Social Media and Sacrifice

People worry about social media use for faith purposes. They worry about the privacy issues for themselves and for fellow church members. They worry about the privacy of young people who are online Facebooking their little hearts out anyway. They worry about having a church page that can be seen by advertisers (a lot it seems – I have now been banned from two Anglican Facebook pages and one group for advertising the dangerous, addictive, expensive, and morally bankrupt Virtual Pilgrimage – but that is an example and not the main point). They worry about expressing imperfect opinions that will be seen by imperfect people, and responded to in imperfect ways.

Concern about privacy is wise. Be informed. Take the best care you can of our young people online. Exchange ideas about how to do it. But… please don’t be paralysed by those concerns. We, the churched, the seekers, the strugglers, the doubters and the wrestlers-with-faith have stories to tell. Furthermore, we are greatly enriched by one another’s stories. If we fail to tell our own faith/struggle stories, or to respond to those of others, we sometimes lose far more than we protect.

The faith/struggle story that has caught my attention and inspired me this week is that of Dr Giles Fraser, who has resigned his position at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, over concerns related to social justice and the Occupy movement. Giles is being applauded, and rightly so, for his sacrifice of income and position to defend Biblical principles. You probably heard that on the news. However, my experience of these developments has been so much more than a news story – because of a less lauded sacrifice. Many concerned and involved people have sacrificed a lot of their own online privacy to tell the smaller backstories that intersect with and enrich the main news items.

A community of people holding diverse viewpoints within or about the church has formed online just as surely as one has formed on the ground outside St Paul’s. Putting privacy to one side, they have shared beliefs, hopes, fears, doubts and brilliant inspirations. They have exchanged thanks, encouragement, criticisms, questions, and yes … occasionally insults. Some have told us what they do in real life, have shared their locations, or have agreed to meet strangers. Some have even flash-mobbed for Evensong.

The church, and those who care enough about it to be its critics, have been imperfect, exuberant and engaged together in cyberspace, just a few clicks from your desktop. They could not have done this nearly as well without sacrificing a little privacy. Are you being called to take some small steps in this direction?

The word privacy, partly erased.

Privacy matters, but we sometimes need to sacrifice a little to live out faith online.

Some of the items that have interested me most on the St Paul’s story are at http://www.facebook.com/SocialMedia4Faith/posts/250508358332789. I have found many of these through following the #OccupyLSX hashtag on Twitter. If you have never tweeted, you can follow this hashtag at http://tweetchat.com/room/OccupyLSX with your privacy fully intact. You’ll find a very vibrant, multi-dimensional conversation going on. Also worth a look is #GilesFraser.

The image is by Flickr member alancleaver_2000, and has an attribution license. 

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Pragmatist’s Protest

Today I managed to attend part of #ChSocM. That’s a Twitter chat, on Wednesday afternoons in New Zealand time, to do with the Church and Social Media. Great stuff, great people, but being me, I disagree with some of them some of the time. But don’t worry about that. It’s because I’m only just getting to know them. I’ll probably manage to disagree with all of them at least once as time goes by. It pays to be fair.

So here is my disagreement for today:

The point was made that a sermon doesn’t make a very good blog post, because preaching and blogging are two entirely different genres. If the sermon was to be uploaded as preached, audio or video recordings were deemed better than text.

Hmmm…

While my favourite blogs and my favourite sermons have had different styles, I can think of some very good reasons to upload sermons as written.

  • More than half of our clergy are volunteers. They often hold down full time jobs so that they can do rash and indulgent things like eating, as well as working for the church. Their time is precious. Fashions in blogging may be compelling, but in fairness, adhering to them may be poor stewardship of time.
  • In those parts of New Zealand where internet connections are slow, it is very difficult to become a connoisseur of the blogosphere. Readers of many church blogs are likely to go to them because they know what is there; if it is a written copy of the sermon, they won’t be miffed.
  • Many of our city congregations have quite large numbers of immigrants, for whom the language of the sermon is not their mother tongue. For these people, an online text copy of the sermon has an advantage. Unlike a paper copy, a sound file, or a video, it can be fed through Google Translate. The ability to revisit the full text is greatly appreciated by people whose languages are catered for by translation machines.
  • I have read some lovely sermons by local preachers. Our ACANZP preaching styles are culturally determined, and often do make a good read.
  • While some of our churches have the hardware and the bandwidth to make sound or video recordings of sermons practical, many do not. Even if the church can record and upload, those likely to access the blog may have slower connections, or limited budgets for downloading streaming media.
  • Even where sound and video are practical, they cannot be skimmed as text can.

