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Should Your Church Be On Twitter?

© 2009 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Twitter is a text messaging technology that people use to keep up with each other.  Someone observed that it’s useless, to which one of the founders replied, “So is ice cream!”  But many companies are focusing on it; should your church?  If so, how?  And what can you hope to accomplish?

What Is Twitter?
Twitter is a communication tool that connects people with people and with businesses.  It was built on the technology that mobile phones use for sending text messages, called SMS, and can be accessed via mobile phones and computers.

Why Should We Twitter?
Some don’t Twitter because they already have email and text messaging.  But Twitter seems to be the next wave in communication, and churches may be wise to get on board!  It has a similar feel to the last technology wave that swept over our culture when the Internet hit in the 1990s.  Churches that embraced the Internet early were better able to reach target audiences that were focused on that communication method.

Steve Hewitt, Christian Computing Magazine’s Editor in Chief, recently quoted research concluding we are in our biggest generation gap since the 1960s!  This gap is caused by communication methods and technologies.  As organizations charged with the most important of all tasks—that of communicating the Gospel and helping people become more Christ-like— churches don’t have the luxury of limiting which communication method to use; they need to use as many as possible!

How Does It Work?
Twitter is very similar to text messaging in that the messages are limited in length and are non-graphic.  A significant difference, though, is that text message content is sent to specific mobile phones.  With Twitter, most messages (called “tweets”) are shared with the world, and are read by anyone interested in following what you have to say.

The way your message gets to those who want it is that they either search for your tweets or they tell their Twitter account they want to see all your tweets by following you.

Tweets can be viewed on the Twitter website (www.twitter.com) or in many free (or nearly free) applications you can install on your computer or SmartPhone.  Many of these third party applications provide a better interface than the Twitter website.  For instance, I rarely go to the Twitter website, but instead use a couple of free programs that present tweets in a way I find much more useful.  Here are some favorites:

  • For SmartPhones
  • iPhone:  Tweetie, http://www.atebits.com/tweetie-iphone
  • Windows Mobile:  Pocketwit, http://code.google.com/p/pocketwit
  • Blackberry:  UberTwitter,http://www.ubertwitter.com
  • For Computers— PC or Mac:  TweetDeck, www.tweetdeck.com

Why Only 140 Characters?
Because Twitter uses SMS, whose messages are limited to 160 characters, Twitter decided to limit tweets to 140 characters, reserving 20 for addressing.

Note:  A great way to communicate longer content is by including a weblink in your tweet that points to your website or blog.

Some say that you can’t say much in just 140 characters, but there are more than six million users who disagree!  And I’ve heard some Twitter users say that if someone needs more than 140 characters, they need to learn to focus their message!

What Can We Do With Twitter?
Well, let me begin by saying what you should not do with it!  Because tweets are openly available to the world, Twitter should never be used to announce prayer requests or any other sensitive information.  But what you can do with it is remind those following your tweets about upcoming meetings and events and use it to build relationships.

One of the speakers at this year’s 140|Twitter Conference in Los Angeles was Tony Robbins.  He’s an internationally sought-after speaker and author, and is not short on words.  He said his first impression of Twitter was, “Get a life!”  But he was intrigued and looked more closely at the opportunity that Twitter presents.  Tony said, “Ultimate joy in life comes from relationships.  By posting content that actively engages people, those 140 characters can trigger deep conversations.”

Some who use Twitter to communicate to large audiences (companies, celebrities, etc) like using tools like CoTweet (http://cotweet.com) that allow them to schedule tweets to happen and/ or repeat in the future.  At the 140| conference some said the benefits are:

  • Writing tweets that will be sent when the most users might be logged in, and
  • Repeating important tweets every eight hours over a twenty-four hour period to ensure better exposure to Twitter followers.

Is It A Fad, Or Will It Last?
That is the million dollar question!  Many are concerned because there doesn’t seem to be a business plan that will sustain Twitter, and they fear it will collapse under its own weight.  I recently had the opportunity to speak with Alex Payne, Twitter’s API Lead.  He told me they are on the verge of offering a commercial version with enhanced tools and capabilities that companies will use and that will generate income for Twitter.  When I suggested the technology requires a lot of infrastructure— which costs a lot of money, he said, “We have more than enough to fund ourselves for a couple of years.  We’re not going to implode.  We’re also working on models that will decentralize Twitter and take some of the processing to the edge of the Internet.”

That’s encouraging!  It also means Twitter will be a communication force for the next few years.  Churches would be wise to recognize this and use it to help fulfill their purpose and mission.

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