7 Sources for Parish Social Media Content

Whenever I talk about parishes’ use of social media I always try to point out that a Facebook page, Twitter account, or Instagram profile won’t do much good if isn’t being updated regularly with new content. Fresh content shows that your serious about reaching our with new media and worth following.

But creating content isn’t always as easy as it sounds. And while posting announcements from the bulletin is certainly appropriate, finding other easy, free sources of useful content can help supplement in-house content and keep a parish’s social media accounts fresh.

With that in mind, here are some easy-to-use sources of content for your parish’s social media:

  1. Sunday Homilies: If the pastor’s homilies are written out: Great! Set up a blog and post them there every week. If the homilies aren’t written out: Great! Post two or three “big ideas” from each homily on the parish Twitter feed and Facebook pages.
  2. The Pope: Whether it’s retweeting his daily messages, posting videos of his daily audiences, or sendig out short quotes from his major teachings, the pope always has something new and interesting to say.
  3. Kids: Ask them to record short inspirational video messages on their phones to post to the parish social media sites. You’ll get content and involve youth in the life of the parish.
  4. Google Alerts: Getting customized search results emailed to you means you don’t have to go looking for what people are saying about your parish; you can have their thoughts delivered directly to your inbox and then share them online!
  5. USCCB Resources: The USCCB has gotten pretty savvy about producing social media-friendly resources for parishes. This year’s Nine Days for Life campaign included daily messages and images (in English and Spanish) designed specifically for Facebook. These resources are not always easy to find, but perusing the USCCB web site will usually turn up something interesting.
  6. Blogs: Do you follow Catholic bloggers? Don’t be afraid to share a post that speaks to you with the rest of your parish!
  7. Free Stock Image Sites: Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Search for “church” or “Jesus Christ” on sites like Morguefile and post the beautiful results. (Just be sure the pictures aren’t subject to copyright restrictions!)

I hope these ideas are helpful and help you think about other sources you can use for your parish’s social media outreach. Do you have a source I didn’t list? Share it in the comments!

A New Problem for Christian Facebook Pages

[box type=”info”] UPDATE: November 2013 | A solution at last! An employee in our diocese found this great blog post detailing how to preemptively ban someone from a Facebook page. It requires the use of Google Chrome, and involves some simple HTML editing, but the steps are laid out nicely. I hope that it comes in handy for those who need it.[/box]

facebook-iconOur diocesan Facebook page is being harassed again. This isn’t so surprising (it’s happened before) but the method of the harassment is surprising (and a little ingenious).

A little background: Facebook pages operate, in many ways, like a personal profile. Administrators can log in as a page and then “like” other pages and posted items as well as comment on other pages. If a page is being spammy by posting inappropriate comment on another page, it’s possible to block the offender from that page. Pages that “like” another page can similarly be blocked. However, if a page only “likes” items on a page but doesn’t comment or “like” the page itself, there is no mechanism to block them.

That leads to this new form of harassment. A page with a vulgar (and, frankly, insulting to Christians) name has started liking items on our page:


It’s a little ingenious because it exploits the fact that the name will automatically appear without any ability for our page to block it. Of course we’ve tried reporting the page to Facebook, but Facebook is famously tolerant of such activity (and at this point probably doesn’t see “liking” as harassment). That having been said I’m not necessarily advocating for the deletion of the offending page. I recognize that Facebook doesn’t share my concerns or standards for community decency. But Facebook should at least provide a means to block such offensive and vulgar pages.

At this point we’re exploring other options. In the meantime we’ve posted this message on our page:

Dear Facebook friends: we are aware of a malicious page that is adding its name to the list of “likes” on the items we post. Facebook does not currently have a mechanism for us to remove it; we are evaluating our options. In the meantime you can help us keep the name of this page from appearing by “liking” items we post (this will hide it within a long list of names). We also encourage you to make your feelings on this matter known to Facebook. Thank you, and God bless you.

