That’s not a bad question to ask ourselves in this digital age, as social media increasingly becomes part of our daily lives. Blogs, vlogs, Internet forums, podcasts, social networks, wikis—there are so many ways to culturally engage these days! For those of us who still remember rotary phones, this era of instant information can seem more than a little intimidating, not to mention unnecessary. And yes, it’s certainly true that social media can be used in frivolous or even dangerous ways. But if you educate yourself and proceed cautiously, online networking can also be a wonderful way for people of faith to communicate and connect with each other.
So even if you don’t know a hashtag from a hole in the ground, don’t be afraid to venture into the world of social media, and utilize it in a way that is meaningful to you. To get you started, here’s a quick tutorial on some of the most widely used sites:
FACEBOOK.COM is the most popular free social networking website, with around a billion users worldwide. (Think of it as a cyber version of a town square with your own personal soapbox in it.) Once you are a registered user, you can create a profile, upload pictures and video, and send public or private messages to other Facebook users. Connection is made by sending or accepting a “friend request.” You are in complete control of the privacy settings on your account, so once a request is accepted, you decide what degree of access your “friends” will have to the information on your page. Facebook is the platform of choice for showing off grandkids’ pictures, looking up old classmates or just keeping in touch with friends and family in general. Most of the Homecoming artists have their own public Group page, and you can check out the Friends of Gaither Music, Homecoming Magazine and Homecoming Radio groups as well.
TWITTER.COM is a free online form of micro-blogging, which means users can send and receive short text messages, called “tweets,” that are limited to 140 characters—that means 140 letters, not words. (Think of it as scanning though radio stations in your car and sampling a quick snippet of lots of different types of information.) It’s a quick and easy way to express your thoughts, keep up with people you choose, and experience breaking news stories in real time. People around the world routinely “live-tweet” everything from historic political uprisings to the Academy Awards telecast. Users choose who they want to “follow” by clicking a button on that person’s Twitter profile page. Like Facebook, you control whether your Twitter updates will be available to everyone or not. You can protect your tweets by switching to a privacy setting that will only allow users you have personally approved to access your Twitter stream. Twitter is the medium of choice for posting words of encouragement, jokes, sharing your favorite Bible verse or telling people what you just had for lunch!
A PERSONAL BLOG is a website that basically serves as an online journal. (Think of it as writing a diary that other people can read and comment on.) They are usually written by one person, updated on a regular basis, and can be password protected. There are as many different types of blogs as there are bloggers — virtually every subject you can think of has a blog dedicated to it out there somewhere! Self-publishing can be a wonderful way to express yourself, connect with other like-minded people, and instantly become part of a “virtual community.” Starting a blog is quick and easy if you use one of the many free blogging platforms available, such as Wordpress.com, Blogger.com or Medium.com. You can also choose to “host” your own blog, which is kind of like renting space on a computer to hold your website — it may take a little longer to set up and establish a domain name, but there are step-by-step instructions available online that can walk you through the process. Blogging is the platform of choice for people who’ve always wanted to write, but were too intimidated to try.
(AND ON A PERSONAL NOTE: I have had my own blog for seven years called Babybloomr.com. Blogging is not only my favorite form of writing, it has definitely opened the door to all kinds of different opportunities. But my favorite thing about blogging is the friends I’ve made, both online and IRL (that’s blog-speak for “in real life”). So if you’ve ever considered starting your own blog … I say DO IT! )
INSTAGRAM.COM is a free online photo sharing “app” that is available for Apple iPhones as well as Android devices. (Think of it as sharing your vacation slides with your friends and neighbors!) Users can apply all kinds of digital filters to change and enhance the look of their pictures, then upload, edit, caption and post them — not just on Instagram, but on their other social media sites as well. It’s the medium of choice if you want to get a little artsy and transform the look and feel of the photos you share.
SOCIALCAM.COM is a free mobile device app that allows you to upload, customize and share videos you take with your phone. (Think of it as Instagram for videos.) You can add filters, themes and music, and then share your videos on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s the medium of choice for Homecoming artists who like to post funny videos of “talking” wiener dogs or the Martins acting silly on a bus — I’m looking at YOU, Kelly Nelon Clark and Mark Lowry!
PINTEREST.COM is a free personalized bookmarking website that people use to collect, sort and save visual images of different projects and areas of interest. (Think of it as your own personal cyberspace bulletin board and brainstorming session.) Looking for gluten-free recipes, do-it-yourself outdoor fireplace plans or the world’s most beautiful beach resorts? Once registered, Pinterest will suggest existing boards to follow based on your interests. You can browse through and comment on inspiring images others have collected, and also create your own pinboards from photos you find on the web. Like Twitter, you choose whom you wish to follow, and then everything they post will show up on your feed. Pinterest is structured so that each photo you “pin” or “re-pin” automatically links back to its place of origin. Pinterest is the platform of choice for discovering new decorating ideas, planning weddings or presenting your husband with a well-illustrated “honey-do” list!
This is just a sampling of the many different flavors available today in the ever-changing world of social media. We should also give an honorary mention to LinkedIn (primarily a business networking site) and some of the more popular youthoriented sites such as Snapchat (sends photo or video messages that disappear after 10 seconds), Tumblr (micro-blogging site for posting snippets of text or images), and Vine (mobile app for creating short video clips that repeat on a loop).
It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? But the bottom line is that social media is just a tool — no more, no less. We are the ones who determine how important a place it will have in our lives, and how we choose to use it. Which brings us back to the question we originally posed in our title: What Would Jesus Tweet? Well, it’s all conjecture of course, but I think Jesus would view today’s technology as a great opportunity to spread the good news of the gospel even more effectively. I believe He would encourage His followers to use these platforms with common sense and compassion, so the world would know we are Christians by our love. That’s a worthy goal for all of us to bear in mind as we navigate the brave new world of cyber communication.