If you have time to absorb best practice in blogging, great. Go do it! There is plenty of advice out there in cyberspace, and there are lots of good models. However, if you’re just copying and pasting the sermon into a blog each week, don’t let anybody rain on your parade. Be thankful that you have the time to do that much. If you have an extra five minutes, find the most important sentences and mark them in bold to facilitate skimming. If you have an extra twenty minutes, summarise, add a picture, include ideas for further study, or link to a couple of relevant web resources. But please resist the urge to do all of those things, or you know what will happen. Someone will say that if you can spend that amount of time online, you’re clearly not pastoral enough, not missional enough, and definitely not any use at all in the real world where actual ministry happens!

Pragmatic bloggers sometimes need to be true to the original, keep life simple and proceed in faith.

Perhaps the the motto of Waikato Diocesan School for Girls can be a good guide for the pragmatic church blogger.

Veritate, Simplicitate, Fidelitate
Blog the truth
Keep it simple
Proceed in faith

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Are there any Real Humans at this Page?

Most faith-based organisations with pages on Facebook intend these pages to be missional, and to have the capacity to help new people form relationships with the church.

Now a couple of thousand years ago, a being sometimes known as God spotted that humans have trouble forming relationships with non-human entities, and that is what the incarnation story is all about. So, just like forming a relationship with God, the process of forming a relationship with the church sometimes requires an actual human or two to be part of the picture. Pop along to Sunday worship, and you will be able to spot the humans, usually without too much trouble. Pop along to your brand new, shiny Facebook page in default condition, and there is not a human in sight. This post is about how you can change that.

It can be very helpful to feature at least one page owner (page admin) so that he or she displays on the left side of your Facebook page, and can be contacted by visitors to the page. This page owner should ideally be online in Facebook responding to communications at least twice a week. His or her personal security settings should allow a complete stranger visiting the page to send a message, but not necessarily to view his or her personal wall. The point of this is that clicking on the profile picture of the visible page owner should not be leading the visitor down a blind alley. It should allow communication to take place. It quite often doesn’t!

To display a page owner, click on Edit page at the top right corner of your page. Then click on the Featured tab at the left:

Use "Add featured page owners" to show visitors to your page who the real people are behind the scenes. Click picture to enlarge.

Click Add featured page owners at the bottom, then choose the admins who you want to make available to visitors as points of contact. Save your changes. The owner’s profile picture will display below the pages your page has “liked”.

The owner(s) then show below sites the page has "liked" on the left.

Note that above the Add featured page owners button, it states that “This page will be shown on their personal profile”. People need to be comfortable with that.

When you first set up a page, it has one owner or admin. It can be wise to add more admins, to share the workload if the page gets busy, and to safeguard against someone losing access to Facebook and leaving the page unattended. There can even be a succession of page owners if people move on.

To make someone who has already liked your page into an admin, look on the left to see how many people like your page. On your own page the words like this under the number are a hyperlink, leading to lists of all those lovely people and pages supporting your own page.

Here is the link to the people who have liked your page.

You can turn someone who likes your page into an admin by clicking the Make admin button beside his or her name. Excuse the blurring I have applied to the next screenshot. I suspect the Privacy Act may apply to the identities of people who like my page, as they are normally hidden.

Click "Make admin" to promote a contact who has liked your page to be a page admin.

New admins have just as much control over the page as the original owner, so should be chosen with care. You may feature as many or as few admins as you like. If everyone posts in the name of the page, some groups like admins to sign posts with their initials.

It is possible to write on your page in your own name, and this can lend a more personal touch. Go to Edit page at top right, then Your settings at top left, then remove the tick beside Posting preferences.

Remove the tick in the posting preferences box to post on your page in your own name.

I hope I’ll be able to see a name or a face behind the page a little more often now. Our own fragile echos, perhaps, of the incarnation story, as we seek to be relational in mission through social media.

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Now you see it. Now you don’t.

