I have to be honest I have never been a fan of Twitter. However, I understand how it was intended to be used as a social media source. You set up an account and your friends and family would follow you and when you wanted to share something cool, you would tweet it and it would appear in your friends and families Twitter account, or for best practice, it would appear as a text on your cell phone.

And then came along Ashton Kutcher in 2009 and his drive to have 1 million people follow him on Twitter. How did he do it? He used traditional mass media such as TV, radio, YouTube, etc. He was in a race with CNN to see who could be the first to get 1 million followers. After this publicity stunt, people began to put emphasis on how many people were following you on Twitter, and people began to see Twitter as a way to “mass communicate” information to people, even millions! In some way, it was supposed to represent success (sort of like how many “friends” you have on Facebook, even if you never met them). I recently heard a FOX report on how many people were following Hillary Clinton compared with Harry Reid, as if the person who had more followers (Harry Reid) was somehow a better person or a greater success.

The facts are simple, the more people that you follow on Twitter and the more people that follow you, only represents one thing, the ineptness of your Twitter account! If someone is following you and they are also following 50, 100, 500 or 1,000 other people, the chance of them ever seeing your Tweet is very rare. (I had someone follow my Twitter account last week that was followed by well over 12,000 and was also following over 12,000. That person will NEVER see one of my tweets.)

Without actually pushing people to follow me on Twitter, at the first of this year I had around 770 followers. So, does this mean that when I tweet out a cool link to a blog, 770 are seeing the information? No. Once again, this is what I call false media. Just because you have 770 followers, only a small fraction would actually happen to see your Tweet, unless you were the most favorite person and they were actually pushing your Tweets directly to their cell phone and your tweets show up as a text message. I decided I wanted to know how effective my Twitter account really was.

About a month ago, I decided to do a test to see how many people actually read and follow the links in my tweets. So, we created a special Website that had a simple form on it asking those that came to it for their name, Twitter address, and email. The top of the page stated that by filling out this form you could win a $100 gift card from Christian Digital Publishers. After the site was up and running, I sent out a Tweet to my followers that simply said, “You could win a $100 gift card from Christian Digital Publishers. Click here for your chance to win” and we put the URL to the special page we created. We sent it out in the early afternoon and then waited.   Within a few hours we had TWO people that had responded. That was it! No one else responded later that evening, the next day, etc.  We sent both of them a check from Christian Digital Publishers for $100. However I did ask them a follow up question. I asked them how it was that they saw my Tweet and were able to respond. Did they push my Tweets to their phone? Did they use a special program that allowed Tweets from those they followed to pop up on their desktop or tablet? Their answer was, “No”. In both cases they were typical Twitter users. Whenever they had some down time with nothing else to do, they would click on Twitter and see what was happening. It was, as both of them stated, just “dumb luck” that they happened to see my post.  I am sure more of the 770 people that are following me on Twitter checked for posts that day, but most likely, with all of the followers and Tweets they receive, my post had moved far enough down the list that it was lost. NOT a very effective way to distribute information. People that WANT the information (and I am sure most of my followers would have wanted to know about the chance to win the gift card) simply can’t access it because of the structure of Twitter and the fact that most have all followed too many people!

There are ways to use Twitter, and you will hear about news breaking on Twitter all of the time. This is because anyone can find anything that anyone is talking about on Twitter by searching for specific words, or by using hashtags. This shows one of the powers of twitter, as a reporting or polling tool. If you see something happening and want to tell the world, you would do so through the major news agencies. So, write out your tweet about the tornado you just saw and then include #Tornado. People, including the professional news, will search Twitter for anyone posting about a tornado.

Most corporations have someone on staff to watch Twitter for them. You don’t want your company to be the last one to find out that someone is sending out Tweets about your company’s poor service. Southwest had an incident a few years ago when they refused to provide a second seat for a very large person. That person was famous and began to send out Tweets about his anger at the way Southwest was treating him. It grew into a story and made the national news before Southwest knew there was a problem. Believe me, they now have someone on staff checking Tweets on anything related to their company or flying.

Jimmy Fallon is doing a great job in using Twitter. He has created a segment on his show each week called LateNight Hashtags.  Every Wednesday he sends out a Twitter with a subject and encourages people to tweet back using a specific hashtag so Jimmy Fallon (and anyone for that matter) can find and read them. For example, he asked people to tell them about an injury they received as a result of doing something dumb. So, you could Tweet something using the hashtag @MyDumbInjury and Jimmy Fallon shared some of his favorites on his show.

Twitter can work if you are creative enough and understand how it works. However, for most Christian ministries, what I see is someone sending out a constant flow of Tweets with links to blogs. One pastor of one of our largest churches in America is loved by many of us. However, I finally had to stop following him when I counted several days in which he sent out over 24 Tweets in one day. It took more time to follow this pastor on Twitter than it took to follow Jesus!  Another writer that I really like has a blog site. But, for some reason, he thinks there is value in sending out eight to ten tweets a day, each linking to a blog on church growth. Does he really think that pastors have nothing to do but to sit by their Twitter devices and wait to read this many blogs each and every day? There would be little room for any other ministry!

The saddest thing about Twitter is that some people believe a large following means something. If you have thousands of people following you on Twitter and you are sending multiple Tweets throughout the day, you might feel you are reaching a large audience, when in fact, it is false media.

There are many companies popping up everywhere to help churches use Social Media to change their church. I have checked out many of them. However, if you look at what they accomplish in this area, and then look at the results they are seeing in their pews, the two are not connecting. One site bragged that they helped a church that ran 100 people on an average Sunday. They had 200 social media contacts. When they finished helping the church, the church had 20,000 social media contacts. However, the church still ran 100 on an average Sunday. The problem is, there are many tricks and tools to get people to follow you on Twitter, or to “Like” you on Facebook, but it is false media. The number of “social media” contacts you have does not translate to increased communication or ministry.

There are some cool ways that churches CAN use Twitter in their ministry. Check the article in this issue titled “How to Use Social Media to Really Increase your Ministry”.