Facebook,Twitter, Blogs etc. Social media is a catch all for ways in which the internet allows people to connect and generate content to share, with varying degrees of commitment and privacy and possibility.
1. Accept that Social Media is real.
Social media isn't something to be pitted against "the real world" but is a part of how real people can connect with other real people. It might not be the same as face to face communication but it is real.
I've been a relatively early adopter when it comes to using these new media and feel like I've benefitted from that. But, it's easy to miss out on the opportunities that are available.Technology can have its pitfalls and can expose problems in us, but there are good things here. Don't feel weird about it.
2. Connect with people.
a) People you know - let the tools of the 21st Century add value to existing relationships.
b) People who like what you like - the internet allows you to find other people who are into things you're into. I don't just mean yes-men - I love to hear from people who see things differently to me. Hashtags are your friends to find new friends. Be broad - I love when I see a CU decide not to try to launch its own hashtag for freshers week (too niche and sub-culture creating) but instead engage with the university's own.
c) People in your city - your workplace, your culture etc... follow local businesses - especially the ones you engage with in other settings, follow the local council, engage with events and bands and politicians and initatives. If you're a CU then engage with other societies, the Guild, the University, academics and faculties...
Members of Christian Unions know that they come into that Union as members of local churches, but to the University involvement with the local church represents an intruiging connection with the people of the city who will open their lives and homes to students... and with whom students can make a contribution to the good of the city.
3. Consider your audience.
Create content that engages the people you're connected with. Consider who will see your content. I've linked this blog to a facebook page not to my facebook profile because I've got lots of friends who I don't think would be automatically interested in everything I write here. I could've changed what I write (and may do that), and I can still post links to relevant posts... and my friends can opt in via the page.
Who is your page for? Is it an in-house members page or is it public? Intended focus shapes the terms of engagement. Unless you run a closed group then your page or group is a public forum. Your CU or church page shouldn't assume people are Christians - point yourself towards your University or your city, towards the shared questions of human beings there, and let that shape what you'll talk about and how you'll talk about those things.
I've been taking a lead on our church social media for a while - we run a blog, a facebook page and a twitter feed (and we have an 'members' group which functions quite well in house). Initially our content was church news and sermon mp3s - essentially pitched to church members and Christians moving into our city. Lately I've begun to slowly adjust this more towards our city - because we're not just in our city for Christians, we want to be part of the life of our city. That changes who we follow on Twitter and what we'll talk about. For a CU - sure you can talk about your events but talk about the sign up for Welcome Week, talk about exams and Guild elections, about the amazing things about studying this world, preparing for graduate life, celebrate other poeple's events and causes not just your own. Join God in the renewal of all things.
Personally, I'm fitting this in between everything else in life so it's still a bit more ad hoc than it should be, and I really should recruit a few more contributors to generate content and connections for us. We're not as consistent as we might be but I'm pleased with the direction of travel.
Considering audience also means understanding the medium. Twitter is low-commitment and low-relationship - you follow them because you want to (for whatever reasons), they follow you because they want to (for whatever reasons) but no reciprocity is required and no relationship is required. Blogs live from google and links from other social media, the dominant voice is the blogger but comments are open. Your facebook friends are mutually agreed commitments to share aspects of life - though each party decides how transparent they want to be.
Things Trend because people pass them on. When you spot good content share it appropriately. Spread the goodness. And... spread goodness rather than spreading evil. It's really easy to be argumentative but really pointless. Aggression is unpleasant.
Sharing makes a difference. If I post to our church facebook page we reach 50-100 people who already like the page, if I share that to my timeline the reach increases towards 500... if every member of the church does the same our reach would be in the thousands. And as long as we can generate content that is of interest to people's friends why shouldn't that happen?
Like things. Comment on things. Reply to things. Share things. You can be a passive voyeur but life is richer if you engage. You might lack time - but life has plenty of gaps and if you've got a smartphone you can tweet on the bus, while waiting for things to happen, though preferably not during a meal or on the toilet. Decide what level you want to engage at and then go for it. Don't mediate every moment through your smartphone but do adopt a suitable generosity with your life, questions and concerns because social media allows you to share life with others - and that can be mutually beneficial.
And, lastly, a particular bugbear. Next Spring, Christian, don't give up facebook for Lent... because facebook is a a tool through which you connect with me. And giving up your friends for Lent is even more bizarre than giving up chocolate.
Your community is talking, why would you want to stay out of the conversation?
I'm still learning. What's your experience?