Words by Friends: Social Media as a Spiritual Practice

For our Vital Friends issue Enriching Quaker Meetings Through the Web, FGC’s Communications Manager Marta Rusek chats with Kathleen Wooten, who has served as the Social Media Coordinator and Events Coordinator for New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. 

What is your background? How long have you been a Friend?

I have been a Friend since 2008, after being raised a Catholic, and then becoming more of a “spiritual but not religious” person in college. I have spent much of my life as a music teacher and have a deep interest in learning and community-building across all ages. I now enjoy ecumenical conversations about how we “are the Church” in both brick-and-mortar and electronic spaces.

How did you get started with blogging and social media?

I have always loved learning from people in experiences and communities that are different from mine. Reading the stories of others, first in blogs and then on social media, is a natural fit for my curiosity. My seeking to connect with others led to my own blogging and presence on social media. As I now travel in ministry among Friends, digital presence is a helpful tool to stay connected to those I meet in between in-person visits.

Why are eCommunications (blogging, social media, and eblasts) important outreach tools, and why should Quaker meetings use them?

I think that the Quaker path holds varied gifts for people – and to share those gifts we must “meet people where they are.” In the past the town hall, local church, and extended family structures were places for gathering – now we have added virtual spaces to that list. The “town square” is also now a virtual one. It’s estimated that sixty-eight percent of all American adults are on Facebook. I can’t imagine not also being online as part of my faith, in conversations about social justice, sharing stories of our meetings’ successes and challenges, and connecting in cohorts of spirit-led activism. A meeting’s website has become the accepted “front door” of the meeting for many newcomers. So many meetings do a fantastic job of welcoming once a visitor walks into their spaces – but the first contact is most often (these days) in a website visit. That “visit” is likely on a mobile device as well! Our information should be current, engaging, helpful, and show the world who we are in all our spaces – virtual and in person.

Which social media platforms are most useful to individual Friends and Quaker meetings?

All social media platforms have varied audiences – and it’s helpful to determine your audience as you decide which one(s) to use. Overall, Facebook is still the most popular, with Instagram and Twitter speaking to specific audiences, which are growing. Facebook allows for posting events, targeting advertising, and a mix of graphics and text. Instagram is helpful for visual content. Twitter is very broad audiences with much sharing (“retweeting”) – and can support a higher volume of posts (of 140 characters or less!). In my work among Friends, we have found Facebook is our most consistently used platform – that seems to be consistent for most church settings.

How should a Quaker meeting respond to someone leaving negative comments on their social media pages?

In regards to negative and challenging interactions on social media – I try to default to Quaker advices and behavior overall. Am I speaking from a place of both truth and love? Am I following the Quaker tradition of Gospel Order, being respectful and seeing that of God even in those with whom I disagree? If others are not able to follow Gospel Order and be respectful when sharing differing opinions, am I clear what kinds of behavior will not be tolerated by sharing clear boundaries, and reminding us all to adhere to them? In support of my recent social media concerns, I have adapted a set of questions for Quaker social media use. They can be found here: https://quakerkathleen.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/neym-social-media-advices-and-questions.pdf

What advice would you offer a Quaker meeting that has recently launched its digital outreach efforts?

My most clear advice for new Quaker digital efforts is to firstly use a platform that you are most comfortable with. Try one at a time – don’t suddenly launch varied presences that all have different kinds of maintenance and potential audiences at once. Get proficient on your own Facebook account before launching a meeting page. If you are a visual learner and love graphics, perhaps Instagram is the place to start. If possible, find someone in your meeting who is already adept at a platform in their personal accounts to share in this work. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Find others who are experimenting too, and share tips and advice. Before you try any social media – make sure your website is current and up-to-date. As your digital audience increases, you eventually want to bring visitors into the personal space of your meeting community – and they will be looking for how to find you online!

Kathleen Wooten is led to travel among Friends both virtually and in person. She is a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, MA, and served the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends in the past as Social Media Manager and Events Coordinator. Kathleen welcomes conversations among Friends on Facebook and Instagram, is an administrator for the Quaker Communications and Outreach Facebook group, and maintains a list of digital ministry resources and an occasional blog at: quakerkathleen.wordpress.com.

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