I’ve contacted a few people, where I am able to figure out who administrates a church Facebook page, to say “The virtual pilgrimage is coming your way. Please make sure any posts of support don’t get hidden as spam”. Here are some things I have found out.

  • Most of our church pages feel very new to the people who run them.
  • There is low confidence about what to post.
  • There is lower confidence about what others may post.
  • If you know all about hiding and unhiding posts, you can pat yourself on the back. You’re doing really well.

The fearfulness that some stranger will come along and write terrible things on a church wall is holding people back in using Facebook missionally. Many pages are not being shared widely within the flock, and are not being shared beyond the flock at all, because people simply don’t know what to do if something really negative gets posted on the page.

The first thing I want to share is my experience. I have a hand in administrating six Facebook pages and the worst thing ever posted has been unsolicited advertising. Advertising for several quite ordinary commercial activities, and one private garage sale. Now that people do not have to “like” a page to post on it (a recent change) we may see a bit more of that kind of thing. However, my personal profile has seen more rubbish. At the present time, if a friend clicks on a dodgy link that copies itself all around Facebook, the resulting posts seem to land on other people’s personal profiles rather than on pages. Your church wall is very unlikely to be covered in unsavoury material when you come back from holiday, and if you start having negative experiences, there are things you can do.

Dodgy Stuff

The day may come when you visit your page and see something that you are not sure how best to respond to. You have choices:

Hiding the post will almost always be your first choice, because it gives you time to think.

Hovering your mouse over the top right corner of the post that’s making you go “Hmmm” will give you the options shown. First hide the post and take a deep breath. The person who posted will not receive any notification that you have hidden the post, and nor will the general public. You have time to think, pray, or seek advice.

In the case of advertising from someone in your area of outreach, you may well choose to respond just as warmly as you would to a visitor to your church who hands you a business card as a way of keeping in touch. This person may be in business, but mentioning it on your Facebook page or sharing the card may simply be a way of engaging with you that works for them. They are in touch, and that’s a good thing.

In the case of offensive material, you can report it. Select Report as Abuse, which will give you options to describe the problem:

Here are the things Facebook sees as abuse. Just select an option.

I have only reported an abusive post on my personal profile, but doing so did not remove the post. If you have the same experience, you should now select the remove and ban option (shown in the first image, but worded slightly differently depending on whether a page or a person made the post).

In the case of posts with links that “don’t feel right”, do not click the link to find out. Hide the post. Then Google the words of the post. Most posts linking to phishing scams, malware and so on will be well documented. If the post is definitely dodgy, and comes from a completely unknown person, remove and ban. If the post is dodgy and comes from a member of your faith community, contact them to let them know that the security of their account has been compromised, then remove the post.

If you’re unable to decide, leave the post hidden, but respond to it. Say that you are concerned that it may be malware and ask for more information. The original poster will be able to answer you. If you have no reply within a few days, delete the post.

Rescuing the Good Stuff

Whether or not you have ever hidden a post, you need to check hidden posts from time to time, because Facebook will hide some posts for you, just to be “helpful”. These may include posts from seekers or supporters, and finding them and responding warmly is clearly a good idea.

Find "Hidden posts" on the left side of your page.

All you need to do to restore hidden posts to visibility is to click on Hidden posts on the left side of your page, hover your mouse over the top right corner of the post, and select Unhide post.

However, there are also more global settings for hiding and unhiding page posts. Spot the difference in the images below:

With this setting, all unhidden posts by all visitors are seen.

With this setting, posts by the page admin and any comments on those posts are seen, but no posts initiated by visitors are seen.

Visitors to your page can toggle between the two settings above, but they are unlikely to. As an admin for a missional page offering a virtual welcome to participate, you will probably choose to make sure your visitors see the first option when they first arrive on your page. To do this, go to Edit Page at the top right corner of your Facebook page, then look at the settings shown below:

Select All posts, as shown. to welcome conversation on your page. Then save changes. You may click on this image for a larger view.

You will notice other options on this page. If you suddenly have a patch of negative posts, you may choose to disallow user contributions for a few weeks, but please post on your page to explain what has happened, and offer alternative ways of keeping in touch. If we, as a church withdraw the welcome mat, our reasons must be both sound and known.

Next week, I’ll look at page administrators. How many? Show or hide? Post as page or not?

