The Final Frontier

Call me a nerd, but I am a huge fan of Star Trek. Part pop-culture phenomenon, replete with cliché and bad CGI, part profound aspiration for the future, Star Trek does indeed “boldly go” where no show has gone before. As I work my way through episodes of The Next Generation,featuring the incomparable Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, it continues to fascinate me how closely the technology of today mirrors predictions made in the show. Wearable technology, virtual reality, online translators, video chat, and virtual “assistants” all have various prescient analogues throughout the Star Trek universe.

Star Trek also presents a utopic social vision for the future. Gene Roddenberry, the series’ creator, imagines a world where the planet Earth functions as a single geopolitical entity, evidently with no distinct countries or borders. Society and technology have advanced to a degree that famine, poverty, racism, sexism, discrimination, and even money are considered things of the past. Humans have embarked on an altruistic quest to explore the universe — to “seek out new life and new civilizations.” In “The Outcast,” an episode in season five of The Next Generation, The Enterprise even encounters a genderless race, which leads to a highly probing examination of the concept of gender identity (as distinct from sex), years, if not decades, before that became a mainstream topic of conversation.

So why is it that these societal aspirations for the future seem so much more distant than the technological ones? Though faster-than-light travel is probably still centuries away (if indeed it is attainable at all), surely elevating the status of women, people of color, the poor, the hungry, and those otherwise outcast is well within our grasp today?

In this fraught and emotionally charged time, and despite the steps forward we make as a global society, we are still facing ghosts of the past. White nationalists and self-identified Nazis are making a comeback; thanks to social media and cell phone cameras, a light is being shone on manifold racial injustices; and the #metoo movement is reminding us that much work is yet to be done in achieving the fair treatment and safety of women in the work place and elsewhere.

Star Trek must therefore just be a wishful thought, a product of its time — naïve, overly optimistic, and unwilling to concede to the harsh realities of the world we live in.

Maybe. Or maybe it unwittingly represents a fundamental Christian yearning. Close to 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) At least 400 years before that, in the book of Leviticus “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.” (Lev. 19:34) Even more radically, the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), otherwise known as the Magnificat, presents a monumental shift in the order of things — though whether that refers to this life or the next is a theological debate way above my pay grade.

What is clear, however, is that our technology is not what saves us. In his recent sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and the now Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry referenced the Jesuit priest and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Speaking of humanity’s mastering of fire as perhaps the single-most world-altering technological discovery to date, de Chardin said that “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” In essence: if we can truly learn to love God and each other, we can change the world.

So when I watch Star Trek, perhaps I’m focusing on the wrong thing. It’s not the technology that’s the true miracle — it’s that we figured out how to love each other. Let’s make it so.

5 Essential Tools to Take Your Social Media to the Next Level

These days, being active on social media is an essential part of your school or church’s web presence. The landscape of social media is changing at a rapid pace—one need only examine Facebook’s numerous attempts to re-invent itself over the last few years to get a sense of just how quickly. This is reflected in the sheer number of platforms now available, which presents a obvious challenge—which social media platforms should you use, and why? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ (RIP), LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine (RIP), and now TikTok have all shaped the social media landscape in unique ways. It is also interesting to observe how certain features have become common across platforms, Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), and Snapchat stories for instance.

Determining which social media to dedicate time and effort to can be a hard challenge. Identifying where your current or target audience are is a good first step. Another good idea is to think about what you intend to communicate—events, news, images, or employment opportunities? To aid you in your social media journey, I have compiled a list of 5 useful tools that I have found indispensable in my own work. I hope you find them useful!


1. Buffer

Buffer is an extremely versatile platform for cross-posting between different social media. Want to schedule or share the same post across multiple accounts? This is the tool for you. Once you have set up a post, you can then customize it for the particular variables of each platform (character limits on Twitter for instance). An added pro is that Buffer works just as well as a smartphone app as it does in a web browser on your computer.

(Another tool you can consider is Hootsuite. Both Hootsuite and Buffer have basic free versions, but if you exceed the limitations of the free versions, at last check Buffer is about half the price per month as Hootsuite.)


2. Snapseed

Snapseed is a relatively unknown, but extremely powerful, photo editor from Google (think Photoshop for your phone). It also has the benefit of being free. The editing tools themselves are both numerous and versatile. As with Instagram, you have the ability to create a vintage or stylized look for your photos. However, unlike Instagram, the image doesn’t suffer a loss in quality after going through the app. You also have advanced options like tilt-shift, simulated HDR, and double exposure. This is a great way of taking your cellphone photography to the next level—once you’ve finished editing, simply export to Buffer and share across all your social media accounts!


3. Facebook (and Instagram) Ads

If you are wary of running paid advertisements, that’s very understandable. However, Facebook ads (which can run concurrently on Instagram) are a great way to get started. The demographic customization is extremely powerful—perhaps scarily so—but you would be hard-pressed to find better bang for your buck at this price point. Since you pay per view, up to a set budget, you only pay if the ads are effectively reaching people. An especially useful feature is to be able to target to people who like pages similar to your own, so, for instance, you might advertise a musical event to people who already like your city’s symphony orchestra or opera company.


