Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blog and Twitter favorites, suggestions

Blog and Twitter favorites


Steve Griffith is a UMC clergy colleague in Lincoln. He writes with care, intention and clarity about issues that are important to him. I think this is an excellent example of the pastor-as-author genre.

Kelli Samson is a cousin of mine who lives in Olympia, WA. I enjoy her blog because she has a very consistent writing voice, writes about food and books, posts photos that make me want to take more photos, and doesn’t mind offering an opinion. Something she does especially well is cross-reference her Instagram, blog and Facebook accounts. I usually find her blog within two hours of being posted, which I think is a sign of social media giftedness on her part.

Hacking Christianity. You might not agree with Jeremy’s content, but I think this is a fine example of excellent writing. He stays focused on his blog’s purpose, plans out his posts so his readers are not bombarded, and does a fine job editing. A new blogger could learn much about this communication form by studying this blog.

UMNS  @UMNS United Methodist News Service
Methoblog @methoblog They post UMC-related blogs! How convenient!
Trent Rosencrans, Cincinatti Reds reporter
Indian Country Today @indiancountry “Serving the nations, celebrating the people.” also have a fb feed from their media network
The Root @TheRoot “news and commentary from a variety of black perspectives” They also have a fb feed for their digital magazine
Rethink Church @umrethinkchurch
Great Plains UMC @gpumc
GCSRW @GCSRW I chair the Justice for Women committee, please follow
Tweet Smarter @TweetSmarter  They post tips for doing better with twitter

I feel like it is smart to subscribe to at least one of each of the following on twitter, at least as you get started. I’m thinking of clergy here, but I think the list works for others as well.
Weather update source, national or local
Local news source
National or regional news source edited by people of a different ethnicity than you
Local sports team of your choice
Social justice advocacy group
Local arts or food feed
Official denominational news source
Unofficial, yet actual, denominational news source

I find the above gives me a good chance at being aware of what my parishoners are likely to bring as prayer requests and gives me a chance at knowing enough about what is going on around me to be able to converse with others.

I find the best way to add to your twitter feed is to ask friends for suggestions or check the list of what they follow. It is very easy to add and subtract accounts from your twitter feed, with little to no risk of the kind of angst that happens when people “unfriend” one another on facebook.

Steph and Biebs

Guessing that Lyn Seiser took this October 2011 photo for me. We were in Washington State for a food justice meeting, and were so pleased to have time to catch up with our friend, Justin.

Blogs and blogging. Thoughts.

Blogs – thoughts

I think of blogs as public journals. They generally consist of a series of individual entries, each usually dated and frequently titled. Unlike a diary, where sequential pages usually move from the past to the present, blogs are usually arranged with the most recent entry, or “post,” first. Like a diary, there is likely not a safe hiding place for a blog – so don’t write things you don’t want other people to read. Blogs can be written by a single author or by several.

I have a rich history of blog-writing fear. The source of the fear is at least two-fold: 1) written words seem more permanent to me than spoken words so I worry more about errors ranging from typos to grammar to irrelevance to non-logic, and 2) my family of origin is very word-laden and I get worried that I will melt under the weight of the words I mix together, like a chemistry experiment gone bad.

Here’s how I’ve talked myself down from the blog fear: 1) I’m already in actual print every month with the pastor’s column in the church newsletter, 2) I am as word-laden as the rest of my family, so it’s too late now to traffic in word fear, 3) very few people will actually read what I write, and 4) on a practical level the blog format is better than twitter, facebook and pinterest for short essays and opinion pieces.

I find 4) the most convincing of the above reasons, and it is what spurred me to figure out my blog password, update my profile and restart myself down the written-yet-virtual word path.  For purely pragmatic reasons, a blog can be very helpful. Teaching at license to preach school but you are pretty sure the students will lose or fold into origami paper cranes anything you hand them? Give them the link to your blog and post notes there.  Do you have a bunch of book reviews from a previous life that you want to be able to find again? Post them on the blog. Doing your best to teach your colleagues about social media, but afraid someone will notice you haven’t written in your blog for a year? Post to the blog – that way there’s a current post, plus you might encourage someone else to lay aside their blog fear.

Where to blog and names: I picked blogger because it’s a google product, and I already use gmail so I figured if I could navigate one google product, I could probably figure out another one. When you pick a blog name, remember that the title of the blog can be longer and more descriptive, but the name of the blog is what your readers will use to find you online. So: the title of this blog is kind of goofy. Rev Steph’s Eclectic Garden. My guess is I was trying to give myself room for a variety of post topics without sounding too complicated. The blog name for web use, however, is The difference between the two? I advise keeping the name short and spellable, and the title as poetic and confusing as you’d like. 

