17 July 2012
"How Much Time Do You Spend on Social Media?" I Have No Idea.
The most common question that arises when I talk about social media is the question of time. In one way or another, people almost always ask, "How much time do you spend on social media?"
I've always struggled to provide a good answer to that question - and until recently I didn't know why.
When the question came up again during the discussion panel at the Massachusetts Council of Churches conference on Christian Unity in the Digital Age it finally dawned on me:
The reason its so hard for me to answer is that we are often dealing with two very different assumptions when it comes to time and social media.
two big assumptions
People who tend to ask this question operate with the (not altogether incorrect) assumption that social media is one discreet component of ministry work - like a meeting, worship, email replies, or pastoral visits. It has a beginning and an end and its own slot in the weekly schedule - three days a week for 20 minutes or some such. (For many, who are new to the idea of digital social networking, this dedicated time serves as a useful discipline to learn the technology.) From this perspective, time in social media is easily quantifiable.
People (like me) who are more active in social media or have grown up with the technology (digital natives) tend to operate under a different assumption. Social media just is.
For us, social media doesn't just happen when we sit at the computer during office hours. It happens on our smartphones while we are waiting in line at the Post Office or the bus stop, tagging each other at an event, or texting friends who are absent. Time in social media is not time set apart. It tends to be spontaneous burts of a few seconds or a few minutes here and there, integrated into the rhythm of daily life. It continually crosses over between the personal and professional. These minutes are much harder to add up.
Certainly there are tasks that take longer when you are creating new content - like posting a sermon, shooting a two minute Bible study, or writing a blog post - but it is still mostly about these smaller, integrated, increments of time.
When this question was asked at the Massachusetts Council of Churches conference, Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., Creative Director of the Pilot New Media Group for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, observed that asking this question to a digital native is sort of like asking someone how much time you spend talking to your family. Social media is that pervasive - and equally hard to quantify. And, he asked, why would you want to quantify that?
You may or may not agree with the analogy, but this is how many people think about time in social networking. It's just what they do. It's just who they are. Why would they, how could they, separate it out?
Maybe its for this reason that I have never sat down and calculated how much time I'm on social media in a given day. It has just never seemed like a helpful exercise for me or my audience. Just giving them a raw number seems pretty meaningless - as if that number defines success or failure in digital ministry.
And if I were to count it all up, I would certainly not just categorize it as "social media time," as if Facebook were an end it itself. Rather, I would place it within the context of my work as a pastor, and break it down further into "building community time," or "outreach time," evangelism, preaching, doing justice, etc., etc.
From my perspective, the quality of the time and its integrated nature is far more important - and a better predictor of success - than just the quanity.
Have you gotten this question before? How do you answer it?