Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pros and Cons of Facebook

ACWI is finally on Facebook!

If you’re on Facebook, please become a fan!
Our page is here – or just search for the full name (not the abbreviation).

And now that I've joined the other 98% of the English speaking world, I've been thinking some about online relationships – virtual relationships. What’s the same? What’s different?

I avoided Facebook for a long time – for a few reasons. Primarily because I was already signed up on LinkedIn.com, which is designed primarily for business networking. . . building relationships and networks among those in similar industries and careers. . . it’s not so much about simply making friends and building friendships. . . I already receive several emails a week from the different groups I’m a part of on LinkedIn; I didn’t really want more emails. And of course, Facebook would simply be another thing to take up my time and keep me from being productive. And of course, it would mean another website login and password to have to remember.


But I realized a few things: businesses – and ministries – need to go where the people are if they expect to connect with them.


Businesses have to market themselves, they have to advertise and let the people know what a great business they are & what great products they have. In the same way, ministries have to go where the people are; we have to market ourselves. Likewise, we in the church can’t stay where we’ve always been, perfectly safe & comfortable in our own little evangelical corner of the world, and expect the people to come to us. In today’s world, where are the people? They’re on Facebook!

Here are some statistics from a Facebook press release:

  • Facebook has more than 200 million active users

  • More than 100 million users log on to Facebook at least once each day

  • More than two-thirds of Facebook users are outside of college

  • The fastest growing demographic is those 35 years old and older

  • More than 3.5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)

  • More than 4 million users become fans of Pages each day

Now for a few of the pros and cons:

PROS OF FACEBOOK:
  • We are able to communicate quickly & easily with friends, family, and classmates all over the world – or across town. This makes it an efficient and quick way to spread information, to get the word out about an event or a disaster, etc.

    The irony is that none of my side of the family is on Facebook – and they’re the ones who are spread across the country. But my sister-in-law, who lives 10 minutes away, is on Facebook and I’ve chatted online w/ her a couple of times already. . . even though I just saw her family and spent about 7 hrs. w/ them 2 days before setting up my Facebook account, and I ran into my brother-in-law and nephew at KFC on Memorial Day and we chatted for a few minutes!

  • We are able to build networks of friends and the friends of friends. This is great for ministries or organizations like ACWI. Already we have several people listed a “fans” of ACWI that aren’t connected in any other way – not on our mailing list, etc. We even have one or two fans that I don’t even know! This is the main reason we created a page on Facebook. . . so we could expand our reach. . . it’s part of our marketing – for lack of a better word.

  • The Facebook platform is smart! It recognizes relationships and makes recommendations. For example, let’s say I have a Facebook “friend” named Bob and another named Susie and they both know each other. They have a mutual friend named Bill. Because I know Bob and Susie, the Facebook engine – or platform – recognizes the web of relationships and recommends that maybe I’d like to invite Bill to be one of my online friends too.

  • And not only is it smart, it is able to learn. The more friends you have, the more complex the web of relationships. . .and the more accurate the recommendations become.
    For example: My wife’s first (auto-generated) friend recommendations were from high school & college. It was a huge list, and mostly inaccurate; most were people she didn’t know. But as she built her list of friends from church and family, Facebook recognized that she & I have lots of mutual friends, so began to recommend them to her. As a result, the list of recommendations became smaller – and much more accurate.

CONS OF FACEBOOK:

  • Because you’re able to communicate quickly & easily with friends, family, and classmates all over the world – or across town. . .and because it’s an efficient and quick way to spread information, to get the word out, there’s the potential for false information – like myths and urban legends - or worse, slander or gossip - to spread more quickly.

  • Definitions are changed. There’s only one type of relationship on Facebook – “Friend.” There’s no way of defining or classifying your relationships, of clarifying the level of intimacy. How close are you to one person? Is it the same as all 127 of your other online friends? I doubt it.

    For example: My wife is identified as one of my “friends” on Facebook. Yes, we are friends in real life, but our relationship is VASTLY different from my relationship with, say, a casual acquaintance from church, or even a friend of a friend whom I have accepted as a Facebook “friend” – but that I’ve never met, never had a conversation with. . . someone that I don’t know at all in real life.

    And remember: just because you’re virtual friends w/ someone on Facebook doesn’t mean you’re really all that close to them in real life. Already I’ve seen people assume too much of our relationship on Facebook, of having higher expectations of our relationship now that we’re “friends” in the virtual world. Some have become more demanding, more pushy, on Facebook than they ever are in real life.

  • The only other type of connection or relationship you can have on Facebook is to be a “fan” of some organization, or business, or celebrity. (Again, if you’re on Facebook, you can become a fan of ACWI here.)

Already I’ve seen that there are at least 2 types of Facebook users:

  • First, there are those who use it to build relationships. These could be individuals who want to connect w/ friends & family, or even a business who uses their page on Facebook to market the company, connect w/ customers, announce new releases or special events, etc. They use Facebook to spread their name and their brand. For these folks, Facebook is a tool used toward a greater end; it’s not an end in and of itself.

  • The second group is those who use it to waste time. . . to play games, to share “applications,” to give each other virtual “gifts,” etc. For these folks, Facebook is a toy to be played with.

    I’ve been on Facebook about a week now, and already I’ve received 2 invitations to “join my gang” or “join my mafia” and at least 6 or 7 opportunities to install “applications” so I can play cool games with my “friends” or compete in an IQ Quiz - to see whose IQ is higher. (Do these sorts of friendly competitions lead to better and deeper relationships, or build up one's own self esteem at the expense of another's?)

Now my recommendation for ALL Facebook users: Let me first say that I’m not opposed to game playing; we all need to relax, have some fun, and blow off some steam after a hard day at work. . . but before sharing an “application” or inviting someone into your “gang” – find out what they want to get out of Facebook! Which type of person are they? The relationship-builder type or the game-player, time-waster type? Is Facebook for them a tool, or a toy?

EXAMPLES OF HOW FACEBOOK CAN BE A MINISTRY TOOL:
  • It can be a tool to help announce & promote a ministry's news, special events, etc.

    ACWI is holding its first-ever fundraiser event: Cup-a-Joe: A Coffee-Tasting Event Benefiting ACWI on June 12 at 7:00 PM.

    I mentioned the event during last week’s broadcast of Every Square Inch – and got no response.

    This past week I created the event in our online event calendar on Facebook. I sent a message to all the fans of ACWI who live in Arizona - about 25 at that time and growing every day! - to help spread the word. Within 24 hours, two said they might be attending.

  • It can be a tool to introduce new friends, supporters, donors, etc. to the ministry.

    One Facebook fan of ACWI has posted a copy of our logo on his profile with the simple phrase: “Become a fan!” So far, one of his friends – a total stranger to us before now – has become a “fan of ACWI.”

    Another individual who's new to us (Eddie) became a fan simply because another fan (Tom from Tucson) had signed up as a fan. Eddie saw our name in Tom's profile and followed the link. It's as simple as that!

Some of these ideas began as I ruminated on Justin Buzzard's blog post, "Thinking Biblically About Facebook." The original blog post is at http://www.buzzardblog.com/buzzard_blog/2008/11/thinking-biblic.html .
Buzzard later wrote an extended version as an essay; you can read it at
http://www.gospelandculture.org/2008/12/redeeming-social-life-online/

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