Proofing: I have some typos and missing words in my recent posts. This is because I did not follow my own advice. Which goes like this: write your post in a word document and cut and paste it into the blogging tool you use. This way your spellcheck will find basic, annoying errors for you. Once you paste in the spellchecked words, utilize the draft function to proof what you have written again. Then wait at least ten minutes to post so you can read again while you feel less enthusiastic and therefore are better able to read for continuity, voice, structure, and redundancy. The good news is that after you have posted, you can go back and edit your work, so you won’t leave behind a permanent grammatical disaster.

Late July, 2014. Omaha garden

I once read that gardeners should keep a notebook, and anytime you plant a perennial you should make a note of the name and draw a map of where you planted it.  

I don't know the name of the purple plant, nor do I know when I planted it or its source.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to send email to several people

How to send email to several people

A friend of mine asked for tips on sending emails to groups of people.

I have mixed feelings about group emails, mostly because of what I feel is the overuse of the “reply all” option. I generally include everyone in the “to” line if I’m emailing a committee or small group. This way everyone can see who else was included. Once I get past about 12 people, I tend to use “bcc” and then list in the body of the email itself who is receiving the email. This way recipients know who else is receiving the info, and I can easily find the list of who received it in case I want to double-check. Here’s an article about bcc etiquette. I found it helpful to think about personal vs business email address norms.

Another way to handle group emails is… use the group email function on your email program. You likely have this option, even if you don’t realize it. An advantage to using the group email function is that once you’ve added the names to the group, you don’t have to worry that you’ve forgotten someone – you just add the group of names as a whole.
Here’s a discussion from the folks at googlemail regarding how to set up an email group on their system. You’ll find similar instructions for your own email program. You’ll notice they reference the “bcc” technique as a way to be “discreet.” I think you substitute the words “not annoying” and the sentence would still work.

A related question is how to set up an enewsletter. I’m most familiar with and  Both of these are cheap or free to use if you have a small database. Their websites have information about cost. An email tool like this is handy for many reasons, including: 1) you can import and existing database into the tool so you don’t have to retype email addresses, 2) spam filters realize they are enewsletters and not spam, 3) they come with templates so if you aren’t good at layout you can use one of theirs, 4) they come with an analytics tool so you can find out what percent of your newsletters were opened, forwarded, and stuff like that, 5) they are easy to forward and you can include information about how to sign up so people populate your database themselves.

If you are trying to decide which enewsletter tool is best for you, you might check and see what other churches your size are using and ask what they like best about their enewsletter, and if they feel strongly enough to make a recommendation. 

Frisco with Praying Hands
 Here's a photo of my Lincoln neighbor cat, Frisco. He's almost two years old, which I feel is too young to be a curmudgeon, but he's one of the crankiest cats I have ever met. In this photo he has just hissed at me from near my Praying Hands yard art. The hands appeared one weekend while I was in Omaha. I arrived late Saturday night, went to remove what I thought was a plastic bag... and instead found these. One of my friends says I should not worry unless I return home and discover "praying feet." The donor has not yet come forward...

About Social Media

About Social Media

I’ve heard other clergy claim that they plan to “have nothing to do with” social media. I suspect what they mean is that they wish to not start a facebook or twitter account, and are hoping to avoid dealing with a personal online presence.
Here’s what I’m thinking: it’s too late. Whether or not we want to be present on the internet, we are already there. Pastors are present and findable via internet search because our names are associated with our church, our photos are posted whenever we conduct a wedding, and we are listed in obituaries whenever we conduct a funeral. These and other digital references are happening, whether or not we are aware of them, so the advantage of participating in social media at least a little bit is twofold – you have a better grasp of how you are being represented online, and you can add your own perspective and stories instead of relying solely on others.

In addition, social media can be an excellent communication tool. Like all communications, how social media is used determines how effective it is. I think it was in Junior High that I was taught the two components of effective communication: 1) message sent, and 2) message received. Social media provides opportunities to both send and receive information.

As one of the two main curators of our church’s official information channels, my job is to choose wisely so we reach our desired audience effectively. This includes planning ahead and utilizing several tools so we create neither a dry spell nor a flood of communications. 

I find in Church communications that when I rely exclusively on the print newsletter and bulletin and spoken announcements from the pulpit, our information stream can have significant gaps in it. Adding social media to our information stream helps fill in gaps, engage people in new ways, and gives some of our members tools to invite others to participate.

While there are number of places a person can go to learn about how to use social media in the Church, I really really appreciate UMCommunications. Here’s a link to some of their information about social media:
Current articles at this site include Instagram, blogging, and text messaging.

Today's garden photo is from Baton Rouge, LA.The garden is across the street from First UMC - I love the garden name!!!! You might enjoy the church's website,