A catechetical colleague recently emailed me to ask about my use of social media — specifically, how much time I spend in social media and do I find it beneficial. Here is my (rambling) response:
Yes I think it is beneficial, although I vacillate on just how beneficial. I get something different out of each tool I use. My over-all goal is to increase my network so that I have a place to bring ideas and engage in conversation with my peers. It has been a true blessing to find people – especially people close to my age – working in the catechetical ministry of the Church. I have a wonderful staff that I work with here at the diocese, but the next oldest is eight years older than me. When I go to catechetical conferences, I see a lot of gray hair. Having a network of catechists with similar formative experiences has been very helpful as I form my own philosophy of catechesis.
More superficially, working for the Church is always a precarious position – a new pastor or bishop could come in and we’d be gone tomorrow. So it’s nice to have “friends in the business” that I can go to if I’m ever in need of a job. (That’s not a primary concern, obviously, but I do keep it in the back of my mind.)
Twitter I use to keep in contact with professional colleagues. I think of it as the hotel lobby at a catechetical conference that never closes – it’s where all the “hallway conversations” take place and people can share ideas, vent frustrations, and engage in professional gossip. Facebook I use primarily to keep in contact with friends and family (although I have allowed some professional contacts to slip in). I sometimes wonder if I should stop publishing my blog posts to Facebook; I have a sneaking suspicion I’ve been de-friended by some of my non-religious friends because of my blog. Speaking of which, my main blog is purely for my own edification. I need a place to write what I’m thinking and share ideas, but I was blogging for years before anyone actually started reading what I was writing. Having a (small) audience is actually somewhat disconcerting to me! It’s the first time I’ve actually felt some pressure to post on a regular basis – although I do like the conversations and feedback in the comments. (If Twitter is the hotel lobby, blogs are the conference’s small learning sessions!)
I probably spend more time than I should keeping up with these things. I try to limit what I do during the day; most of my blog posts are written during at night after the kids are in bed. I will take short breaks to check in on Twitter, but I don’t even pretend to try to read everything. I keep a Twitter list of catechetical colleagues and just scan their tweets for anything interesting. I do sometimes use work time to write stuff that I know I will first post to the blog before using in a professional setting; for instance, my recent posts on administration will be compiled into an article for our next diocesan catechetical newsletter.
One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of what I do is automated, so I don’t have to think about it. For instance, when I post to one of my blogs, it is automatically posted to my Facebook and Twitter accounts through tools like NetworkedBlogs and TweetDeck. I also schedule tweets and blog posts for optimal times; since most of what I write isn’t “breaking news,” I can hold off publishing until I know people will be more likely to read it (usually 7-8a or around 3p). So, when you see me tweet a quote or a “fill-in-the-blank” question, that is a tweet that was scheduled – most likely months before (I have quotes scheduled for every few weeks through February).
Will these things be beneficial in a few years? Who’s to say? That’s decades in internet time. I don’t think Facebook or Twitter are going anywhere anytime soon, but it is entirely possible that they could be gone in the next few years; certainly no one expected MySpace to decline as rapidly as they did. Should they fall to the wayside the conversations will shift somewhere else.
Here’s the general advice I would give people: devote the time to do social networking, but don’t feel like it has to take over your life. And know what you want to get out of it, be that keeping up on the latest news, sharing ideas and information with others, evangelizing on behalf of the Church, or growing your professional network so you can get a new job. Of course, these aren’t mutually exclusive! But if you have a clear goal in mind, you’ll discover how much time is required.