Are Your Tweets Putting Your Ministry at Risk?

5897611358_5c15cd6f87_bYesterday I ran across a story about a recent Federal Trade Commission settlement with Deutsch LA, an advertising firm, regarding their social media marketing on behalf of a client.

Long story short: Deutsch LA a) tweeted information for a client and b) encouraged employees to do the same on their personal accounts, c) without disclosing the business relationship between the client and the company or the employee and the company. The FTC ruled this a violation of their disclosure rules. These rules state that if you promote something for which you have a vested interest (including, but not exclusively, a monetary interest) you must disclose that fact. This is one reason, for instance, I always state in my book reviews if I received a free review copy — that fact may color my perception of the book and readers should be aware of that fact.

Similarly, if an employee tweets or blogs something on behalf of their employer, they have an interest in it and that fact should be disclosed. These rules have been in place for years, but with the advent of new media the boundaries are a little blurry about what constitutes adequate disclosure.

This got me thinking about implications for employees of Catholic parishes, schools, and other ministries who use blogs, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media to promote their activities.

(Here’s where I add a disclaimer that I am not a lawyer and don’t play on on TV, so don’t take any of the following as legal advice.)

I regularly tweet and blog about the activities of my diocese. As I read the issue (and the original FTC rules about disclosure in social media), I should be disclosing in the tweet or blog post (or whatever social media I’m using) my relationship as an employee of the diocese. It’s not enough to state in my bio or elsewhere on the page that I am employed by the diocese, since this does not meet the FTC’s “proximity and placement” rule. (I also don’t see any exemption for nonprofit organizations.)

So, for instance, this tweet would be a violation of the rule, because “our” does not clearly name the relationship between myself and the diocese:

But this one would include proper disclosure, since it references “our office,” making it clear that I work for the sponsoring organization:

(The FTC says you can also disclose through the use of hashtags such as #client or #ad.)

Obviously this has big implications for those who work in Catholic ministry and how they promote their ministry’s events and interests. Our diocese is already working to make sure we can give good advice to help priests, deacons, consecrated religious, and lay employees follow these disclosure rules in their blogs and other social media.

In the meantime, I would recommend everyone keep an eye on their use of social media to promote their ministries to ensure that we are following “best practices” and not inadvertently misleading people regarding our relationships with them.

Photo Credit: daniel.d.slee via Compfight cc

Catechesis: Not Just for Theology Geeks

Marc Cardaronella has written a great response to my recent post on adult faith formation. Marc gets to the heart of the problem with this passage:

I  think a lot of catechetical programming is geared toward the theology geeks and old regulars. It centers on teaching doctrines or other aspects of the faith. But to draw in a wider audience, it needs to tell  people how to solve real problems.

I’m not saying that catechesis isn’t important (except if it’s boring). I’m saying that often it’s not perceived as important by the average person in the parish. That’s because it’s  not filling a need…

People are busy. If they don’t see a real value in your class, they won’t go. It doesn’t matter if it’s free. The currency they’re spending is time. They only have so much of it, and if you’re not giving them enough value, they’re not going to spend their time on you.

Here’s one example of what we’re talking about:

Imagine you’re looking over a list of upcoming catechetical offerings and trying to decide which to attend. Which course title sounds more appealing?

  • Ending World Hunger, Poverty, and War with the Power of Faith
  • Catholic Social Doctrine

Two courses that could have the exact same content — yet the first will be better attended because it promises to address real world problems that people encounter every day. The second one? The average person in the pew doesn’t even know what “Social Doctrine” is, let alone how it will help them.

People write what they know, and unfortunately many catechetical programs are written by theology geeks (I want that on my business card!) rather than people who are really interested in how the faith can work concretely in people’s lives to address their needs and questions.

If we expect people to give up something to attend our catechetical programs — and Marc is absolutely correct that, in today’s hectic world, time is a precious currency — than we need to demonstrate how our programs will benefit them. This isn’t something we can demonstrate during their time in our programs. It has to be part of the way we market catechesis and our programs.

If we want people to come, we have to demonstrate that it will be worth their while.

