The year in review: UU social media in 2013

It feels to me as though there was a resurgence of energy and creativity among Unitarian Universalists using social media in 2013. I’m not sure we were always as effective as we could have been, but I saw energy and enthusiasm amongst Unitarian Universalist (UU) social media creators that led to some of our best use of social media ever. Here’s my list of the 2013 UU social media top three — two exemplars of how to use social media and one milestone in the evolution of UU social media:

1. CLF: This year, the best producer of UU social media was, without doubt, the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF). When you go to their Website, delightfully titled “Quest for Meaning,” you’re immediately presented with several ways you can engage with the CLF community: you can share your joy or concern; you can light a virtual chalice; you can click through to one of their blogs; you can register for an online course; you can find out about their online worship services; you can donate money or buy books that will provide them with a small kickback; and more. The front page of their Website lets you know that they really do have an online community — and their Website draws you in and offers you many ways to participate, at multiple levels of commitment. I’m pretty jaded by online engagement these days, but even so simple a thing as lighting their online chalice brought a smile to my face.

I’m even more impressed by CLF’s video offerings, which are easiest to track down on Youtube. You can watch video meditations, you can listen to their religious educator, Lynn Ungar, tell stories, you can hear homilies by their senior minister Meg Riley and others, and you can watch “The VUU,” an online UU talk show. I was particularly impressed by “The VUU”; I was prepared not to like it, I thought there was no way that I’d watch an hour-long video, I half-suspected it would be the usual overly-serious religious liberal talkfest. But it turns out that “The VUU” is funny, entertaining, thoughtful, and definitely worth watching. Ever since I watched the early videoblogs by Steve Garfield and others, I’ve been waiting for some Unitarian Universalist to figure out how to do something fun and creative with online video — and “The VUU” has finally done it; indeed, it exceeds my expectations.

2. UU World’s “Interdependent Web”: When Kenneth Sutton stopped curating “The Interdependent Web,” a weekly list of the most interesting posts from UU blogs, I was a little bit worried; I didn’t think anyone could be as good a curator as Kenneth. But I can say without diminishing Kenneth’s achievements in the least that Heather Christiensen, the new curator of “The Interdependent Web,” is even better. Heather has cast a very wide net, and tracked down new and unusual UU blogs that I otherwise would never have heard about; she has been unafraid to mention posts on controversial subjects (and her editors at UU World have obviously supported her in this); and she has been pretty consistent at finding good and thoughtful writing.

In order to find all those well-written blog posts from so many different sources, Heather must put in hours of patient Web surfing. But I suspect her task has been eased somewhat by an increase in good writing by UU bloggers. Go and check out “The Interdependent Web,” click through to some of the posts Heather finds, and you’ll find lots of good writing from lots of people.

3. The end of UUs-L email list: We passed a major milestone in the evolution of Unitarian Universalist social media this year: the demise of the UUs-L email list. In its day, UUs-L produced some interesting arguments, er, conversations. Back in the day, email lists could be rough-and-tumble forums, places where you quickly learned how to hone arguments, and where sloppy thinking was immediately challenged. It was also the place where many of us first developed any kind of online reputation — the first time I found my name using an Internet search engine (before the days of Google, so it was Altavista) was in a post from UUs-L that had been archived on www.uua.org.

It’s easy to think that social media is a new thing, and to forget how long we’ve been interacting online. I missed the days of the BBSs like The Well, but by the 1990s I was reading Usenet and email lists using a 286 machine running DOS 6.0, with a dial-up modem to connect to the wider world. Today, we would turn up our noses at that old technology, but the principles of online interaction were not all that different than they are today. I learned that nothing you say online is truly private, I probably managed to offend more than one person, I forged some fascinating online friendships, and above all my horizons were greatly expanded.

UUs-L died from lack of serious content, The Well is long gone, Usenet strangled in spam, LiveJournal collapsed, AOL blogs were killed by a new business plan, and I have no doubt that some day Twitter and Facebook will die a well-deserved death. I don’t see much reason to mourn when old social media outlets die off, but I do mourn the excessive commercialization of social media. Facebook’s primary reason for existence is to deliver advertisements to your eyeballs, the goal of the Google empire is both to deliver ads to you and to collect your personal data to be resold to others, etc. So while I don’t mourn the death of the old UUs-L email list, I do mourn the fact that there’s one less source of social media run by a non-profit institution for benevolent purposes.

 

2013 has been a good year for Unitarian Universalist social media, but there are a few things worth noting. It’s worth noting that the most interesting and exciting use of social media comes from our biggest institutions — specifically, from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Church of the Larger Fellowship (3,000+ members). It’s also worth noting how many of the best UU blogs are now being written by UU ministers and other religious professionals, rather than by laypeople. I also note that most of the UU content I see on Facebook has a poor signal-to-noise ratio, with way too many posts unreflectively decrying the latest Horrible Injustice.

When I look forward to the coming year, I know what I’d like to see. I’d like to see the quality of UU posts on Facebook increase to the point where I’m never embarrassed by them. I’d like to see more exploration of new approaches to social media, extending the good work CLF is doing. I’d like to see more laypeople writing and producing videos and other online content.

How about you? What do you want to see from UU social media in the new year? And what did I miss in 2013 that deserves mention?

11 thoughts on “The year in review: UU social media in 2013”

  1. Thanks for kicking off the year in review, Dan. I’ve shared some additional thoughts on my blog here, and copied below.

    BLOGGING
    We’ve discussed the issue of UU clergy vs. lay person blogging in the UU Growth Lab and most agreed that the ease of sharing ideas and engaging in discussion in topical UU groups has taken some of the energy away from public blogging. While it is great to have these forums, there was some worry expressed in having these conversations moved behind closed doors.