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Beyond “The Notices”

The first few Anglican Pages I found in Facebook were, or reminded me of, “The Notices”. You know, the bit of church that, back when you were a kid, popped up when you had just thought “it’s nearly time to go home now”. The bit of church that made sure you learned to groan inwardly to avoid that look from your Mum…

I can see why a church might put “The Notices” online. We’re very good at forgetting them, and it’s sensible to remind us in all ways possible, so that only about half of us still forget. But let’s be honest. They are often not that awesome, cool or inspirational. If you put “The Notices” on your Facebook page, you need to add something else as well. Your page is outreach, hopefully to a variety of people, so you want variety of content. Here are some things you can include

  • Images. Images seem easy for people to talk about and often get more comments than other material posted on Facebook pages. If uploading your own photos and they identify people, we have a Privacy Act to consider – ask first. If sharing other people’s Facebook photos through Facebook’s internal sharing mechanism, relevance is the main consideration. If sharing photos from anywhere else, please be aware that New Zealand has added a lot of grunt to Copyright Law recently. Learn about CC Licensing and Public Domain, and attribute all images properly. Flickr is a great place to find CC Licensed images, using the Advanced Search facility.

Flickr makes it fairly easy to figure out which photos you can use, suck as these crosses by "freefotouk". The photographer must be named. Click to enlarge.

  • Links. You can link to happenings in your local community, church news items, blog posts, recipes and “how to” pages, or almost anything in reasonable taste, provided that the relevance to your ministry unit or your core business in faith can be made clear in a few short words. Linking to pages with photos will usually show a thumbnail on Facebook, and this mini-photo will increase the likelihood that people will follow the link.
  • Sermons and resources. You may have spotted that a sermon won’t fit on a status update, but you can uses notes instead. Your notes tab isn’t enabled by default, but it’s reasonably easy to do. Go to your Facebook page, then Edit Page  on the right, Apps on the left, Edit Settings under Notes in the middle, and then Add. A note is basically a long status update, visible from your Notes tab on the left side of your page. See notes being used to share sermons by St Anne’s.
  • YouTube videos. Make your own or link to other people’s. OMGod our Church simply post YouTube videos as links. Like me, they have found that the video thumbnails haven’t displayed in the last few videos they linked. I haven’t solved that one. Tikanga Toru have a YouTube tab. I’ve linked straight to the tab. It’s a quick way to find YouTube videos they recommend.
  • Event updates. If you’re running a faith-related event, there will be people who would love to share the excitement. The Waiapu Diocese had a small team of Facebookers and Tweeters giving updates on their recent Synod, and I found that I was glued to the screen with my housework suffering in the background. Social media can make people feel part of something from afar, so let’s give them that opportunity as often as we can. You can even “go live” if you have the tech-skills – see St Margaret’s Live Stream page next time you are sick in bed on Sunday morning.
  • Questions. Popular wisdom tells us that we can draw people into conversations by asking questions, but it is a risky strategy on Facebook. The 50 people who show up on your stats may all be shy. Ask questions if you have a team looking after your page who can lead the way in responding, or if take-it-or-leave-it comments are already showing you have visitors who feel comfortable taking part in online conversations. Please don’t ask questions that you would not wish to answer in public yourself.

The different types of content above can all be used to share a wide range of ideas that reflect the rhythm and diversity of worship. Our worship lives have some core components that we visit repeatedly, and some of these are good guides to themes for our Facebook pages.

