By Dan Vis
April 20, 2020
Many people are at home right now, with lots of time on their hands, and they are using that time to catch up on their news feeds. But is that really the best way to use social media? Read on to learn more...
Social media is definitely all the rage these days. Roughly 3.7 billion people use it regularly, which is about 80% of the world's population with access to the internet. The average user has accounts on between 7 and 8 social media platforms, and spends between 2 and 3 hours per day using these tools to connect with people.
Facebook has 2.5 billion users, and is adding some 500,000 new members every day. It's messaging services process some 60 billion text messages per day.
YouTube has just shy of 2 billion active users. They upload nearly 400 hours of video every minute, and watch more than 1 billion hours of video every day on the platform.
There are over 1 billion users on Instagram sharing over 95 million new photos every day, generating an average of 4.2 billion likes per day.
And the list goes: LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Snapchat, Tiktok, Twitter, and many more. How is a Christian to respond to the endless list of platforms? What really is the best use of our time?
The Middle Ground
In my view, there are two dangers every believer must guard against. And if you can avoid either ditch, you may just end up on a more helpful middle road.
The first ditch is to "just say no". Many Christians take the position social media is a waste of time, and that we should avoid it altogether. And there is certainly some merit to this position. As the statistics above suggest, social media can be an enormous time sink. Much of the information in our news feed has little spiritual benefit, and some is down right spiritually aggravating. Spending too much time fostering digital relationships can cause real life relationships to suffer. And in general, there's usually some better option for investing those few spare moments we have, than trying to keep up with the torrent of news flowing through these sites.
But there can be real value in using social media wisely. For one, that's where people are at these days. And a well crafted social media strategy has the potential to impact thousands for Christ. In some ways it is similar to the advent of radio, and television. Many Christians were concerned with their potential for evil and chose to avoid their use. But others saw their potential for ministry and launched powerful globe spanning radio and television ministries that are still reaching millions today. Even the printing press, which has certainly been used to print all kinds of corrupt literature, was first used to print a Bible. And far more Bibles have been printed than any other book! So yes, let's exercise caution with new technologies, but let's also avoid the overly simplistic solution of avoiding all new things altogether.
The other ditch, of course, is to dive into social media with little thought, or planning, and allow yourself to be caught up in it. To indulge in social media freely, can feel like falling into a black hole. It is specifically designed to be addictive. And most of us can't really afford to have hours diverted from regular prayer and Bible study, or real world life for that matter. Worse, it's algorithms tend to promote stories and articles that reinforce our own biases and blindspots worsening humanity's tendency to close-minded tunnel vision. And provocative and/or troubling posts are programmed to rise to the surface, disturbing our spiritual composure, and interfering with a quiet and contented walk with God. To participate in social media freely, without guardrails or precautions of any kind is simply not wise.
Many people would probably do well to decrease the amount of time they spend on social media and divert it to pursuing a closer walk with God. Rather than sending out some tweet, send up a prayer. Rather than posting a status update, do a status check-in with God. Rather than uploading a picture of your meal, take some verse of Scripture and chew on that. Discipleship is all about the moment by moment hard choices of putting God first. And effective time management is right at the heart of that battle. If you want to grow in your walk with God, there is no question you need to bridle your time on social media, and get it under control.
So if these are the two ditches we should avoid, what is that better, middle of the road, alternative? I believe that it is simply to be intentional and strategic about your social media use. Here's what I mean by that...
Intentional & Strategic
Being intentional, implies you must first determine the reason or purpose for using social media, and each platform in particular. And being strategic, means developing methods and systems to help you achieve those goals most effectively.
Discerning a valuable purpose for social media helps us avoid falling into the ditch of just saying no to all of it. And having a clear strategy keeps us from falling into the ditch of wasting time on meaningless actions. Being intentional and strategic together helps you stay on that narrow, middle path.
One of the keys to developing a goal (intentionality) and plan (strategy) is to evaluate the pro's and con's of each platform, and assess its potential. This allows us to select those few that will be most beneficial to us, and safely disregard the rest. And for those few we do choose to use, we can then think through how best to take advantage of its features.
Let me share a few examples from my own personal journey:
Like most people, I have a Facebook profile, plus a page for our FAST Ministry. In the early days, I accepted every friend request I received, thinking it might serve as a useful marketing platform--until I hit the Facebook friends limit and had to stop. This caused my newsfeed to become bloated with updates about people I didn't really know, essentially making my account useless to me. So I rarely logged in. My problem was I didn't really understand how the platform worked.
Eventually, I decided to try and approach it more constructively. I researched a few articles and began to see Facebook more as a kind of address book, where I could keep up with various people from various stages of my life, and encourage them along in little friendly ways. Better still, it could be a kind of prayer journal, filled with important people in my life that I wanted to keep uplifted before God. Once the goal was clear, my next step was to develop a plan of action.
First, I unfriended well over 4000 people (one by one) leaving only those I really wanted to stay connected with. Second, I gave myself a 15 minute window once a day to quickly smash through my news feed, sending out short notes to people who popped up. To keep my feed from shrinking down to the same small group each day (Facebook watches who you interact with) I would periodically go through my friends list and drop in on people I hadn't heard from in a while, and quickly visit their page and leave a note. And with each contact, I could whisper a quick prayer to God.