    FACEBOOK OUTREACH & DESIGN
    There’s been amazing UU outreach done over the last year via social media, especially on Facebook using combinations of striking visual images and quotes. The biggest contributors have been the page (featured in UU world this Fall) & , and Thomas Earthman’s I AM UU page.

    TWITTER
    There continues to be growth in the number of UUs and UU congregations on Twitter. The UUA’s twitter account now lists:

    128 UU Ministers
    50 UU Religious Educators
    279 UU Congregations

    I don’t have stats on the counts from previous years, though I’ve logged these numbers for future comparison.

    Hashtags: Though they are now more mainstream, I don’t see many Unitarian Universalists using them well. Some do, but not overall. There’s huge potential to bring our congregations, clergy and other UUs on Twitter into larger conversations using hashtags. Hard to say if it is lack of technical understanding, or simply lack of intention to reach out.

    Gini’s Twitter Lesson: At the UUA’s 2013 General Assembly then moderator Gini Courter gave the full plenary a brief Twitter lesson. It was great to see this attention brought to social media at GA.

    VIDEO
    The UU video site I curate, http://www.unitarianuniversalism.tv now has over 2450 UU videos. Alas, many are poorly filmed, and are designed for viewing by existing members chained to their pews. Unless someone is already a member or friend of the congregation, you have maybe 3 to 5 seconds to grab their attention. Many of the sermon videos posted online take 3 to 5 minutes, an eternity for a web video.

    Also, many congregations are not titling their videos or tagging with keywords which reduces their value. Titles, descriptions and keyword tags will greatly increase the reach of the videos UUs are presently producing.

    I’ve had many inquiries from congregations wanting to take their video to the next level (or to start filming) in 2014, which is encouraging. I still advocate for starting with an awesome podcast and periodic video messages designed for outreach (a message from your minister speaking directly to viewer online), and then getting into video of sermons.

    PINTEREST
    There are approximately 20 active UU congregations and UUA accounts on Pinterest. A search for “Unitarian Universalist” results in ~35 related boards. Numbers are approximate as some appear to not have been used since creating some time ago.

    GOOGLE +
    I’m getting circled more often by UU’s but I don’t know if people are really using Google+ more or are just being forced to create accounts to use Google services. As for congregations, a search for Unitarian results in ~90 UU congregations (with profile photos) on Google+. Searches for Unitarian Universalist yields fewer number, and Universalist fewer still so “Unitarian” seems best for tracking the trend at this point.

  2. Dan, I’m wondering if you’ve seen the Southern Region newsletter and blog? I don’t know if you count that as UUA (or Blue Boat or SSL Or Tandi Rogers). I thought they were good all examples of advancing UU thought.

  3. Peter, thanks for a great summary — and you’re someone who knows UU social media probably better than anyone else I know. I especially appreciate your comments on producing video — one of the reasons I think “The VUU” is a good exemplar is that it shows how you can do fun, interesting video using simple tools.

    Carrie, thanks — and now provide us with links so we can check it out!

  4. Dan, following up on your request for links to some of the “grassroots” social media that are also thriving and having more influence than some might imagine, here are a few…

    “I Am UU” Facebook page…. https://www.facebook.com/IAmUUPage

    “Unitarian Universalism – Faith of the Free” Facebook page… https://www.facebook.com/FaithoftheFree

    The Faith of the Free “sister-group” of the above page (closed group for further discussion around UU and liberal-religious themes)… https://www.facebook.com/groups/2204654293/

    Friends of the IARF – International Association for Religious Freedom… https://www.facebook.com/groups/103137603065/

    Corey’s “Free Range Unitarian Universalists” Facebook group… https://www.facebook.com/groups/fruus/

    (I also administer state-level UU groups for Georgia and South Carolina and several smaller ones.)

  5. Many thanks to Lance Brown for tirelessly running the UUS-L list for many years and for knowing when to put it to bed. And thanks to James Curran of the UUA’s ITS staff for stepping up to the GA podium on short notice to help Gini explain how to tweet from a smart phone!

  6. Thanks for the high praise, Dan! Heather has, indeed, greatly expanded the blogs that appear in the Interdependent Web. She too has remarked on the shift from lay bloggers to professional ministers.

  7. Responding to Peter’s comment: “…engaging in discussion in topical UU groups has taken some of the energy away from public blogging. While it is great to have these forums, there was some worry expressed in having these conversations moved behind closed doors.”

    This was a much considered issue for me when I launched my layperson’s blog a bit over a year ago, and decided to make it a public blog informed by my UUism but not specifically directed to UU topics or the UU community. It felt to me I’d be erecting a barricade that would repel—or at least not attract—many potential readers who would consider it my separate churchy thing rather than of the larger world. And for me at least, our movement and conversation partners are too small as it is, so I didn’t want to contribute to that in any way by narrowing my blog’s target audience.

  8. Andrew — Thanks for the comment, and thanks for introducing me to your blog, Traversing. Not only is the writing good, but I’m impressed by the visual impact of your blog — something I should pay more attention to.

  9. Thanks, Dan. My thinking was I was going to be asking a lot of readers to hang with long-form essays rather than quick punchy posts (bah, humbug on tl/dr!) , so I’d better include some visual relief! Also, we live in an intensely visual age and there is a surfeit of wonderful free photography available via Creative Commons, so it has been great to enhance my site with it while also shining some light on the creative efforts of the photographers, which they have uniformly appreciated.

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