the reposit for cat videos, baby pictures, political rants, and movie talk. Many Latter-day Saints have been taught to share their testimonies over Facebook as well. However, there are best approaches to do this that can create the greatest amount of impact. There are internal AI features in Facebook as well as human psychology that determine how often your post is seen by others, both your friends and non-friends.
- Privacy settings – You will want to change your privacy settings to allow the maximum amount of people to see your posts. This creates the greatest amount of impact. If you are concerned with privacy, create two accounts, one that exposes your real life to the settings you wish (friends only or friends of friends), and then create another one to witness to others. Better yet, remove all of the sensitive imformation on your public profile and create a more private one that is closed to just friends and family and explain your reasoning to them. People like to be part of closed groups on Facebook where they can be more frank and share more private things.
- Post once a day but don’t post six times a day – Posting about twice daily maximized the algorithm that puts your post in front of eyeballs.
- Share links, videos, images, etc – This increases the liklihood of eyeballs more than just giving a statement on something.
- Say something engaging – You may even say, make it controversial. Facebook loves controversy. The trick here is to keep it a discussion and not a debate. Debates turn off lots of people and typically bring in people that wish to troll “bully” others. You have the power to remove unwanted posts and trollers. Do it. However, don’t censor discussion or disagreement. That helps people see your post. I have seen posts were naysayers were allowed to wander, and it helped bring it in front of other eyeballs and convert them.
- Remember the Gospel – Be kind. If you discuss, discuss using the principles of the gospel (faith, hope, and charity, love, forgiveness, etc.) and don’t get bogged down in the bowels of Babylon. If you are trying to reach an LDS audience, you must use their language (testify, not criticise); avoid lampooning church leadership all the time unless it is a specific call to repentance. It will simply turn them off and they will feel justified in their unbelief and idolatry. It’s better to justify your position with scripture, for example, than to simply criticize the “mall.” Use the examples of Abinidi, Samuel the Lamanite, Ezekiel, and the Lord if you need to point out errors in leadership.
- Converse Beyond the Responder – Remember, if someone is having a discussion or debate with you, and they are unlikely to respond to your persuasion, there are others who are lurking and liking who are reading your responsese and may be persuaded. You’re not discussing in a closed room. Keep threads alive without beating a dead horse. If the debate keeps repeating points, it’s better to simply walk away and let the other person have the last word.
- Pray to Know what to Say and When to Say it – There may be a time and a place to witness in your public posts. If you constantly use your profile to talk about your religion, it turns people off. You need to engage them on other topics to keep them interested in reading what you are saying. It’s okay to talk politics and cats and movies and kids. For some, that’s the hook to look at what you have to say. Then at some point, the Lord may prompt you to discuss a religious issue that can draw people in. I find that using it sparingly has the best impact. Otherwise, you get defriended really fast. If people seem drawn in or “like” your posts or don’t comment, they may be afraid to comment. Reach out to them through instant messanger to start the dialogue.
- Use your Face if you Can – Anonymous profiles tend to create more trouble because you are not held accountable for what you say. If someone is engaging you from an anonymous profile (no face, no information) and they are being rude, I would block or ignore them.
Facebook Private Groups – Cyber Fellowships
One of the ways we have seen this movement grow is thorugh private or secret Facebook groups. Private groups can be seen by the public who can see who has joined but they can’t see the content. In secret groups, no one can see the group unless they are invited. Both are useful for people who wish to discuss issues without others necessarily knowing where they stand. It can be a valuable place for people to be invited to be more open about questions and concerns. There are best practices here as well, that should be considered.
- Understand the Scope – Why are you creating or joining a group? Do some investigation to see whether it’s worth your time. Many LDS Facebook groups have strict rules about not bashing the Brethren (even hinting at it) or having any disagreements with basic LDS dogma. Often posts and people will get booted and excommunicated from forums pretty quickly. If you join such a group, it may be helpful to follow their rules and engage with people privately who seem open to dialogue. If you decide to form a group yourself, is it duplicating efforts (not as good) or does it have a unique angle that could draw others in? If you can get into a position where you become an admin in an LDS Facebook group, you could use your power to help open up dialogue, but remember that if there is too much information critical of the Church, people will leave.
- Treat Facebook Groups like Fellowships – Because they are. It’s not wise to have or be the only admin in a group. It creates a power structure that can devolve into tyranny. It’s better to have an open vote to sustain who the admins are in a group fellowship. If a group has only one admin who won’t share his/her power, I would consider leaving that group. As in a fellowship, there may be rules for healthy engagement that the admins and all should follow. While I don’t recommend the draconian example of most LDS Facebook pages (who rule without priesthood OR keys), we shouldn’t toss people for believing differently. Focus on developing rules of engagement, not areas of belief. A person who believes like you do but acts like an ass may not be fit to continue on in a group because they offend others too frequently. On the other hand, someone who disagrees, but does so politely may be a good fit. However, don’t let disagreers take all the oxygen from the forum. Give them a chance to air their positions but then move on to antother topic. Use common consent to set up rules, allow others, and booting offenders. It’s no different than your living room.
- Understand that Eyes are Watching – When you have private Facebook groups that people join, many are simply trying to learn. Realize that some do it out of anthropoligical curiousity. That’s okay, as long as they are respecful. Others are spies. Thus, what you say in a private forum may not stay that way. There are always risks with any activity online. Understand the risks. What you say or do on private Facebook forums can create images of who we are as a people. Eyes are always watching, if not engaging. Be an example of who we should be as a people who follow the Doctrine of Christ. When we are not, some of the best people in our groups that give great comments or have great insights will leave the group. It slowly descends into a pit of trollers and harpies. On the other hand, if you find yourself in such a group, instead of instantly leaving the group, overwhelm the bad stuff with good stuff. Post thoughful comments, insights, and ideas to move the discussion along so that others who are watching can see your example of a disciple of Christ.
YouTube, Facebook Live, and Podcasts
This site has gained prominence quickly do to the fact that it has audio content. When you can share ideas verbally, it is more powerful than having it simply being written. Podcasts can also be attuned to be usable by aggregators like SoundCloud and ITunes, where they can be subscribed to easily. People who travel and work in industries that allow them, like to listen to podcasts to pass the time. It’s becoming very popular, and surpassing music listening as the way to travel. It’s one of the best ways to hook people into learning about your position. YouTube works this way as well, but ads the visual element. Although they are more time consuming and less private, a video podcast discussion or lecture can drastically increase eyeballs and interaction. Consider doing a PowerPoint and making it into a YouTube movie. If you make it pithy and funny, it will attract even more eyeballs. Then open it up for comments on the YouTube page and share it to Facebook. Facebook LOVES videos. In fact, Facebook really loves it when you have to say something and use Facebook Live to record real time video that can be podcasted later. But don’t overdue Facebook live or you will get defriended fast.
It used to be we had to sacrifice our livelihoods, and without purse or script (or with an LDS allowance later on) went to far-flung places and had to learn languages to share the gospel message. Now it simply requires our time and a screen. The Internet and social media have changed so much of that, and while there is still a place for travelling missionary work, even in the United States and throughout the Mountain West, the vast abilities of online platforms have changed the game. If we really want to take seriously the command to share the gospel, we ought to all learn how to use social media to move forward the Work of the Lord. This can have impact first among our family and friends, those who we wish could join us in our endeavors for Zion. It can also impact strangers simply through algorithms of interest. It’s the Hyde Park of our day, but without platforms in a gloomy London fog and extemporanous speaking. Let’s use it!