The Potential of Social Media

Social Media is a tool that gives us access to virtually every continent and billions of people right from our phones. This allows for countless opportunities to connect, innovate, and learn from people all over the world. We also acknowledge that there are plenty of issues with the digital world, and the number of negative effects with, of, and through social media abound. However, one of the basic commitments of InterVarsity is to go wherever students and faculty are, and Ministry in Digital Spaces carries this mandate into the digital world. All the places where students and faculty are communicating, building relationships and finding community, we want to be there.

Social Media has the ability to make our world small, familiar, and new.

Social media can make the world SMALL

The ability to encounter many people

From Facebook Groups to Twitter hashtags, the chances of meeting a new person every day are extremely high. This can lead to community development and new relationships. It is analogous to someone sitting at Starbucks. If a person sits at a high traffic Starbucks, they will certainly see someone new each day, and each new person they see is a new opportunity to connect!

The ability to enter global conversations

One of the most massive, worldwide conversations in history was prompted by the recent US Presidential election. Searching for a specific hashtag on a platform like Twitter is one of the easiest ways to enter a global conversation.

The ability to enter different kinds of spaces

Hashtags

Hashtags are like malls. Just as there is a store for everyone in a mall, (well, almost everyone), there is a hashtag for almost everything. Want a hashtag for sports? #NBA is easy enough. Want a hashtag about a particular culture? #BlackTwitter gives you that space. Want a hashtag about a certain product? #(insert product here) gives you that! Each hashtag is a space for conversation, with a particular set of social norms and expectations.

Guilds

Guilds are simply a communities of people gathered around a common purpose or goal. There are many types of guilds for everyone… Kind of like hashtags.

Blogs

Blogs are ways for people to write about what they love. They are a way that content creates communities based on common interests. Blogs can be some of the most interesting reading because they reveal the not just a topic, but the personality the author.

Social media can make the world FAMILIAR

The ability for introverts to connect

Social media platforms are about more than just following; they create opportunities for communication as well as connection. Similar to networking, but for shy introverts. The ability to learn about and interact with the person or topic followed is pretty cool. This is a virtuous cycle: knowledge through communication and connection allows for better communication and connection in the future.

The ability to see into daily life

Social media offers a chance to observe the daily lives of a massively diverse set of people. Observations of daily life are wonderful opportunities to learn; reading posts and processing the content of those posts allows for more understanding about the person posting. Ultimately, this is an opportunity to both see how different people can be, as well as how similar.

The ability to witness dialogue from other cultures

This could be the most interesting thing of all. #BlackTwitter offers incredible insight (sometimes). Social constructs can be seen through things like a Facebook Post: there always seems to be a thread or topic that only the “Asian folks” or the “White folks” are engaging, although this is seldom acknowledged. (Go ahead, check your Facebook feed right now to see if anything is brewing.) These culturally-specific threads offer a glimpse into another community, into a different way to have a conversation. If paying attention, the reader has an opportunity to get outside their cultural norms.

The ability to learn from those you disagree with

Social media offers (through intentional choices) the opportunity to notice, pay attention to, and ultimately learn from others who would not see eye-to-eye on every issue. Choosing not to do this inevitably leads to Facebook arguments; unfortunately, this happens all the time.

The ability to reconsider presence and priority

It is easy to be surprised by how much presence can be found on social media; posts and status updates often mean something to others, in unexpected ways. Presence is not about being famous; it is a posture of being present to others. Someone could have one million likes but no social media presence. Someone could have one hundred friends, say something really dumb (or enlightening, or funny) that people flock to, and suddenly have a huge presence. Presence is possible even with five Facebook friends, if those five actively pay attention and engage and interact.

Social media offers opportunities to reflect on presence and to make intentional choices about priorities around presence. Many times the context and events of the offline, physical world should take precedence over things occurring in social media. But not always. Presence is not an assumption or a constant; it is a choice. In some cases, presence in an online conversation should become the top priority; engaging someone in social media could literally be the difference between life and death. 

The point is to constantly evaluate engagement, both online and offline, in terms of presence and priority. 

Social media can make the world NEW

The ability to move past being a media consumer

Consumers

The most basic level of interaction with social media is as a consumer. This is the easiest default, requiring very little reflection. While social media offers so many possibilities in terms of relationships and messages, a consumer puts very little energy into either. Being a consumer puts low priority on online presence.

Communicators and Connectors

In contrast, there are social media users who are very conscious of crafting their message, entering social media as communicators. Others deeply value and invest in their online relationships, entering social media as connectors.

Creators of Community

The aspiration of Ministry in Digital Spaces is to move beyond both communicators and connectors, to take on the role of creator. Creators have place equally high value on both the message and the relationships in social media. Creators create communities; creators forge a new way forward, novel uses of common tools and applications.

We in Ministry in Digital Spaces are called to be creators of communities. Would you join us?


Want to learn more? Check out The Power of Social Media and The Peril of Social Media.

Read more about Mike on his bio page, or follow him on Twitter @ayoB00m.

Read more about Bret on his bio page, or follow him on Twitter @bretsw.

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