- I will follow any local minister/pastor (my field) or any local person (within about a 3 hour radius), provided I know they are local. This is in part because I'm also interested in the off-line connections that can be made or begun online. Sometimes they follow me first and I follow back; sometimes I find them first. They may or may not follow me back.
- Otherwise, I follow only people I find interesting. This is becoming more difficult to do, so one way I do so is to pay attention on Twitter to the RTs that come my way. An RT—retweet—is a way of repeating someone else's content to your followers. You cannot see the replies someone you're following makes to someone else you are not following, but an RT is broadcast so that you can see it, regardless of whose name appears in it. RTs, then, become a way to find people who have interesting content. Sometimes, based on the strength of the RT'd comment, I will look at their profile, check the ratio of broadcasts-to-replies, and if they look interesting and to be a conversationalist, I will often follow them.
- Sometimes I pay attention to Follow Friday recommendations. This Twitter meme is #FF. On Fridays, some folks on Twitter recommends some of their followers through the use of the hashtag #FF. You will see all these, regardless of whether you follow those recommended or not. If the recommendations are coming from someone I've been paying attention to, I will often check the profiles of those recommended and may choose to follow some or all of them.
- Another way of finding interesting people, this one off-Twitter, is through blogs. If you read a blog you find useful and interesting, check around the blog. Many bloggers also tweet. When you find that link, you can check out that blogger's profile page on Twitter. I personally find that many of the bloggers I look at use Twitter more for broadcasting, but some are very good at engaging with their readers on Twitter.
- What am I looking for on someone's profile page? Several things. Keep in mind these are what I am looking for. They are not what you need to look for and there are many valid, but different ways, of using Twitter. I'm looking primarily for a mix of original content, some RTs, and some @ replies. I'm mainly looking at ratios. Everyone goes through phases where you have a lot of content or ideas to roll out, but if within 2 pages of your profile you have only 1 or 2 @s, I peg you (rightly or wrongly) as a broadcaster, and I'm not looking to follow broadcasters. I'm not looking to follow broadcasters because, on Twitter, I want to engage with people. If I want your broadcasts, I'll follow your blog in my RSS reader.
- Lists are a useful feature. Not extremely useful, because I suspect some people set a bunch of them up when they were first added and have since forgotten about them, but some users are diligent in creating, building, and maintaining their lists. Lists are useful because, on someone's profile page, the more times they are listed is an indicator of the value they add to others. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule for me because some people, newer to Twitter, have not been around enough to be listed by others, though their content and engagement is excellent.
- I like to see a real picture, but I care little about the profile information. A website is useful but not required (for me). Since when do people need to blog in order to converse on Twitter? I do like to see a location listed, but I also don't require that because some people are sensitive to putting what they perceive as too much information online.
- Lastly, I will almost always follow someone who engages with me. This works two ways—you may have followed me and I didn't follow you back (for any number of reasons, some of which are listed here, but sometimes, I don't see everyone who follows me and innocently miss some). One way to get on my radar, if you care about that, is to engage with me. Ask me a question, answer one of my mine, comment on one of my posts, join a conversation I'm having with someone else. Sometimes, people will find one of my tweets through a search or through some other means and correspond, or will join a conversation I'm having with someone else. I will often go to this person's profile page and almost always follow them. The main reason—because they took the initiative and showed engagement. Conversely, this does not mean that you should expect me to follow you because you write back to me to say, “Good post.” or “Nice idea.” That's not engaging at all.
- You probably realize by now that I follow many people who may not follow me back. So what? I'll still correspond with them. Maybe they'll follow me back. But Twitter is not a numbers game; it's a social network. I don't meet someone in the community here on Wednesday and expect to be invited to a dinner party on Friday.
- I'd encourage you not to worry about your following-to-follower ratio. Concentrate on good content, appropriate RTs, and good, solid engagement with people. Build the community—the social network—you want. Be interesting and funny. Don't worry about people that follow you today and unfollow you tomorrow. Twitter is very organic. If you stick around, your network will grow. You never know who will follow, or who you might follow, so enjoy, interact, and grow!
