Making a difference through social media

Can social media actually be used to change the world? Simply “liking” something isn’t always enough, obviously. However, social media can be used intentionally and strategically to inspire the actions that do bring about change. Here are some categories of activity on social media that anyone can do.

Raise awareness. Those of us involved in missions generally think everyone is aware of unreached peoples. But that’s not the case. Sharing prayer profiles, photos, and statistics helps to inform people, and to raise the visibility of the unreached. Many people talk about their short term missions trip when they return from the field; but few talk about the places that no one “comes home from” (the unevangelized & unreached). It’s up to us to be advocates and raise awareness.

Highlight effective action. People need to know what they can actually do–and particularly the small first steps. Point out prayer guides, giving opportunities, chances to reach out to neighboring diasporas, opportunities to hear from missionaries, times to talk to agencies about candidacy requirements & training, and so on.

Point to case studies, testimonies and biographies. Missionary biographies in particular can help people ‘see’ what the life is like, how they might started, some of the barriers they might encounter, and the difference they could make.

Point out resources. When an agency or other entity shares a new resource (like a prayer guide, or an infographic, or other tool), reshare it as appropriate with your community. Ask people what kinds of resources they are looking for, find them, and post them back for the whole ‘community’ to see.

Motivate people to take part in larger events. Prayer campaigns like 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, and other similar events can both get people praying for the unreached and introduce them to others at events. The relationships they build with other mission-passionate people can help encourage them and connect them to more opportunities.

Make connections. Introduce the mission passionate to each other via social media. Help people get more missions news into their timelines.

Authenticate & debunk. With some tact, be sure to pass on good, credible stories–but also gently debunk stories that aren’t true. Myths about Muslims (for example, the “European Demographic Winter” scare) and other religions abound. Passing on good, credible, verified information from authoritative sources can help people think about these things.

Challenge those on your timeline with Biblical thinking about current events. What does Scripture say we should do about the foreigner among us? How can we love our enemies? What does it mean to reach all nations? Stand up for a Scriptural approach to life.

Social media is an important part of peoples’ lives today. You can add value and a mission perspective to those around you simply by choosing a few things each day to highlight and post. Consider it a “tithe” of your posts and look for intentional things to share, to be a voice for those who have no voice.

The Time Sink of Social Media

Time and attention are things we only have so much of, and they turned up on our recent survey as something that really challenges many: how do I get the most out of my time? out of this season of life?

Social media (and email) are two areas identified as enormous time sink. People want to know how to get the best “return” for the time investment they make.

I am very active on social media myself, but having said that, I’m pretty guarded about my time there. I don’t spend hours. I access it on my phone in snatches, I have a dedicated period of time during the day for concentrated review of certain lists, I use tools to monitor what people are re-sharing, and I skim a lot. Here’s two lessons I’ve learned that have helped me to manage:

1. If you’re trying to build an enormous audience, social media will become an endless content monster. There are several sites dedicated to helping you hack your posts so they are the most viral they can be. But I’ve come to see people rarely tweet themselves to lasting fame. People that we really celebrate (=celebrities) are people who create enormously good content (art that we enjoy, books that entertain or make us think, movies, etc). Besides, more importantly, I’ve discovered building a huge audience, on any kind of media may be a path to celebrity – but it is not necessarily a path to influence. (Granted, some celebrities do use their fame for good, but most in my view do not.)

2. If all you’re doing is reading the entertaining content of others, social media will become an enormous time sink. Of the making of cat videos there is no end. Following everyone is a sure way of being blown by the wind, and making a difference in the lives of no one.

“Media” is a plural form of “medium.” The english word medium comes from the Latin term medium which meant ‘the middle, midst, center, or interval.’ Medium in the sense of communication has had the meaning of ‘an intermediate agency’ from the 1600s.

Any form of medium is essentially something that is “in the middle” of us, and enables communication. Paper is a medium for writing, painting, etc. Print is a medium for the presentation of thought: a book exchanged between an author and a reader is “in the middle” of the two of them.

“Social media” is our catchall phrase for a medium (form) of communication that enables mass sharing and resharing and commenting. The key to social media seems to me to be choosing who I communicate with, why I communicate with them, how my communications will go, what I am willing to receive, and how often I will communicate.

The “time sink” of this communication can be significantly reduced and qualitatively improved by reduction: by choosing a limited set of people to interact with, getting to know them as people, and being a blessing to them. I have found that by limiting my more personal and direct communications to people who are in my “tribe,” and acknowledging that tribe will be limited, I set a significant barriers against the time sink.

A positive form of influence to me is this: if I am a blessing to someone (through providing information, answers, encouragement, connections, etc), hopefully they will pass on that same blessing to others (by resharing a post, a document, a connection, an answer).

Audience size may be a marker of fame but not necessarily a factor in influence over audiences.