Have you ever had someone in your Facebook feed that you try your best to ignore?
For some of us, it’s the uncle who’s always posting inflammatory political opinions and/or articles. For others, it’s the friend whose endless videos of cats push everything else out of your news feed.
The truth is, we’ve all had our social media blunders at one point or another. It’s worth giving some careful thought and consideration into how we come across when we are are engaging online. If your goal is to passionately express your thoughts or opinions, you run the risk of alienating those who may not agree with you or like your tone.
If you want to influence people for good, then it’s important that you consider what you say, who you say it to and how you say it.
Your online reputation matters (whether you like it or not)
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Why should I care about my online reputation?” Before answering that, you’ll need to ask yourself this question: What do I want to be known for?
You know about Jesus from Nazareth. God made him the Messiah by giving him the Holy Spirit and power. Jesus went everywhere doing good for people. He healed those who were ruled by the devil, showing that God was with him.
Acts 10:38 (ERV)
The thing Jesus was most known for in his time was for doing good works in the lives of the people he came in contact with. While he was certainly labeled by some as a political firebrand, the overwhelming consensus amongst the ordinary citizens of the towns he visited was that he was someone who would make incredible and miraculous change happen for people.
If we care about striving to be like Jesus, then we should care about what we’re known for. Consider the following scripture:
11 Do all you can to live a peaceful life. Mind your own business, and earn your own living, as we told you before. 12 If you do these things, then those who are not believers will respect the way you live. And you will not have to depend on others for what you need.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ERV)
Whether we like it or not, how we live and what people think about us do matter. We can affect how other people view God. In other words, we make God unattractive if our lives are in disarray, if we are brazenly living a life of sin, if we air our own opinions to the point of alienating others, or if we speak in such a way that we ooze religiosity (think: church echo chamber).
Let’s apply this to our digital world of today.
Social media serves as a broadcasting tool for what we’re thinking at any given moment. Whether we post an opinion, share an article or comment on a friend’s post, we are communicating our personalities and attitudes, and people take note. So if we put no thought or consideration into our online example and reputation, we run the risk of people potentially closing off their hearts and minds.
I don’t think this means we should be paranoid. The last thing we need in our lives is another thing to stress about, overly scrutinizing every sentence, photo or article we’re thinking about sharing. But I do think that by following a few practical steps, we can avoid turning people off to God and starting inspiring others to do good and/or be interested in him because of our examples.
Share, don’t preach
This teaching is true, and I want you to be sure the people understand these things. Then those who believe in God will be careful to use their lives for doing good. These things are good and will help everyone.
Titus 3:8 NCV
Generally speaking, unless people are at church, they don’t like being preached to. You’re far more likely to inspire someone with a story of something you did that made an impact than you are by trying to insist someone be different.
For example, if you want to encourage people to participate in a community service event you’re promoting or are involved in, consider writing a brief Facebook post with a photo describing the story of someone whose life was impacted as a result of the service of you and your team.
Humans of New York, a photo essay project started by photographer-turned-best selling author Brandon Stanton, is incredibly popular because of its ability to endear you to different people’s lives with a simple photo and brief caption. Its success led to Stanton launching several successful charitable efforts, raising millions of dollars simply by sharing stories of those in need.
Be wary of the echo chamber
3 For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. 4 They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 (TLB)
The Bible warns us about getting ourselves in a position where we almost exclusively interact with people who think, speak and act just like us. When we only engage with people who tell us what we want to hear or think just like us, we create an environment where the outside world is an afterthought.
Be mindful of how this plays out on social media. If you’re used to speaking in internal “church-speak,” you run the risk of turning people off to God because of how obscure your communication is.
In an extreme case, consider someone who decides to tweet “Amen!” for whatever reason. While it’s great to think about whatever positive thing just happened in their life, it’s doubtful anyone outside of that person’s Christian circles will care much for the exclamation. As Christians, we should always be working towards expanding our circles, not shrinking them.
If you have exciting news to share or want to start a conversation that is more church-centric, consider posting to specific friends, or creating groups for people who will immediately understand what you’re referencing.
Sharing religious or spiritual content? Create context for people
7 And here you yourself must be an example to them of good deeds of every kind. Let everything you do reflect your love of the truth and the fact that you are in dead earnest about it. 8 Your conversation should be so sensible and logical that anyone who wants to argue will be ashamed of himself because there won’t be anything to criticize in anything you say!
Titus 2:7-8 (ERV)
Sharing religious content can be tricky if you don’t take the time to think about your audience. We’re a Christian blog, so we obviously want you to like and share our articles. But not all of our content will make sense in everyone’s newsfeed.
If you’re inspired by something you view on our site or one like it, great! But when you decide to share, first consider the experience of the people who will see it appear in their stream. Sharing a piece of religious content with no context will appeal to those who are already spiritually inclined, but will likely be ignored or even viewed disdainfully by others.
One way to create context when sharing spiritual content is to illustrate how certain principles are helpful for certain life situations regardless of religious affiliation. For example, if you wanted to share our article about how to have a successful family dinner, you could introduce it with a caption explaining that the tips provided are useful even without the scripture verses.
Highlighting the usefulness of this or other sites from an objective perspective will help people appreciate (or at least better understand) your approach to life. At best, friends may learn a thing or two and apply it. At worst, they will be disinterested. But at least you didn’t sour them to God.
No one likes a showboat
2 “When you give to those who are poor, don’t announce that you are giving. Don’t be like the hypocrites. When they are in the synagogues and on the streets, they blow trumpets before they give so that people will see them. They want everyone to praise them. The truth is, that’s all the reward they will get. 3 So when you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know what you are doing.[a] 4 Your giving should be done in private. Your Father can see what is done in private, and he will reward you.
Matthew 6:2-4 (ERV)
Sometimes a good message gets lost in arrogant packaging. Similar to the preaching point, if you want to share about something good going on that you’re involved in, consider how you’re talking about it and what kind of context you’re giving. Jesus in this passage advocates for doing good just for the sake of doing good. Ultimately it’s an issue of motive – if you’re sharing something on social media because you want to keep them likes coming, then you’re probably better off keeping it offline.
A good way to share about what you’re doing is by giving people a way to get involved themselves. Take the attention off you and your perceived accomplishment, and focus your message on how others can participate and do good themselves. So if you just volunteered at a food distribution event, instead of posting a selfie with a caption like “Wow so grateful to serve #blessed,” consider a wide shot of the volunteers working, with a caption describing how you all are making a difference, details on the next scheduled event and link to signup to be a volunteer.
Know when to take it offline
Some conversations are better had in person, instead of hashed out online for all to see. Additionally, many opinions are better expressed face to face, instead of haphazardly articulated over 140 characters.
This is especially true when discussing sensitive topics like religion or politics. I believe we should resist the urge to use social media as a means to vent, or in most cases even process our feelings about something. At the very least, we should consider how others could interpret an emotional statement.
There have been many recent events that certainly warrant discussion (Charlottesville, Hurricane Harvey, the 2016 election, to name a few). Such sensitive topics should be approached with consideration for those whom they may affect. A post, however well intentioned, could easily become inflammatory if worded incorrectly.
If you don’t feel you have the ability to raise a topic online without creating discord, consider having a conversation with someone offline. Sometimes we need help from friends to work through challenging emotions, and that help won’t come through replies or likes.