The idea was to contact a maximum number of people in a minimum amount of time, and bathe the whole process in a ministry of intercession. I've found this process extremely valuable. I keep up with important events in people's lives, and strengthen connections with friends I haven't seen in years. To me it's worth that small investment of time.
As for my ministry page, I found a tool to help me preschedule announcements as part of my content creation process, and another tool to help me automatically post announcements from my site's rss feed--so our Facebook page is always filled with valuable and motivational content. But it doesn't require much time from me. I've tried marketing on Facebook, but find their privacy policies unacceptable, so I just use it as a bulletin board for our site, and keep my focus on using it as a personal address book and prayer journal.
This platform is only used by about 1 in 4 people in the USA, so it's not near as large as Facebook, but I do use it regularly. However, it's for a completely different purpose. Twitter allows users to post short snippets ("tweets") as a kind of micro-blog. And theoretically, all the world can hear what you say. The reality for me was different: Twitter works best as a news aggregator.
I've carefully chosen a small number of thought leaders I follow on Twitter, and use spare moments to browse through their latest posts when I want to catch up on news. Some posts are trivial, but others are quite insightful. The most important ones are links to news stories on topics that interest me. Often, I'll find articles on Twitter I would never see anywhere else, and that exposure helps me see things from a variety of different perspectives. I also make sure to follow a diversity of people--rather than just people I like and agree with. What I'm looking for are intelligent, thoughtful people representing different viewpoints, and that share links to good information. Choosing the right people turns Twitter into a super useful customized news source.
Many brands use Twitter as a customer support channel, but I haven't found that to be a factor for my ministry. Rather, people reach out via our Help Hotline (preferable) or my personal email (less preferable). So the public Twitter account for FAST Missions is very much like my Facebook ministry page--just an automated billboard for announcements. Things could change at some point, but for now, this is the approach that works best for me.
Take some time to go through your own list of social media platforms and follow the same process. Evaluate the merits of each platform, and whether or not it is worth pursuing. If it is, clearly define the purpose for that platform, and then develop a plan to help you maximize it's benefits. If not, consider dropping it. Each person will come to different conclusions based on their unique life circumstances, but what matters is that each person create a thoughtful personal social media strategy. The goal is for each person to be intentional and strategic.
By way of example, here are my personal assessments of a few other platforms:
Snapchat: This is a popular messaging app used by many young people. My daughter uses it, and it's one way I could reach out to her. But I have other ways to easily message her, and haven't really seen the need for something more. Other people, however, might have social circles where this service would be much more valuable, and worth using.
YouTube: This is another behemoth platform, rivaling Facebook, and it's especially popular among younger generations. But quality video creation takes time, and has a steep learning curve, so I've been reluctant to move this direction. I'm at a place now, however, where I feel impressed to start a channel, and begin posting weekly video devotionals. I'm still gathering tools, researching best practices, and developing processes to optimize the production of these videos. But it's coming soon.
Instagram: While Facebook is showing signs of decline, Instagram (owned by Facebook) is booming. And especially with the younger generation. It's primarily a photo sharing service, and I've never been much into snapping pictures. But creating YouTube videos would generate lots of potential photos, so it might be possible to snatch a few photos each week and post them to Instagram with little extra effort. I'm weighing the benefits.
LinkedIn: This is a really nice network for professionals, and if I were looking for a job, I'd definitely be using this. It has great tools for finding business leaders and connecting. And it's possible, it could be used to reach out to church leaders as well, but there's a whole process to that and I haven't really explored it well yet. Another project for another day.
Again, these are just reflections based my personal situation. I don't share them as recommendations, or even suggestions--but rather as illustrations, of the thought process I use in developing my personal social media plan. I first try to ascertain the strengths of a particular platform, and whether or not it can meet some potential need in my life. If it does, then I need to clearly define that purpose and develop a plan to maximize that benefit.
In other words, I want to be intentional and strategic.
If you follow this basic process, you can avoid missing out on all the good of social media (by not just saying no) and simultaneously avoid wasting endless hours (by having some guardrails). Rather, you can get in, get out, and maximize your benefit. As believers, we can't afford to completely ignore social media, but neither can we afford to indulge in it carelessly. Like everything else, we need to approach it wisely, with an eye to advancing the kingdom of God.
What about you? Do you have a personal strategy for social media. Is your social media use marked by both intentionality and strategy? What can you do to make your social media use more beneficial? Less time consuming? Share a thought in the comments below.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 04/24/20|
|Great job Sharlene! You did an excellent job on that tagging thing. :)|
|Posted by Sharlene Yvette Reyes on 04/24/20|
|Thanks Berith! Now I've forgotten who it was I wanted to respond to...but at least next time, I'll know. :)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 04/23/20|
|Thanks Berith. The reason I like it best, is the people who gather here. What an awesome group! :)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 04/21/20|
|Actually I should note, FAST is my preferred social media platform. :)|
Want to Read More?
FAST has been providing quality training and impacting lives for more than 20 years! To read more articles, or leave a comment, please join our community...