The response has been very supportive. But I would caution any Catholic organization operating a Facebook page that, for the moment, this is a very real danger that has no immediate solution. Hopefully I’ll have some good news in a few weeks as our diocese looks for a solution.

Why I Mothballed My Facebook Profile

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen that I recently mothballed my personal Facebook profile. Specifically, I set my profile to hidden, de-friended all but family and a few close friends, and put up a note that I would no longer be posting to the site any more. To be clear I didn’t deactivate my account; I’m still responsible for some of our diocese’s social media activities and I’m still maintaining my Jonathan F. Sullivan page, so I need access to Facebook. I’m simply no longer using it as a personal social networking outlet.

This may seem an odd move for someone who has widely encouraged the use of Facebook and other social media platforms for catechists and Catholic educators, and the irony is not lost on me. A few people have asked for the specific motivation for this action. The truth is that there’s no single reason, but a variety of factors went into this decision:

  1. Facebook’s  algorithm  stopped working for me. Over the years Facebook has tweaked and changed the way it decides what to show people on the front page. In recent months, for whatever reason, I was seeing fewer things of interest from people I wanted to see stuff from. Admittedly my friends may have been posting less interesting items, but I think the changes to the algorithm are the more likely culprit.
  2. I don’t care about political arguments. This was especially true as we approached last November’s elections, but the number of stupid, poorly informed, and  inflammatory  political posts really soured me on the Facebook experience. I have friends on both sides of the political divide and a lot of them were posting things that are unworthy of my time and attention.
  3. Facebook is the Genesis planet of social media. In  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Genesis planet (created by a device which takes dead planets and terraforms them into lush, living worlds) proved to be beautiful but extremely unstable, with shifting landscapes and rapidly shifting weather patterns making it all but uninhabitable. It’s an apt metaphor for Facebook’s constantly shifting privacy policies, updates, and backend changes. I’ve grown tired of relearning how to do things on the site every six months.

I want to reiterate that I am still using Facebook for public activities; it is only as a personal social networking site that I’ve abandoned it. I remain convinced that every parish should have a Facebook page to reach out to parishioners. I’m just not as convinced that Facebook is a great place to connect with friends and family anymore.

How To Survive a Social Media Attack With Your Soul Intact

The past weekend our diocesan Facebook page came under attack after our bishop wrote about the spiritual implications of voting for intrinsic evil. Some of the posters engaged the substance of the arguments; some, while disrespectful, were at least not vulgar or obscene; and the rest made for the most soul-damaging work of my life. I won’t describe the types of things I had to delete from our page. Suffice to say that the language, while course, was nothing compared to the brutality of the photoshopped pictures that people posted. I was sick to my stomach and sick in my heart.

So how does one maintain faith, hope, and charity amid such a morass of filth and hate? How can you weather such a storm with your heart still ready to reach out to others? Here’s how I handled it:

  1. Find some beauty. I was fortunate that, in the middle of this mess, I chanced across a picture my friend Dorian had tweeted of a beautiful cathedral dome. Taking in that beauty for just a few seconds lifted me up a bit and reminded me that, while my computer screen was filled with ugliness, there is beauty in the world.
  2. Take a break. Sometimes you just have to walk away for a little while. While I didn’t like the idea of something obscene being posted in my absence, the truth is that policing our Facebook page is not my most important job — either in my work for the Church or in my life. Taking time with my family, reading a book, making a meal — anything to get my mind off the Facebook page for a little while helped me to get back to a sense of “normalcy.”
  3. Remember it is temporary. Just remembering that this, too, will pass came with a great sense of relief. Our Facebook page has been attacked before; this one, too, will subside with time as people get bored and move on to the next confrontation. And in fact the main brunt of the attack was over in under 24 hours.
  4. Pray, pray, pray. We’ve been praying the St. Michael Prayer after Mass in our  diocese  for a couple years now, but never has the phrase “defend us in battle” taken on such immediacy for me. Asking the archangel for his intercession — especially on Saturday, when it was the Feast of the Archangels! — helped me to soldier on through the attacks. St. Michael is a powerful patron when undergoing spiritual trials — rely on him!

