I was in the middle of preparing for this post when my phone gave that sweet little Facebook messenger ding. Opening my app, I found a message from a friend overseas. I’d asked her a question about social media and her reply was gut honest.
“I was literally praying about fasting from it… Social media is an open field of casting stones, stars, votes and judgements… it’s exhausting some days. Thanks for asking. I think I needed to get that off my chest!”
The other words in her message were full of her completely real, very big frustrations with balancing life overseas, the team members she works with and the messy online presence it all creates.
Another friend shared pressures from supporters and churches. She was writing about the great discord she feels between “Instagram perfect” posts and the realities of our life and work across the globe.
Then, another friend felt judged and misunderstood over pictures that looked too “vacationy” to family back home.
Overseas workers walk a tightrope of daily social media use. This tightrope can be uplifting and fun. It can also be scary and devastating.
Scary because of being misunderstood, misrepresented, analyzed, or judged.
Devastating because social media can become selfish, consuming and our sole focus. It can discourage, humiliate, frustrate and hurt.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love social media. I’m a firm believer that we can use it well and let it encourage us, build us, help us and cheer us.
This precious community at Velvet Ashes is proof of that!
I believe in social media so much that I’ve written posts about it on my own blog. Posts about social media and our work overseas. Tips about communicating with workers overseas. Realities of living in this great big fishbowl of social media. I even have a list of tips for those just wanting to jump into social media or maybe up their game online.
I’m convinced that with a good grasp of our words, lots of prayer, a balanced approach and a determination for authenticity, social media can be a wonderful blessing to our life, work and family overseas. I believe that with all my heart.
Something that can so easily be used for evil, we can reclaim and repurpose for great good.
Yet, the scary, devastating frustrations of social media have come up so often recently that I thought we could tackle them together.
My hope is that by writing them out, we can gain some tips for keeping social media in our lives overseas as fun, uplifting, helpful, purposeful and beneficial as possible.
Let’s work hard to blow the scary and the devastating things out of our minds and away from the tightrope of social media.
Tips for the Tightrope
1} Practice Authenticity. All the time. With every post. Don’t make something bigger than it is or smaller than it is. Be clear with your purpose, your need, your excitement, and your sadness. Don’t leave people guessing at what you mean or what is going on or what is happening around you. A good rule to follow is that if it’s so vague that people aren’t sure what you are saying… don’t post it. Be authentic, real, and honest with every word, comment and picture. Vagueness, however trendy, truly does open the door for assumptions, judgements, questions and misunderstanding. Don’t be vague.
2} Have Boundaries. Being real online doesn’t mean spilling your guts, saying it all and letting everyone know exactly what you think about every little thing. Set boundaries of what you talk about, write about, comment on and share in your online circles. In a world full of media noise, your boundaries can set you apart as a valuable voice.
3} Respect Others. If what you’re writing, posting, or commenting on could hurt, undermine, confuse or smear your organization, your leadership, your team, your supporters, your ministry, or those you are trying to work with… respect everyone enough to just keep quiet. Respect that those in your host country are ON social media too and could very well see what you post online. Respect that team members might not want to be mentioned or tagged. Respect that your supporting pastors might not understand what you are writing about or doing.
4} Examine Motives. Why are you wording a prayer request for that specific need in that way? Why are you making that ask or writing that comment or sharing that post? Why do you feel pressure to take that picture or retweet that article? Always examine your heart first. Find out why. Hold it up to the light and evaluate if you should move ahead or not. Pray over every word.
5} Online Voice. What is your online voice? What does it sound like? How does it come across to those who might not know you personally? Are your online words frequently misunderstood or questioned? Do a full check of your online voice and find out if you need to soften, strengthen, quiet or change your tone. Asking a few leaders or friends around you for help with this is a beneficial way to critique what might be hard for you to hear on your own.
6} Step Back. Take some time to just browse your own social media. What do you see? What do all the posts, shares, comments, tweets, stories and pictures say about you that maybe you didn’t mean to portray? Take a step back, do some heart work and move forward in a different way if necessary.
7} Practice Silence. Did you know you don’t always have to post something new? Mind blowing, right? You can go to the beach for quiet time and not share it. You can visit with a neighbor and not take a selfie. You can go to your place of ministry and not put it in your stories. We can have windows into our lives overseas without sharing every little detail. Sometimes, social media silence is a great way to reinvest, reengage and refocus on our work overseas without any pressure to prove ourselves to anyone.
8} Find Mentors. Who do you appreciate online every time they post something? Learn from them. What kinds of things do they share, talk about and comment on? What does their online voice sound like and why does it help them? Remember, you can’t copy anyone. You can’t be anyone other than you online! But you can pick up helpful tips, good boundaries, healthy motives and solid methods from those who are doing it well.
9} Privacy Matters. Do you have an inner circle? A small group? A secret place to share in deeper ways? The prayer request that might have been too much for your public Facebook page might have been better received in a private group setting. The vacation picture might have been appreciated more by a few close friends rather than everyone who follows you. Privacy does matter. As much as I’d like to say it doesn’t, these things greatly affect our social media presence and our online voice. Create safe spaces to share, ask for prayer, unload and be completely yourself. Monitor these spaces so that they stay safe.
10} Bring Joy Back! Walk away from tense political discussions. Exit far away from unnecessary dialogue about one TV show or another. Stop yourself from commenting if you feel a quiet voice urging you to keep scrolling. Unfollow people who continuously fill your feed or stories with controversy. Social Media should be fun, encouraging, engaging, healthy and uplifting. Let it be that again for you. Bring the joy of social media back into your work, your life, your ministry and your heart!
I’m sure as you were reading these 10 tips that you could picture someone or a post or a comment that fits these warnings. Things that make the tightrope scary and devastating.
But hopefully, with these things in mind, social media can be a fun and uplifting place again for you.
With careful attention, your online voice can bless, help, encourage, and teach.
With basic boundaries, you can walk this tightrope and redeem these online spaces.
Like my friend, you might need to take a social media break.
Or, you might want to spend a day just browsing your pages.
You might have a friend ask you about her online voice with an opportunity to speak the truth in love.
My prayer is that we can walk the tightrope together with grace and in unity.
What on this list rings true for you? Is there something you might need to look at again in your use of social media?
What one thing, a tip for the tightrope, might you add to the list?
We invite you to share in The Grove. You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.
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