Yesterday I posted about how I use Twitter to post content (both mine and others') and build a community. Today, I post my guidelines for following people.
This the first of two posts on how I use Twitter. The second post, about how I look at followers and following, is here.
Like many, when I first began using Twitter, I couldn't make a lot of sense out of it. I had very few followers and had no idea why I should bother broadcasting messages to so few. It was much too easy to add followers, but I didn't want to do that and look like I was begging for followers. I also knew that I didn't want to get caught in the trap of tweeting pure nonsense (like what I had for lunch), though some of my early tweets no doubt reflect this insecurity.
In the beginning, I added my friends and also some acquaintances from college. I asked their advice and added slowly. I was surprised when I began being added by others. I tried to post useful information, links, and comments about things I was interested in. This is largely still what I do. I know it risks offending some because I post in the areas of religion and politics. (I am a Christian minister and hold relatively liberal political views.) I try not to be condescending with my views, though my sarcastic sense of humor likely comes across the wrong way (and I should tone it down).
I joined Twitter back when they posted every update from every person you followed in your “stream.” (The Twitter “stream” is simply the flow of updates you receive on your home page or in your Twitter client.) This allowed you to “listen in” on conversations that people you followed were having (via @ replies), find interesting conversation partners, and follow them. Now, Twitter only shows conversation (@ replies) in your stream if both you and the one you follow are following that person. It's a little more difficult to find people now.
To find followers, some people resort to mass follows. They go into other people's follower/following lists and try to follow as many as they can, hoping some will follow back. I don't like this because it appears to be nothing more than an attempt to get a large list. On Twitter, I'd rather have a smaller, more tightly-focused list of people that will have interesting things to say and will be good conversation partners.
So, how do I go about building my Twitter community today? I begin with posting content. I post links to my blog and I post links to articles. Lately, I try not to overdo this. For every link of my own I post, I try to balance it with links to others' articles or RTs of others' content. I also try to maintain a ratio of 10 replies (@s) to every non-reply tweet I make. I do this to be participatory. No one likes someone who does nothing but talk, whether it's about themselves or something else. Real conversation flows; it's a give-and-take. So I want to demonstrate that I am a conversationalist, not a broadcaster.
By the way, those who use Twitter to broadcast are in the right, too. To each his own. It's simply not how I choose to use Twitter, and these posts is about “my” Twitter philosophy.
In the next post, I'll list some specific guidelines I use in posting and in building my follower/following lists.
This is a follow-up to a post from last week where I wrote about how we used Twitter and Facebook in our church. That post detailed the basics. This post will detail the specifics of our follow-up.
1. I began the day by posting two tweets from our church Twitter account. The first tweet encouraged tweeting church members to provide thoughts, commentary, and questions during the sermon. The second tweet contained a theme sentence for the sermon as well as links to my sermon outline and slides.
2. Just like last week, I had someone in the office tweet the main points of my sermon while I preached. These points were tweeted in real time.
3. We used the Twitter hashtag #hrcc to organize the sermon tweets as well as any responses.
4. In the afternoon, I went back to Twitter, searched the hashtag, and responded to the tweets that came in during the sermon. For example, one member noted a similarity between the Joseph story and a movie, and I responded, asking for more information on that connection. Another member commented that goals help us persevere and I replied by asking if that part of the sermon was unclear and stating what I thought the goal should be.
5. As the week goes on, I plan to follow up both with questions to help church members apply the biblical teaching from Sunday as well as questions to help me focus my sermon for the upcoming Sunday.
6. I did pretty much the same thing on Facebook. On our Horton Road Church of Christ ministry page, I requested that church members leave a comment detailing their reflections on the sermon. To facilitate this, I had earlier messaged several church members to ask them for their participation.