Image by Druid Labs/FlickrCC

Marketing the Faith by Telling Our Stories

My friend Marc Cardaronella has an excellent post over at his blog on the need for better “sales and marketing” in the Church. He writes

In my experience,  people need to hear the benefits of Catholicism to be attracted to it. And, they need to hear how it worked and is working in our own lives. Most people are attracted to something through other people.

You’re not lying when you tell people the great benefits you receive from being Catholic. You’re not trying to mislead people  when you describe the peace that comes from faithfully following Church teaching. They may not experience the same thing but then again, they might.

To piggy-back on this idea, I’d say that we need to do a better job of telling our story. When I worked in Catholic health care there was a lot of hand-wringing over whether the government would revoke the tax-exempt status of nonprofit hospitals. The question was whether these hospitals were really giving enough back to the community to justify their exemption.

As it turns out, when (most) nonprofit hospitals ran the numbers, they discovered that they were providing a huge benefit to the community in educational programs, services to the poor, and free care to those who could not afford a massive hospital bill.

The problem was that they didn’t tell people about it! Catholic hospitals were still operating under an assumption that it would be boastful to talk about the good work they were doing, as if that light needed to be hid under a basket. Now, fortunately, many are realizing that sharing success stories is a valuable way of getting people interested in the mission of Catholic healthcare and include community benefit information in their annual reports.

And as Marc points out, just so with the Church. We need to tell people what being a member of the Church means beyond “getting right with God.” There are real tangible benefits to being a believer, and we’re not always willing to stand up and say what they are. That’s one of the reasons I like Fr. Pable’s three-step approach to sharing the faith — it encourages us to explain why the faith is important to us by sharing our stories.

How does the faith benefit you? And how have you shared that story with someone?

Footnotes and Further Reading – Marketing Your School Online

Today I offered a breakout session at the 2010 Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference on school marketing in the internet era. The following are footnotes and suggestions for further readings for the attendees:


Web Sites and Articles



Upcoming Webinar: Reaching Parishioners with Facebook

image by Br LLew OP/FlcikrCCNext   month I will be offering a free webinar on creating and maintaining a parish Facebook page:

With over 500 million active members, Facebook is the most popular social networking site online. Chances are that many of your parishioners are already there.

Is your parish?

This free webinar will explore why parishes should have a presence on Facebook and how they can connect with their parishioners by setting up a Facebook page.

Participants will watch step-by-step as a Facebook page is set up in real time. Tips will also be shared on how to make the best use of your page once it is set up.

While I’m focusing on parish pages, this webinar would also be ideal for anyone looking to set up a Facebook page for a Catholic school or other ministry.

The webinar will be held on November 17th at 7p (Central Time). To register, go to

This webinar is sponsored by the Office for Catechesis of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. I hope to see you there!

Book Review: Branding Faith

“Marketing” is a bad word in church circles. It implies manipulation, impure intentions and other chicanery. This is not without reason; corporate marketing has become a science, with companies spending millions of dollars to understand the psychological and sociological impact of advertising. Many Christians, understandably, believe it would be unseemly — if not sinful — to employ modern marketing techniques on behalf of the Church.

Phil Cooke‘s 2008 book, Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t, seeks to change some of these perceptions. Cooke specializes in the intersection of faith and media and acts as a consultant helping religious organizations to better tell their story.

Branding, according to Cooke, is all about the story that surrounds a business or organization. It’s what immediately comes to people’s minds when they think of the organization. With this in mind, he challenges Christian organizations to think carefully about what makes them unique in the world so as to better share their story and help people understand who they are and what they stand for.

Cooke does an admirable job of pointing out the potential dangers in “over-thinking” marketing efforts. He devotes an entire chapter to how churches and non-profits risk losing their identity to marketing “gimmicks” and trying to chase relevancy “ and how potential parishioners are turned off by such efforts. I was especially relieved to see Cooke emphasizing the personal relationship between the organization and the individual:

In a world in which few people have   close friends, expand your community and get to know people. Enlarge your network of really close friends. Perhaps it’s becuase I was raised before the digital age that I still value face-to-face communication far more than phone conversations or email.

