You don’t have to let your mind wander too far to think of some scary scenarios when it comes to your church social media. The best way to protect yourself is to have guidelines put in place from the start.
The first thing you need to do is to decide whether having a policy or set of guidelines is the way for your church to go. The basic difference is that policy are for staff and guidelines are for everyone. If only your staff has access to the social media accounts then policy is the way to go. It can be better enforced because you can put in the policy that certain behaviors have corresponding consequences (cause for termination, etc). If volunteers have access to your accounts then I would recommend guidelines over policy.
Whichever you choose, there are several things to consider for church social media.
- Do disclaimers need to be posted stating they are not speaking on behalf of the organization?
- Does the appearance of your page need to be consistent with your website and branding?
- What criteria are involved in setting up accounts and account settings?
- What are the ethical standards?
- What kinds of things should always be posted, and what kind of things need special permission? For instance, maybe events should always be posted, but things that could be construed as an opinion need permission.
- Who has access to the accounts?
- What types of communication should happen privately vs. publicly?
- When something goes wrong, when should something be deleted vs. posting an apology. (Sometimes deleting is worse)
- Privacy settings. Regardless of your policy on this they should be revisited periodically due to the changing nature of them.
While technically the use of images goes in the previous section, I wanted to separate it out. First, a picture is worth a thousand words, and they can make or break you. People will look at the pictures first, and it may be their first impression of your church. Second, many churches find words so much more valuable than images or other media and would otherwise skim over this section. That is not the generation we live in. We need to realize that and represent our churches well.
- Take branding into consideration. For instance, should the cover, profile and maybe even event photos reflect your church branding?
- How will you handle pictures of minors in your church social media? Do you need release signed by the parents before posting them?
- Pay attention to quality. Anyone with a decent cell phone has a decent camera these days, but that does not mean they take a good photo. Do you have someone at your church who takes good photos? Can they be your official photographer?
- Be careful reposting an image you found on the internet. You can’t just pull a photo off the internet and use it. Make sure you are using it legally.
Consider the various social media platforms. We will be discussing the different platforms and how to choose which are best for your church in a future post, but while creating your policy it is important to consider what each platform is for and how they are handled differently than others. For instance, maybe Facebook is more for church interaction and Twitter is for community interaction. Whatever is decided, this is the time to decide and the place to put it.
The purpose of having an online presence is not just because you feel pressured to do so. There needs to be for a reason and your policy/guidelines need to support your goals. What are your goals? To attract visitors? To be a resource? To teach or inspire? What does success look like?
The final element I will address is the time factor. Now wait. Don’t push back too hard just yet. It is possible to take an hour per week to create and automate a full weeks worth of posts. Depending on the purpose defined by your policy/guidelines you may be the best person for this job. Maybe you can take that hour, but you don’t have the time to keep track of comments, etc. This is the time to figure all of that out.