7. I went back to Facebook in the afternoon and added my own comment to the thread. On Monday, I posted a follow-up question to help church members apply the sermon. I also posted a thread to generate discussion ahead of my sermon coming up this Sunday.
I plan to keep refining this system, and if you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions, please leave them in comments!
Yesterday we tried a social media experiment. We've been using our Facebook fan page and Twitter account mainly for distributing information. For Sunday worship, we tried to create a backchannel for discussing the sermon, both live and after the worship event. This is how we did it:
1. I sent out a message on Facebook to church members, asking them to access our Fan Page after worship and leave a comment, question, or insight about our worship.
2. On Twitter, I asked our tweeting church members to live-tweet the sermon, and to use a church-centered hashtag (#hrcc) at the end of their tweets. This means that as they had an insight, question, or response to the sermon, they posted it to their Twitter account as the sermon was being preached.
3. In connection with this, I sent out two introductory tweets from the church account. The first was a summary sentence for the sermon and a link to my sermon outline online. The second tweet was a link to the study notes I provided online.
4. During the sermon, one church member tweeted the main points of my sermon along with a link to the online outline and the church's hashtag (#hrcc).
5. After the sermon, I went back to Twitter, searched the #hrcc hashtag, and responded to the tweets so we could continue our dialogue. (You can read these tweets for yourself by going to Twitter Search and entering #hrcc.)
6. On Facebook, I read some replies that came through the messaging system as well as the comments that were placed on our Fan Page. I responded to these, again in an effort to keep the dialogue going.
We don't have a high percentage of members on Facebook, and even less are on Twitter. I'm still happy with our experiment and I plan to keep it up. I think it helped people engage the material better and it will facilitate community outside the weekly worship as we create a backchannel through which we can continue talking and tweeting with each other about God's word and its impact in our lives.
For those who were involved, what was your opinion? What feedback do you have? If you're just reading this, what questions do you have?
If the title of this post completely confuses you, just hang on! I'll walk you through it.
Yesterday, I posted about the value of online connection and what we are trying to do with our online networking accounts. Today, I want to follow up with a simple way of connecting. You can start this immediately if you are already on Twitter, or if you'd like to set up a Twitter account.
What is a Hashtag?
One of the things that makes Twitter so valuable is that it runs in real-time. That means that I can type and publish and update and you can read it immediately. This makes is extremely valuable for search--you can search within Twitter for posts about topics and events and receive information in real-time.
Going back to yesterday's post, if you are posting updates to Twitter during the sermon, others can read these updates in real-time. This means that other church members who may be on Twitter at the same time can read your updates and respond. It also means that others who read your Twitter updates but are not church members can see your updates about the sermon or worship service as you post!
This is where hashtags come in. A hashtag is, very simply, a way to create a search term within Twitter. For example, when you go to Google to search for something, you'll type in something like, "cheap plane tickets." That is your search term that you use at Google.
You can do this also at Twitter. Go to Twitter and search for "bible." It will return several results, based on when it finds the word "bible" in someone's update. However, a hashtag allows a poster to add the tag at the end of their post to mark that entire post for that search term. For example, when I post an update to Twitter about my sermon, I will include the hashtag #bible or #sermon. (Note that hashtags always use the pound "#" symbol ahead of the word.)
Why Use a Hashtag?
As I stated above, marking a post with a hashtag is a deliberate way of linking your post to a particular search term. Now, when you search Twitter for #bible instead of "bible," you will receive posts that posters have deliberately marked for that purpose. Rather than receiving feedback about someone deciding to buy a bible (search term "bible"), you will most likely receive information about bible studies, sermons, and information about the bible.
You can also use a hashtag to build a collection of posts around a topic. This is what we are working at doing for the Horton Road Church of Christ. We are using the hashtag, #hrcc, for church-related posts. For example, in this update I ask church members posting on Twitter to use that particular hashtag when they post about the church.
You can also search at Twitter for that hashtag, #hrcc, and find updates about the church that various church members have posted using that hashtag.