That having been said, the book should read with some discernment. Cooke, understandably, speaks almost exclusively from a Protestant point of view. Emphasis is placed on the importance of preaching (an emphasis which is complementary to, but different from, the sacramental view of liturgy in the Catholic Church) and, as a result, puts a heavy emphasis on the importance of the leader’s communication skills.

Nevertheless I think there are some good insights for any Christian organization trying to understand how to share its passion and invite others to work with them. It will certainly challenge those who think that marketing has no place in the life of the Church to reconsider their position.

What Business Are You In? Part 1

This weekend I listened to an interview with Roy Spence, author of It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For. Spence is a marketing and communications expert and was part of the team that came up with the slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

The slogan came about when Bob Linear, who was the chairmen of the Texas Highway Commission, asked why they were increasing the budget for litter removal instead of working to reduce litter. Spence’s company pitched the slogan (which, due to its macho tone, was somewhat controversial) to the Highway Commission as part of a broad marketing strategy; litter rates have since gone down in Texas and the slogan has become a culture icon.

According to Spence, the reason the slogan struck such a chord (beyond stereotypical Texas elitism) is that it shifted the conversation. As Spence put it in the interview, instead of trying to sell Texans on changing their behavior the slogan gave them something positive to focus on: “We got out of the litter business and got into the pride business.”

I think one of the reasons some church initiatives fail is because we aren’t clear what business we’re in. Are we sponsoring a program for our own ends, or because we believe we have something worthwhile to offer people? Are we giving them “a positive option?” For instance, if we’re engaging in evangelization just to put people in the pews, we’re going to fail because we aren’t giving people a reason to come, we’re just trying to increase attendance (either for the prestige of our parish or to increase the weekly offering). Why would people want to join an organization that only wants them to fulfill a quota?

Next: What is the business of catechesis?

Photo by Kaleb Fulgham / flickrCC

The Roman Missal: Re-Focusing Our Attention

I am reluctant to enter into discussion of liturgical theology and practice. It is not the field in which I work and I have little education on the subject. That having been said, my diocese, like many others, is preparing for the Vatican’s recognitio of the translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. While we may not know when the final approval will come (most people seem to suspect it will be sometime this spring, with mandatory implementation at Advent 2011) we will need to prepare for its use in our parishes. This means a concerted catechetical program for all: priests, deacons, musicians, liturgists, catechists, people in the pews   — and maybe even people out of the pews!

A couple weeks ago a small group of our diocesan directors met to begin envisioning what that catechetical process will look like. During the course of the conversation, one thing became clear: in order to prepare people to pray the new translation in a meaningful, intelligible way, we need to be able to articulate why the Church is changing the words of the Eucharistic liturgy in a way they can understand and accept.

In other words, we need to find the marketable message for the changes.

I won’t claim that we came up with all the answers, but I think one of the priests at the table got us started the right path. He noted that, during the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, the message was that the laity will no longer be passive observers but will be called to “full, active participation” in the liturgy. For forty years this has been the mantra of liturgical catechesis, for better or worse. It was, in a sense, the “marketable message” on liturgy following the council.

He contrasted this with the new missal and translation which have shifted attention from the action of the congregation back to the object of worship: Jesus Christ. Without diminishing the importance of the council’s reforms or denigrating the progress made in liturgical theology, the heightened language of the new translation pulls us out of the mundane and reminds us that while we participate in the liturgy, the liturgy is not about us.

With that in mind, a useful way to enter a wider conversation about the new missal — and a way to point towards a “marketable message” — may be to pose the following three questions:

  1. Who calls us to participate in the liturgy?
  2. Why do we participate in the liturgy?
  3. How then do we participate in the liturgy?

This series of questions begins with the invitation to worship, points to the object of our worship, and then asks if the manner of our worships honors that end. I’m not completely satisfied with the wording (I’m open to suggestions!) and obviously not everyone will agree on the answers to these questions — especially the third! But they at least focus the conversation in a constructive manner that can lead to further exploration about our theology of liturgy, why we have a shared liturgical practice in the Church, and why the changes make sense within that context.

And without resorting to, “Because the Vatican says so!”