4. Twitter Cards

Do you ever use Twitter and wonder why when other people share links they get a clickable image in a box, but when you do, you just get the URL? Those are called Twitter cards, and they are a part of Twitter’s ads platform. Here’s the secret though—you don’t have to pay to use them! From a desktop browser, click your logo in the top-right corner, then click on “Twitter Ads.” From there, under “Creatives” and then “Cards.” You can now create a card with a video or image that can link directly to another URL. To use it, hover over your created card and click “Tweet.” IMPORTANT: Make sure you uncheck “promoted only”—that way your tweet will still show up even if you don’t put any money into the ad.

N.B. You will probably be asked to input your payment information at some point in this process—don’t worry, this will only charge you if you run a paid ad. You can still use the cards for free regardless.


5. Facebook and Instagram Live

Facebook and Instagram both offer the opportunity to live stream events to your followers for free. Perhaps you have parents who wish they could join you in chapel but have to work, or maybe you want to create a “I wish I was there!” feeling around an event. Either way, both of these tools are very easy to use and allow you to interact with the people watching if you wish. NAES even streamed part of Eucharist at our last Biennial Conference in Atlanta. Overall, Instagram is probably better geared to reach followers quickly with their IGTV feature, but Facebook is better suited to being able to link to the live video and its subsequent recording for desktop users. You could always stream to both simultaneously, of course!


BONUS. Automatically Share Your Newsletters

Marketing automation platforms such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact usually integrate with most social media so that your electronic newsletters are automatically shared when you hit send. This is a great way of sharing your newsletters to a wider audience, and perhaps getting some new subscribers!

I hope you enjoyed and can make use of this list! Please let me know if you find these tools helpful or if you have any great tools you’d like to share. You can email me at jfc@episcopalschools.org, or leave a comment below!

Top 10 Tips for your church’s social media presence

Did you know that 46.1% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of the company. (Source: Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.) Though this list is not about websites specifically, a well maintained Facebook page can capitalize on many of the same benefits as your website, Here are my top 10 tips for maintaining a healthy page:

  1. Verify your Facebook page
    • This will make it show up higher in search results.
    • Page will be displayed with check mark indicating it is an official page of your institution.
  2. Merge your page with any existing auto-generated pages
    • When people tag or check in to your page they might be you lose the benefit of their friends being directed to your page!
    • Someone else might claim the other page and begin operating it as if it is the official page.
  3. Post often
    • Building engagement can be a long and tedious process.
    • However, Facebook decides what you will show up in your newsfeed based on algorithms – if you don’t post frequently, Facebook will assume you don’t have  anything worthwhile to say!
    • One easy way to do this is to follow the pages of church/religious organizations affiliated with your denomination. They often provide a constant stream of appropriate and sharable posts – if you are an Episcopal church and don’t already like The Episcopal Church on Facebook DO IT NOW!
  4. Make sure your profile picture and cover photo are used effectively (and are high quality!)
    • Make sure your profile picture accurately reflects your mission or your official persona. Good examples are your logo, your church building, or perhaps a photo of your ministry in action.
    • Use your cover photo to showcase another aspect of what you do – if your profile picture is a logo, make sure your cover photo shows something more personal – the inside of your building, or your faith in action!
    • Avoid text in your cover photo – Facebook adjusts the proportions of images depending on where they show up. Be warned that your text WILL get cut off in at least one of these situations!
    • Avoid generic or stock images at ALL COSTS! They have no place on your Facebook page (except perhaps in certain ads).
  5. Make sure you claim and verify your Google business listing.
    • This possibly is THE most frequent way people:
      • Find directions
      • Check when you are open (business hours)
      • Get your phone number
      • Leave a review (with the exception of sites like Yelp)
  6. Consider sponsoring posts
    • Not only does Facebook have some of the most powerful advertising tools available at a minimal budget (as little as $30 can make a big impact) it also helps build engagement (see #3).
  7. Invest in a good camera
    • Not strictly social media, but the better quality the pictures you post, the more likely they are to really capture the spirit of an event or build engagement.
    • However, bad photos are better than NO photos.
  8. Actively promote liking & checking in to social media – again, see #4.
    • Help make your congregation aware that you are on Facebook and that it IS a significant aspect of the church’s public image. It’s not just a gimmick or a phase!
  9. Document in pictures the goings on of the church.
    • Facebook is much more effective than a website at offering an incredibly broad overview of WHO YOU ARE in just seconds. Make sure you are presenting the fullest range of activities – you never know what it will be that switches someone from casually looking at a facebook page to considering checking you out in person.
  10. Schedule announcement posts for times when people are most likely to engage.
    • Take advantage of Facebook’s “insights” to help you figure out when that is.

BONUS – make sure you utilize your Facebook “call to action” button. There are a number of options but “Contact Us” or “Call Now” are good ones to default to. However, if you have a church app – this is the place to link to it!