How to Use a Hashtag?
It's very simple to use the #hrcc hashtag. When you post a message to Twitter, simply use that tag somewhere in your message. For example, you might post this: "Really enjoyed worship service this morning. It's encouraging to be with other Christians. #hrcc" This would allow anyone searching that tag to read your message and begin interacting with you about the worship service.
You can also use this hashtag simply by searching for it at Twitter. You don't even need to have an account for this. You can simply go to Twitter.com, type #hrcc into the search box, and it will return the search results for that hashtag. You can then read what others are posting about the church and our activities, even if you don't have an account.
I encourage you to consider how these online networking services may be useful for you. If you have any questions, I'd be more than happy to talk with you about these services, or even help you with them.
Connection has always been an important part of any church, but particularly of Churches of Christ. It's one of the reasons owe have multiple bible studies during the week. It was a heavy influence motivating the beginning of Sunday evening worship services.
The idea was, the more times you could get together, the stronger you would be as a group.
Certainly, there is much to argue with this. Generations of loose acquaintanceships, masquerading as friendships, demonstrate that simply gathering together, even frequently, does not build real relationships. But there is still something about connecting with each other that makes us feel better and feel closer to each other.
Some churches meet this need through the offer of different fellowship activities. Other churches use small groups. The idea behind these is to offer varied points of connection, assuming that if we offer a large enough variety of ways to connect with others, people will find an avenue that fits them and become involved.
But in today's world, many people don't have the time to spend attending multiple classes, services, and activities at the church building. Some live far enough away from where the church they attend that it's impractical to meet more than once each week. Others have work schedules or family obligations that often conflict with meeting times.
But these people still yearn for some kind of connection outside of weekly Sunday worship services. And this is where the power of the internet comes in. Just as previous generations would stay connected to each other during the week by phone, today's generation stays connected by email, text message, or online communication.
These networks provide means of communication and connection by the ways they link people together. Other than email, a couple of the bigger networks online are Facebook and Twitter. Many people use these services to build a profile about themselves, who they are, what they like, and so on, and to stay in touch with other friends.
I personally vouch for both these services. I have accounts at both, and have stayed in touch with old friends and church members through both. Facebook generally keeps accounts private, but you may check out my Twitter account at this link. (Twitter accounts are public by default, though you can set your account to be private, if you want.) If you have a Facebook account, you can connect with me by clicking here.
These services can also be used evangelistically, for fellowship, and for Christian communication. In addition to sharing thoughts and messages with others, I also use these services to share links to my sermons, to good articles I found online, and to other resources that can be used devotionally.
At the Horton Road Church of Christ, we're slowly building our online infrastructure, piece by piece. We desire to deepen our communication with each other. We have set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account and we encourage those who have accounts to use them both to connect with each other and to spread the word about our church by posting a brief update about your church experience on Sunday or after some other activity.
An example of how this all might work is this: A church member is inspired by the Sunday worship service. She goes home and posts about her excitement on her Facebook account. She then contacts another church member through Facebook, asking what she thought about the sermon. This church member responds later in the night, thereby creating a positive flow of communication about the church that can be seen by others who may not even be members of the church! Meanwhile, a friend who doesn't attend church reads this member's Facebook update and responds, opening the door to information being shared about the church.
Another church member hears something during the sermon that really sparks his interest. He pulls out his phone and sends a post to his Twitter account. This post is broadcast to all who are following him. Information about the church and the church's teaching goes out, live, to anyone who is following this church member's updates. Later, when he checks in at night, he sees a couple comments and questions from friends about what he posted. This opens a dialogue about the church and what we believe.
These examples may seem far-fetched, but they are in the realm of possibility. I encourage you to investigate these services and consider signing up, or if you already have accounts, use them for God's glory by communicating with other church members and posting thoughts about our worship services and activities. You never know how someone might be reached. It's up to us to use the tools we can to take the gospel into our world.