While putting together The Church and New Media, I had the chance to interview a number of new media experts. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit all of their tips and advice into the book. But there were so much good advice that begged to be shared. So through our regular interview series here on the blog, we’ll continue unpacking more of that wisdom.
Today we talk to Laura Durington. Laura is the Online Community Manager for Catholic Relief Services which means she is the new media expert for one of the world’s largest charities. She also manages the online fundraising, e-mail marketing and social networking outreach programs for CRS.
Before working for CRS, Laura lived in South Africa and helped develop training manuals for the treatment of HIV as part of a Harvard-AIDS Institute funded project.
1. Why, in particular, does CRS see it important to use New Media–blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc?
Catholic Relief Services has been using social media for the past four years. We have found it to be an invaluable asset that gives us the opportunity to engage with and educate our supporters on global issues. We can listen to what they have to say, and often facilitate a dialog among our supporters.
Additionally, the viral nature of social media affords us a way to further our reach to audiences we may not have traditionally had access to, ultimately increasing awareness of CRS and the work we do.
2. In what ways does New Media both aid and inhibit Catholic activism?
Social media is an exemplary platform where we can offer our supporters small actions they can take every day, and that ultimately helps support the work we do. These actions might be to call their congressional representatives, or to take a pledge to pray, and sometimes to donate to an emergency. Even if the action is simply to read a story on our website about our work or on a particular issue, we value the idea that the more informed our constituents are about the plight of the world’s poor, the better for everyone.
The downside is that because the online nature of social media affords a sense of anonymity, sadly we’ve found on a few occasions having to remove comments that were needlessly aggressive, insulting or offensive to our other supporters while doing nothing to advance the conversation. We welcome all points of view but we’ve had to institute a comments policy that we reserve the right to delete these types of comments.
An additional, possible downside, is that only time will tell if the most engaged supporters will eventually make the best donors, or if all of these small actions will leave supporters feeling as if they have already acted on our behalf and feel as if they have given their support without making a donation. It will be interesting to look back in five years.
3. How can New Media be used in service of Catholic social teaching?
Pope Benedict XVI has noted that New Media furthers the values of Catholic Social Teaching, including creating bonds of solidarity, serving the common good, empowering the poor and vulnerable and offering access to powerful communication tools that encourage subsidiarity.
Pope Benedict, in his message for last year’s World Communications Day, spoke about the “extraordinary potential of the new [digital] technologies, if they are used to promote human understanding and solidarity.” This is something we strive for with our social media efforts – by informing our supporters about issues adversely affecting the poor, we foster a deeper level of understanding of why these issues are so important, and why we must care for the neediest. Through our social media interactions, we invite our online community to live their faith in solidarity with the poor and marginalized as we bond together to pray, learn, act and give for our brothers and sisters overseas.
Additionally, we are often able to enlist our overseas communications officers to interview and post stories of the people we serve through our programming, giving a voice to the voiceless and shining a light in places where the mainstream media has overlooked.
4. How does New Media encourage more people to participate in the work of CRS?
By giving people small doses of information we find that it is an easy way for supporters to keep up with our work overseas. We nearly always try to make our posts timely, relevant, and interesting, with an opportunity to do something further (pray, read a story on our website, take an advocacy action, donate, take survey, watch a video.)
One interesting phenomenon we witnessed in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake was that people came to our Facebook page in droves looking for the latest information coming out of Port-au-Prince. Our number of Facebook “Fans” (as they were called then) went from just barely 6,000 to over 15,000 in just a few weeks. Our Facebook page has continued to flourish with the help of our very dedicated and passionate supporters who have given us thoughtful comments, great suggestions, and glowing testimonials.
Be sure to follow Catholic Relief Services on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.