  • Our worship begins with welcoming, gathering and becoming community as people enter our churches. People may come to our page at any time, so this theme must always be visible.
  • Intercession is part of our rhythm of prayer and may govern the style of links we share at times and the comments we make or invite about them. Public, written prayer can feel uncomfortable for many, but our discussion can still have an intercessory style without being overtly prayer-like.
  • Confession is part of what we do together, and even more than intercession would be uncomfortable for many in public. However, linking to a well-crafted site, blog post or prayer on confession occasionally can be a non-threatening way to make this part of our outreach via Facebook.
  • Ritual, sacrament and contemplation are a huge part of the way we sense God’s presence. Images with gently reflective comments can be a useful way to weave this strand into our online presence at times. While ritual connects the churched across time, space and language barriers, it is a mystery to the unchurched. Well-chosen images and comments on your Facebook page may unlock that mystery for someone in a way that makes church feel like somewhere they could belong.
  • Offering of selves and resources can be facilitated by occasional requests for assistance via your Facebook page.
  • Scripture is central in our worship but few of us are scholars of scripture. A link to a scripture site that moved us, together with a personal comment, shares our sincere response to scripture and invites response from others.
  • Expressing thankfulness and wonder acknowledges the gifts of creation, salvation and God’s love. I feel wonder at creation and find that the internet is full of sites and images that take that wonder to new levels. Images representing love are almost as easy to find. However, salvation and other mysteries of the faith will mystify image search engines, just as they do us. When you find a great resource, share it. When you don’t, I think it is wise to resist the temptation to share mediocre material with readers whose responses you cannot see and be guided by. Discipling in these aspects of faith is often best done face-to-face. The incarnation story is not all in the past. It can also offer guidance in our use of distance communication technology today.
  • At the end of each worship service we send people out, and we hope to do this with their sense of mission rekindled. Vision-casting quotations, images and videos are very popular in social media, and looking at many cause-related sites (including secular ones) will show you models to love or hate before you build your own faith-related way of sharing inspiration, passion, and energy for being God’s people in the world.
  • The high days and holidays of the church calendar are days to get excited about God stuff online. Last Easter on Facebook was amazing. A multilingual wave of “Christ is Risen” and “He is risen indeed” from colleagues in the international education community moved me deeply. Call in Russian, response in Polish. Call in German, response in Hungarian. Google translate identified the languages for me, but words like Kristos needed no translation at all.  When things like this happen, jump in, partake, enjoy!

There are no rules, of course. These are just my suggestions, and I hope that one day, when someone feels a little devoid of inspiration some of these thoughts will help. My own Facebook page is a resource and doesn’t represent any ministry unit at all, so models very few of these ideas. Our strength  will lie in learning from one another, and in responding to God as we do so.

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The Least We Could Do

Lots of people have set up Facebook pages for their churches out of huge generosity of spirit, but not really realising that a Facebook Page is different from a static webpage. A Facebook Page has the opportunity to be social, dynamic and missional… but only if you do stuff to it. If you’re just getting to grips with this fact, and you’re as time-poor as most of us, you may be asking yourself whether it’s worth maintaining the page.

You’re probably asking yourself questions like:

If we have to do something, what’s the least we could do?

I’ve given this some thought, and I suspect the very least you can do and still have your Facebook Page noticed is two five to ten minute sessions each week. During your few minutes, try to make one post on your Page and two posts as your Page. On your Page, make a post looking forward to a church event, and a post reflecting on one. While there, like or comment on any posts by Page visitors.

In Page mode (Use Facebook as Page), visit a Page from your local community, and like the Page or a post, also commenting if you have time. Then visit another Page, this time from your wider Faith community. Do the same things. Like the Page or a post, and comment if you have time.

As often as you can manage it, at least once a fortnight, include a photo in a post on your Page. If you don’t have time to get people’s permission to show their faces, take photos that don’t include or identify people, but do have some relationship to your faith or your local setting. Photos attract more comments and likes, and help to create conversations on your page that others can join.

Buds about to burst into leaf on Cathedral Hill remind us of a God who makes all things new.

Any photo that you can legally use and that doesn’t identify people could be used in a hurry. Think about what is relevant to your faith and location, and do what suits the time you have available. Being there matters far more than being perfect. You don’t need to say a lot about a photo. Leave something for others to say as well. Conversation is outreach.

What if we can manage just a tiny bit more?

Your ideal next step is to have a second person from your church or group who also posts twice a week on your Page, and perhaps adds further photos. Two people are better than one, because the two of you can have some positive, welcoming conversations on your church Page. An existing conversation is easier for a newcomer to join than a monologue, even if that monologue is broken into tiny Facebook-sized pieces. A team of half a dozen people is better still, and wide networks within your extended faith community will often help you to form this team if it is not to be found within your own church group or congregation. If you’re a member of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, consider joining SM4Faith Page Force, a small team of people happy to help with each others’ pages.

How much is too much?

It is possible to post so often that a visitor to your page couldn’t possibly get a word in edgeways, and clearly this doesn’t send the kind of welcoming message that a faith community would intend. Having a team who respond to your posts and add posts of their own does help with this.

