“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17
Millions of people around the world are using some type of social media ( i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Google+, tumblr, Instagram). It is a quick and easy form of communication and if used properly can be a positive and productive mode of socialization. For believers it can also be an excellent platform for sharing the gospel! Christians are encouraged to be like Jesus, living a life consistent with their new life in Christ. Paul says we are to do everything, whether in word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus. Our Christian identity changes things and that should be reflected in everything we do and say. This should give us a different perspective on life. If we are living for the glory of God, passionate about knowing him and making him known, then everything in our lives should reflect that passion, even something as simple as how we use social media. Through my experience using and posting on various social media platforms and blogs over the past thirteen years I want to share with you some advice for Christians using social media.
Be Intentional: Think through why you want to use social media. Will you be using it as a means of networking with new people you wouldn’t normally connect with or to keep in touch with friends, acquaintances and family? Are you going to use it for staying informed about real-world events or as a platform for learning new things? Will you use it to market yourself or your business, or to keep others informed about your life? As a believer do you use it as a witnessing tool or a means of encouraging and building up one another? Are you using it to do all of the above? Thinking through your reason for using social media is the first step in becoming more successful at communicating and connecting with others. With your goals in mind you will be more likely to think about what you are posting (content), to whom you are posting (audience) and why you are posting (purpose). This not only improves the quality of your posts or status updates, it also benefits your audience thereby giving meaning to your posts. Regardless of your goal, the fact that you are using social media indicates that you are looking to connect with people in some way, yet if your posts are causing people to hit the ‘unfollow’ button the chances are you haven’t been intentional about reaching your audience.
Being intentional will mean you have to do more work. You may have to tag and group your friends to be more effective at posting different things for different audiences. You may have to spend a couple hours going through your privacy, posting, and notification settings to tweak your social media to be used the way you want. You may have to spend more time with your posts and status updates. You may have to use third party software to post to multiple social media sites at once or schedule future postings to be sent out at more convenient times. To that end, how often you post and when you post is just as important as what you post. Timing is everything. Post multiple times a day in rapid succession, machine gun style, and you annoy the people you are trying to reach. Post at the wrong time of the day and you miss the people you are trying to reach. Using a program like buffer or hootsuite allows you to pre-schedule posting times. This can help you become more consistent in posting to multiple social media platforms, and more effective by posting at the right times. If you are using social media, have a goal in mind and be intentional about reaching that goal.
Be Relational: Remember the main point of social media is to be social; it’s all about communication. You’ve heard it said “communication is a two-way street”, keep that in mind if you are the one doing all the talking. So don’t be the silent assassin sneaking in a couple times a day to drop an announcement or status update on your peeps, rather be relational: ask questions, like posts, tag friends, share links, and comment on status updates or other content people post. Engage with your audience and they will be more likely to engage with you. The reality is if you are using a persnickety social media program like Facebook you need to understand it favors activity. Facebook uses an algorithm that takes into account how social you are and this determines what you see on your news feed and how many other people see your status update on their newsfeed. If you are not relational on Facebook chances are when you finally get around to posting something very few people actually see it.
Be Careful: Regardless of your privacy settings you must always assume that anything you post on social media could be read, copied, downloaded, or reposted by anyone at any time. Rick Warren says “Social media is instant, global, and permanent.” When you click ‘post’ you cannot take it back. Don’t assume that your ability to delete a post or a comment will make it go away completely. Regardless of how fast you are, before you can delete it someone has already seen it. In addition, many social media users have their social media set up to send text notifications or e-mails when a comment has been made; once that e-mail notification with your comment has been sent, it doesn’t matter how many times you click the delete button they are still going to see it and have a permanent copy of it in their e-mail. Part of being intentional is being careful. Think about what you are posting and its implications or consequences before you hit the post button. Ask yourself “could this easily be misinterpreted or taken out of context” or “will this be offensive?” If you are not intending to offend or confuse your audience then consider revising it, posting something different, or not posting at all.
