Laura Catalano is a brand new volunteer in church communication. She started volunteering with communications at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Creve Coeur, Mo., earlier this year. But she’s hardly inexperienced. She’s a stay-at-home mom, has a background in environmental consultation and has volunteer communication experience going back to a ministry website in 1997. Laura also blogs for the Episcopal Church Foundation’s Vital Practices, started EpiscopalShare.org to make the Book of Common Prayer tweetable and share social media tips.
You’re just getting started yourself, so what’s one thing you wish you were better prepared for?
Laura: Managing social media accounts is a big time commitment. It only takes a few minutes to post each day, but monitoring the accounts is constant. I rarely have problems with Internet “trolls,” but I like to deal with them promptly, so I monitor my accounts several times a day.
What’s your biggest headache so far? How did you get over it (or get used to it)?
Laura: The little bugs and quirks of Facebook annoy me at times. With the Edgerank filter algorithm, I am never sure exactly how many people will see our posts. When checking Facebook with my mobile app, I can only comment on St. Tim’s posts as the admin, not as myself.
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Laura: The EpiscopalShare.org project has really taken off and grown more than I expected. The Episcopal Prayers Facebook page has almost 850 likes and 350 followers on Twitter in just four months. For the Episcopal Prayers Facebook page, I think the key to success was identifying what is currently popular for sharing on Facebook now (images with text) and adapting that idea to classic prayers. It worked!
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Laura: I don’t know if I’ve had one big failure, but a constant string of bloopers. I make a lot of typos. I mess up titles and misspell names of priests. I have mis-quoted the Bible. Sometimes, I think of a good question to start a conversation on Facebook and I get nothing in reply, just ”crickets chirping.” I have attempted to “live tweet” highlights of our worship service with three kids (ages 1, 5 and 7) in-tow (and my husband was out of town)—it was pure craziness in the pew! I have also gone to church to take photos and video with a nearly dead iPhone battery and no charger.
My biggest blooper: I referred to “National Episcopal Church Organizations” in a blog post, and the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, wrote a comment on the post reminding me that we are an international organization. I corrected it, but you can see the comment here.
Thankfully, there is a delete button and most people have been forgiving of the mistakes.
What’s been the greatest help to you as a church communicator so far?
Laura: I have many friends and mentors who are helping me. There are seven members of the communications team at St. Tim’s and we all share ideas. My friend, Danielle, at St. Tim’s, is an online community manager for Adoptive Families Magazine. She is the one who first sent me a list of resources about getting conversations started on Facebook, and is often one of the first people I ask Facebook questions. I have received a lot of help through Meredith Gould’s #ChSocM chat group on Twitter. They are the reason I decided to branch out away from just using Facebook to try Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. Beth Felice, director of communications for the Diocese of Missouri, has also given me a lot of direction and guidance. Most recently, our new preist-in-charge, the Rev. Marvin Foltz, joined St. Tim’s and brought many fresh ideas for using Facebook from his work at his previous parish in Hawaii.
How can you make progress when you have little or no budget?
Laura: I use try to use free or inexpensive tools. I have several photo enhancement apps on my iPhone that I use to create graphics. I think the most expensive of those apps was $4. If you create good content, it will be shared “organically” without being part of a paid promotion.
How do you deal with a congregation that’s stuck in a ‘That’s how we’ve always done it,’ mindset and is resistant to trying new things?
Laura: Thankfully, I have not run into that attitude at St. Tim’s. Many members of all ages are active on social media, and several manage Facebook pages for their own businesses or organizations. If anything, people tell me that wish they had more time learn how to do more on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
As a newbie, where do you need more help? Have you been able to get that help yet?
Laura: I could use more help with Twitter. At St. Tim’s, I think we could do more to reach our community neighbors with Twitter, and I am trying some new ideas to do that better.
- Check out the rest of our Getting Started interview series.
- The Certification Lab is coming to Nashville in October. This two-day training event includes six months of virtual mentoring and is designed for those new to church communication.
- Another resource that might be a big help is our new book, Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication. It covers a lot of the basics, from big picture strategy to practical stuff like sound and video.