Social media in the religious sphere

As Sister Arlyne Del Valle Casas scrolled through the of USIG-Social Communication Facebook page, an advertisement for a course on Social Media and Evangelization caught her eye, and she signed up. Sr. Arlyne shares her experience in a Q&A about the course so far, which began in February and ends in June, and is sponsored by the USIG, iMission and Católicos En Red.

Sr Arlyne Del Valle Casas, NDS.

Q: First of all, why did the course appeal to you, Arlyne?
A: Our community in the Philippines does much promotion and advocacy campaigning via various social channels. I was curious to know what other insights the course might offer.

Q: What has the course opened your eyes to so far?
A: It’s been really helpful in making me see the importance of spirituality, networking, and collaboration in social media. The speakers made me realize that often we only think of promoting our institution and programmes using social media, however the challenge is to go beyond marketing our programmes and making our congregations known for vocation, and focus on the needs of other people.

Q: How has the course been organised?
A: We started the course by looking at the need of spirituality and evangelization using the different social platforms. We also discussed the importance of religious marketing.

Q: Could you say a little about what religious marketing is?
A: Religious marketing is a relatively new discipline. It provides a new perspective in answering the growing spiritual needs of people who are using social media. It differs from “classical” marketing in that it isn’t about profit or fundraising and it doesn’t seek reciprocity from the recipient. It’s a process of discovering empathy and creating new ways of promoting our mission. It supports people on their spiritual journey in the hope of bringing them to an encounter with God, while respecting each individual’s freedom. In this context, we may also promote our services via social media, but we are not looking for a “result” for ourselves. Our aim is wholly altruistic, and our hope must be to somehow answer a need and help people respond to God’s call in their life.

Q: That’s interesting. How do you approach religious marketing? Where do you start?
A: You start by focusing on the content through researching and getting to know the needs of your audience, what they like, who they’re following. Then you create your “brand”. From there, you construct your content, especially when it’s a video or a podcast. What’s special about religious marketing is that although other religious institutions may appear to be our “competitors”, we don’t need to compete, but collaborate, in order to transmit the message of God’s love and justice.

Q: What do you mean by “create your brand”?
A: Since social media can be a powerful means for sharing our experience with God, it’s important that we transmit an authentic image, based on the brand we create. Charisma and spontaneity are a part of social media branding. Personality is very important, because it’s the image that we project in the social sphere. It speaks about what kind of message we’re conveying. Are we able to capture the heart of our audience when we post something on the platforms we’re using? Does it provoke interaction, connection, collaboration and solidarity?

Q: It sounds a lot like the guidelines for someone who wants to become a social media influencer in any field. Should that surprise us?
A: It comes as a surprise, but it shouldn’t really. Billions of people around the world use social media to share information and make connections. When we Religious use it, we’re just staying abreast of the times.

Q: Are there particular considerations to heed?
A: There is a lot of fake news, bullying, negativity, and trafficking happening in the cyber world. The invitation for us Religious is to consider reaching out to those people who are looking for guidance, spiritual conversation, witnessing of faith, and countering the fake news with truth. In doing this, it’s important to remember that our every post represents us as individuals, but also as members of the institution we belong to. Also, social media can be addictive, so we need to keep levels of spirituality and human maturity constantly in mind.

Q: What are the remaining modules of the UISG course about?
A: At the moment we’re looking, separately, at social networks with photo, video and audio content. The last module will be about the practicalities of developing a social media plan.

Q: Are you considering becoming a religious influencer yourself, Arlyne?
A: The course speakers are encouraging us to join the social media arena, to capture people’s attention and leave an imprint on their hearts. I’m aware that in order to do this, preparation and creation of an authentic and credible image are very important. For now, let’s just say I’m thinking about it!