Along the same lines don’t be naive, not everyone using social media has pure motives. Use caution and common sense when posting personal information and photographs (unless of course you are ok with someone absconding with your flat screen TV while you are three hundred miles away posting status updates on vacation). The truth is we ought to use caution when posting, not only for our safety but also to guard our character. Christians can easily damage their witness, reputation, friendships and integrity with a single click of a button by posting the wrong things on social media. This leads me to my next point…be real.
Be Real: If you are going to mark “Christian” in your public profile then you should realize the implication is that you know Christ and because you know Christ you are choosing to be like Christ in your life. This relationship with Jesus should shape who you are. Contrary to the way some see themselves on the internet, social media is not your alter ego. If the title ‘Christian’ has no meaning and does not have any bearing on your life choices, stop using the title. In other words, be real. In the same way, if you are a Christian and you do wish to live intentionally for Christ, don’t use social media to pretend to be something you are not. Don’t use social media to create your ‘ideal’ life or the life you wish you had. You don’t have to look like you have a perfect life void of problems in order to be a good Christian.
In addition, don’t hide behind the keyboard. Some have this uncanny ability to speak with reckless abandon when they are on the internet. This is another form of duplicity that makes you out to be something you are not. In other words, don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
Be Sensible: After becoming president in 1949, Harry S. Truman would warn his staff about the pressure of the job and the criticism they might receive saying, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” In other words, don’t take on the job if you are unwilling to face the pressure. This is good advice for the social media arena as well. There is no doubt that social media has it’s pitfalls and at some point there could be a considerable amount of criticism, disagreement, or conflict concerning something you’ve posted or said. It is important that you are mature enough to handle this kind of pressure or stress. Keep this in mind, if you are going to put your voice out there you need to be able to take criticism and respond appropriately, even if it means not responding at all (mishandling conflict is often much worse than simply not responding to it). If there is a need to respond you must be frank and humble. If you cannot handle this kind of pressure you should seriously consider avoiding social media all together, or at the very least be intentional about what you post to avoid posting things that will inevitably lead to pressure you know you cannot handle.
Another social media faux pas that needs to be addressed, especially for Christians, is using social media to whine or complain. While it may be ok to post on a bad experience you’ve had or to elicit discussion on something you are frustrated with, it is not always ok to vent about all of your personal problems for the whole world to know. Not only will it damage your character, a constant stream of whining or complaining will result in your friends hitting the ‘unfollow’ button faster than you can say, “Jack Robinson.”
Be Affirming: Johnny Mercer tells us in his 1944 hit song, “you got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, but don’t mess with mister inbetween.” Obviously we cannot always eliminate the negative and sometimes we shouldn’t, yet a good rule of thumb is to avoid harsh criticism, frequent complaints, and passive aggressive, sarcastic statements that focus on the negative. Don’t get me wrong, I am not touting the popularized teaching of “positive thinking” or saying that it is wrong to ever be negative or critical; what I am saying is this should not become your modus operandi. We must use discernment.
Social media allows people to get a glimpse into your thought life and as Christians even our thoughts should be brought into submission to Christ (2 Cor 10:5, Phil 4:8). When using social media people tend to lose their boundaries, which means what you post can be quite revealing. What is going on in your head is most likely what is being lived out in your life. Jonathan Edwards says, “The ideas and images in men’s minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them”. So Paul tells us not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). A renewed mind will be able to do what Paul says in Philippians 4:8; it will think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. These Godly qualities should characterize the children of God, both in their thoughts and actions. The author of Hebrews says we ought to think about ways to stir one another up in love and good works and encourage one another; we need to seriously consider how to do this (Heb 10:24). Even something as ordinary as posting on social media can serve in some way to encourage and build others up or at the very least affirm our faith.
Remember, the world is watching! In our words and deeds I pray that we will be “…blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phillipians 2:15-16). If you use social media, use it for the glory of God; let your light shine.