Friday, July 19, 2013

Interview with Meredith Gould, author of The Social Media Gospel

Meredith Gould's newest book, The Social Media Gospel, is now available in print and as an ebook. Her insights as the creator of #chsocm (church social media), her work with numerous faith groups, and her training as a sociologist have resulted in a book that's full of practical advice, resources and tips for social media sophisticates or newbies. Here's my interview with her about why she felt compelled to write this book and how it can help those in faith and advocacy groups as they form and participate in communities.

You emphasize that The Social Media Gospel is a “why to” rather than a “how to” book. Why?
Although I'd already been involved with social media for a while, I discovered Twitter when The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today was published in 2008. From there I swiftly slid down a slippery virtual slope to Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine…and a slew I tested in beta and rejected.

At first, I was fascinated by how this stuff works – how to set up accounts to function well and then how to manage multiple accounts across multiple platforms. Once I got comfy with the tech, I found myself thinking more about why social media works as a tool for communication in general and community building in the world of church.  

By 2011, there were plenty of books for the church market about how to set up and manage social media. I didn’t want to write another one of those, in part because functionality changes so quickly. 

Also, I was troubled by how church and faith-based organizations were using these tools without quite thinking through the strategy and tactics for doing so.  Net result: I wrote this book about why and when to use social media.

So then, why should churches or faith groups use social media for ministry, especially those geared toward the disability community?
As you know, Ruth, access is an important issue for me and not just because I know and love you! As someone with a “hidden disability,” I've gone through periods where there’s absolutely no way I could do anything that required hauling my physical self to church. No surprise that I'd include a chapter titled,  “Reaching Out to Special Populations” in The Social Media Gospel.

I love how social media provides ways to reach people who cannot attend building-based worship, faith formation classes, or social events. Tweets from worship and gatherings; Instagram images; Facebook groups for scripture study; group boards on Pinterest – these are just a few ways churches can connect. But getting to tactics and tools requires a level of consciousness about the broader issue(s).

In the "Thought Bytes" at the end of this chapter, I ask readers to ponder whether the social media tools they choose will welcome people with disabilities and generate more participation. Let us pray for more conversation and consciousness!

In your work with churches, do you see any increase in using social media to reach those who may traditionally have been excluded due to lack of physical access?
Alas, no. Right now leadership seem to be pondering the basics of church communications and it’s a sad-but-true factoid that people with disabilities don't top the list of key “audiences.”

Some churches believe putting in a couple of “handicapped” parking spaces is enough. Far too many are shocked when I tell them to make their websites more accessible for visually impaired visitors. One of my ministerial missions is to help churches understand that social media is a practical way to be ethical and, uh, live the Gospel.

Since social media is highly experiential – people don’t seem to really “get” it until they either see it working or use it themselves – we'll (once again) need to demonstrate its value for including those who have been excluded due to lack of physical access.

Any predictions about when this might happen?
After everyone in the known universe of church buys and reads my book? Kidding. Seriously? I think we may be approaching a tipping point in this domain.

Aging Boomers, a cohort that retains its activist proclivities, are starting to experience the realities of physical restrictions. They/we are also embracing social media, so I'm hoping that these formerly able-bodied folks will connect the dots and join disability activists in demanding access. In addition to expanding access itself, social media is perfect for making these issues more public. 

Where is church and faith in all this? For Christians the conversation must be anchored in the commitment to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, and lift up the brokenhearted.  For Jews the conversation must be anchored in the commitment to tikkun olam (i.e., repair the world).

Closing thoughts?
I want your readers to know that you got me into blogging. You wisely saw that it would support my other writing. You also provided real-time technical support when I was freaking out about how to set up my very first Blogger account and Feedburner options.  Look what you hath helped wrought!  

Also, I want your readers to know that I’m convinced that there’s no way I could have ever written The Social Media Gospel without your input and support.  Do not edit that sentence out.

Don't want to wait for Amazon? Order directly from Liturgical Press.

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