If you build a keen team and find that you are all able to post often, aim for variety. Share great posts from faith and local communities, acknowledging sources with a link back. Add video if relevant and brief. Incorporate humour. You may like to have a loose cycle of content types to create a balanced menu of your online activities. More on that another day.

The term Page has been capitalised to indicate that it refers to Facebook Pages specifically, rather than other internet pages which have different attributes.

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Like Thy Cyber-Neighbour

A number of our Anglican churches and organisations now have Facebook Pages. However, many of these Pages don’t “Like” any other Pages yet. It is reasonable to assume that this is more about lack of familiarity with the possibilities than a lack of interest in others. However, failing to “Like” risks sending a message of dislike, indifference, or insularity. Such messages are a suboptimal representation of a loving God, to say the least! So what should be done?

Your Facebook Page can’t like groups or people at the time of writing. A Page can only like other Facebook Pages. Which Pages your Page should like will depend a little on your purpose. Just between you and me, my Page at facebook.com/SocialMedia4Faith is a bit of a snob, as Pages go. It only likes the FB Pages of Anglican organisations in Aotearoa and Polynesia. Generally speaking, this is a bad strategy. I’ll explain why.

Like thy Neighbour to Reach Out

A Facebook Page is outward facing, in that it is very available to the public. All people have to do is click “Like”, and your Page becomes a part of their Facebook newsfeed. Therefore your Page lends itself to communication with a wider public than those who fill your pews. People who admire the shape of your church roof against the local skyline may like your Page. People who attended a wedding there twenty years ago may like your Page. People who bought something cool at your church fair may like your Page. This gives you a chance to keep in touch, but only if you use your Facebook presence in such a way that they can find you.

If you’re using Facebook in person mode (in the normal manner) and you spot a Page belonging to someone in your local real-world community, that Page is your cyber-neighbour. Stop and read it. Consider clicking Add to My Page’s Favourites. You’ll find this low down on the left hand column of the Page. Page Favourites and “Likes” by Pages are the same thing.

You also need to know how to use Facebook in Page mode. One way to do this is to go to your Page, and look near the top right for Use Facebook as [NameOfYourPage]. You can then visit Pages you have liked/favourited. All their updates will be showing in your Page’s Home newsfeed, and you can like their posts and comment, all in the name of your Page. You can spot other local pages, and like these pages. Your Page name links to your Page everywhere you use it, creating awareness and an opportunity for people to visit your page.

The more Pages you like, the more your Page’s Home newsfeed with help you to keep a finger on the pulse of the online lives of your local real-world community. You will have opportunities to enthuse and congratulate, to share ideas and information, perhaps even to offer comfort in difficult times. This is outreach, and you may have spotted that outreach usually needs a team. There’s a way to do that, too, but we’ll cover it in another post.

My Page at facebook.com/SocialMedia4Faith can’t do any of this outreach. It has specialised, to help your Page with something else.

A partly woven willow basket.

The stakes reaching up and out from the base of this basket are not enough on their own.

Image by Flickr member, Edinblur. Click link for CC License information.

Like thy Buddies for Strength and Collegial Learning

In the image above, tall stakes reach up and beyond the beginnings of the basket. They show the direction in which the basket can grow, but they are not enough to make this basket functional on their own. The stakes need to be bound together by the waling – the dense weaving that spirals around and between them giving strength, shape and solidity. Your Facebook Page needs strength connections as well as outreach connections in a similar way. Some of these strength connections can be with other Anglican Pages where people are doing similar learning about how to take being church in new directions online.

The “Likes” list on the lower left column of my Page is a resource where you can find other Pages like yours. There are Pages to learn from, Pages whose owners will learn from you, and system-generated pages that only show potential. However, they are all Anglican or in partnership with the Anglican world, and they all have some relevance to our parts of the planet.

A coil of unwoven cane.

The coil of cane on the left is just a resource, not a basket. Most ministry units must seek to be more than a resource.

Image by Flickr member, elithea. Click link to view CC License details.

You can’t make a basket with nothing but waling, and you can’t make a social media outreach with no links that reach out beyond the church. All I’ve made is a resource, ready for you to weave with.

The term Page has been capitalised to indicate that it refers to Facebook Pages specifically, rather than other internet pages which have different attributes.

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