Ruth McGarahan is Media Officer for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. Here she explains why it’s so important to engage with social media while also offering a practical guide to Tweeting. All of the examples are taken from their Summer School.
Today’s media holds a similar significance to the printing press of the 16th Century – without it, the Protestant Reformation would probably have failed to take off in the way that it did. Likewise, the media and social media in particular, epitomises the Reformation cry Vox Populi: it is the ‘voice of the people’ giving anyone with anything to say a platform from which to speak.
Why Should We Tweet?
The web is ideal for sharing ideas. By immersing ourselves in social media, we can ascertain public sentiment – we hear the thoughts of ‘real’ people rather than just journalists, politicians and well-trained PR staff. Through it we are also given the opportunity to have our say and to help shape people’s thinking.
It’s not just about ideas – behind each tweet, blog and profile is a person. Although arguably on a somewhat superficial level, by ‘following’ ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’, we can engage with these people, listen to what they have to say and humbly suggest things that they might want to know about. If we want people to read inspiring articles, watch challenging talks or visit interesting websites, it is easier to use established platforms that they are already using rather than create new ones.
Two of these established and very popular platforms are social networking site Facebook and microblogging site Twitter – both boast over 500 million users. Here are some Twitter Tips using examples of real tweets that were sent either by or about The OCCA during the Imago Dei RZIM Summer School in July.
How to Tweet
Twitter is a microblogging site which enables users to send a brief message of up to 140 characters. It is similar to a Facebook status update. Tweets range from amusing (A prophet is basically a historian in reverse! #MichaelRamsden #WhoAmI), to thought provoking (Laws create nothing! 2+2 does not put £4 in my pocket! @ProfJohnLennox #WhoAmI) and downright profound (The power of the gospel & the transformation of the human heart is the only hope for humankind @RaviZacharias #WhoAmI). While many people create their own original tweets, lots predominantly re-tweet (see below) great content from other users.
Twitter is a great way to direct people to videos, articles and websites. Using a resource like https://bitly.com shortens the web address so that the majority of a tweet isn’t wasted with a long URL. To do this, copy the long URL, paste it into the appropriate part of https://bitly.com which will shorten it, copy and paste the new short URL into the tweet.
e.g. Pre-order #OsGuinness’ latest book http://amzn.to/JPX9hf
You can also insert pictures or locations by clicking the camera or location icon at the bottom of the new tweet window.
Unlike Facebook, you don’t need to know someone to ‘follow’ them on Twitter. When you follow someone, what they tweet will appear on your home feed. Likewise, random people choosing to follow you will be able to share your thoughts. You are likely to get more followers if you have something to say. @TheOCCA received a lot more followers during Summer School because we were tweeting choice phrases from the speakers pretty much none stop! To follow/ unfollow people thus adding/ removing them from your feed, hit the ‘follow’ (unfollow) button.
Why not follow some of us here at RZIM and The OCCA?
@RaviZacharias, @TheOCCA, @amyorrewing, @michelle_tepper, @ProfJohnLennox, @missionalfrog (Frog Orr Ewing) @abetterhope (Tom Price)
If you like what someone else has said, you can re-tweet it. This means that your followers can now see the original tweet, thus increasing its reach. To re-tweet, hit the ‘retweet’ button on the tweet that you’d like to re-broadcast – you can even add your own comment if you’d like (and if there’s room!)
Over the Summer School, lots of people re-tweeted @TheOCCA. Here is one example of a straight re-tweet and one with added comment:
As well as re-tweets, you can mention individuals. A mention is when you use @ followed by their name e.g. @TheOCCA. This @name is also known as their Twitter Handle.
The mention could be purely informational
It could be attributive – summarising what someone has said and adding their handle
It could be a message to someone especially if the handle is at the start of the tweet
It could function as a virtual pat on the back
A Hash Tag is a way of referring to a subject matter, an event or a phrase. It can be used in a similar way to an @mention if the person referenced is not on Twitter e.g. Since the resurrection, there is no greater miracle than seeing someone come to Christ #SharonDirckx #WhoAmI
It also makes the content of the tweet more searchable as #tags are grouped. This means that people who don’t follow you may find your content if you use a #tag that they are interested in. The OCCA used #WhoAmI as the Summer School #tag partly because it summed up the Imago Dei theme and partly because it is a commonly used #tag on Twitter so anyone clicking on #WhoAmI would see content from the conference.
If there is an event #tag, you are encouraged to insert that #tag so that other attendees (or interested outsiders) can read your tweets e.g. #WhoAmI for Summer School:
Twitter monitors tweets so if lots of people are tweeting about a particular subject, particularly when using #tags, those subjects will appear on the homepage of Twitter. Large events like the Olympics obviously end up ‘trending’ but every now and then references to God and apologetic questions make their way there – wouldn’t it be great to see this happening more frequently?
What would social reformers like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King have done if they could use our modern tools to cry out for justice and equality? What would Jesus have tweeted? And following in His footsteps, what will we tweet?
This article was originally written for OCCA and appeared on RZIM's EPulse and their website http://www.rzim.eu/what-would-jesus-tweet