As social media continues to expand, ironically in more concise platforms, I often wonder what the role of an individual rabbi is on social media. Should a rabbi be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tout, etc. or should s/he remain in the confines of the synagogue walls and community events? Most rabbis my generation are on Facebook, it is a given due to the social dynamics of college or even high school. Often that Facebook page once filled with fraternity party pictures or funny relationship statuses has become more subdued and reflects the professional side of the rabbinate. Facebook, like any of these sites, can become positive tool or a product of detriment. On one hand like in any profession, synagogues will check their rabbi’s Facebook page to find out more about their rabbi. On the other hand rabbis know that potential search committees will search for them and therefore they can adapt their page to reflect their rabbinic and social life (when sometimes those things do not line up).
Once in the job setting Facebook can be a great way to connect, reach out, and learn more about one’s congregants. I often use Facebook to promote events or interesting articles. Their newsfeed allows me to passively engage my community and advertise the synagogue happenings. So let’s assume that Facebook, when used appropriately, serves as a tool for your rabbinate. How about the other sites? Twitter is another example of promotion, although it is much harder to gain a following. On Facebook once a rabbi and congregant are “friends” it is a mutual connection. On the contrary, on Twitter I can follow someone who does not follow me (I am looking at you Conan O’Brien).
Which is better Facebook or Twitter? I am not sure there is an answer to that question except that both sites used well can be great assets to a rabbi. I like to think of Facebook as “my” social media page and Twitter as “my rabbinic” social media page. On Facebook, while I promote programs, I also post statuses about the White Sox or my daughter or appear in friend’s picture tags. It has more information about my life and history (see Facebook Timeline). Also, in order for me to accept your “friendship” I insist on knowing that person. On Twitter anyone can follow me. And since I know that, I often only post articles, pictures from events where I am working, or retweet from organizations that I want my community to support.
While I think that having a personal Twitter and Facebook accounts are important for today’s rabbi to engage a community, stay relevant, and promote their community I am not sure about other social media websites. I have a YouTube page and occasionally upload videos from events. It is far more important for a synagogue to have a YouTube channel than an individual rabbi (unless it is for an eventual job hunt). LinkedIn is a nice thing to have to stay current with job postings and professional networking for the rabbi and his/her community. Tout, Pinterest, and other sites could become more popular amongst rabbis but as of now I am unaware of its popularity among clergy. Potentially, to have a blog or a website of one’s own can help, but it is discouraging when these sites are stagnant and never updated. Social media is intended to keep someone current and an old looking or rarely posted on blog/website can reverse that feeling about a person. So yes, I believe in the importance of being a social media rabbi. One has to use it carefully, but if done well it can be a remarkably effective tool.