How do you maintain your spiritual wellness when confronted with sin and ugliness online?

Notes and Resources: Using New Media for Professional Development

Thank to everyone who participated in my webinar today on using new media for professional development in catechesis!

Here are my notes, a link to the opening prayer from the USCCB,  and some of the resources I mentioned during the webinar:




Reading Blogs

Creating Blogs


Video and Footnotes “ 9 ½ Social Media Strategies for the Church

Last night I offered a webinar on social networking tips and tricks for Catholic parishes, schools, and other ministries:

Thanks to everyone who participated! As promised, I’m including footnotes and suggestions for further reading:


Web Resources

Free Webinar – 9 ½ Social Media Strategies for the Church

On March 24 at 7p (CT) I will be offering a follow-up to my previous webinar, Reaching Parishioners with Facebook. This free webinar will focus on constructing a social media strategy for your parish, school, or ministry:

You’ve designed the perfect Catholic school web site, set up your parish Facebook page, and got your DRE on Twitter. Now what?! This free webinar will outline 9 ½ effective social media strategies for Catholic parishes, schools, and other ministries. Find out the most important piece of information that should be on your home page; how to jump-start your Facebook page; and why your parish shouldn’t be on Twitter — but your pastor should! Sponsored by the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership.

Register for free online at www2.gotomeeting.com/register/520350218.

Happy New Year – Catholic School Style!

It’s the New Year, which means it’s time for resolutions! Of course, if you are like me, you can recycle the same resolutions from last year. (I’m still trying to lose those 15 pounds!) But resolutions don’t just have to be for yourself “ the New Year is the perfect time to resolve to do something different or try something new on behalf of your Catholic school!

Here are five possible New Year’s resolutions you might try implementing:

  1. Increase your volunteer base. Find five parents who have never volunteered before and personally invite them to help with an event.
  2. Create a Facebook page for your school. (Or better yet, get one of those five parents to do it!) Then use it to reach out to alumni!
  3. Invite a representative from your diocesan vocations office — or your pastor! — to talk to your students about the priesthood.
  4. Secretaries are your front line of hospitality! Work with your secretary to better welcome prospective families when they make an inquiry.
  5. Publicly recognize a parent, volunteer, student, teacher, or staff member who has made an especially important contribution to your school. Let everyone know that you have incredible people at your school!

These are just a few suggestions; feel free to share your own in the comments! And if you try one of these, let us know how it goes!

My New Blog at Catholic Tech Talk

Two weeks ago I responded to a call for bloggers at Catholic Tech Talk and — despite my lack of professional tech credentials — they have accepted me! My new blog is called Missionaries to the Digital Continent. Here’s how I described its “mission statement” in my inaugural post:

The name of this blog… comes from the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who has described the world of social media as new grounds for evangelization. In my posts I will explore how the Church can utilize social media for its mission to œmake disciples of all nations.  (Mt 28:19) I am convinced that, if the faith is to be passed on, especially to the so-called œdigital natives,  the Church must learn to navigate this new continent. I am particularly sensitive to offering practical, œhow-to -style pieces since, in my experience, most people working in the Church don’t avoid technology because they don’t see the value, but because they simply don’t know where to start.

JonathanFSullivan.com will continue to be my primary blog and the place to find information on what I’m up to. I plan on posting at Missionaries to the Digital Continent about once a week; my latest post explores the difference between Facebook pages and groups, and which is better suited for parishes.

You can find Missionaries to the Digital Continent at www.catholictechtalk.com/blogs/missionaries.

Video and Footnotes – Reaching Parishioners with Facebook

Tonight I offered a free webinar on using Facebook to build and strengthen relationships with parishioners. The video is now available:

The following are some additional resources and recommended reading:


Church Documents

Web Sites and Articles