Fran Wilde reports on a session exploring digital communication in our Quaker Meetings, held in the morning before November Area Meeting:
Digital tools for personal and group communication are a constantly shifting arena. How confident are we in using them? How much do we like and trust them? How can digital communication support the spiritual and social life of Local Meetings (LMs) and how could it help Quakers reach out to people in their communities?
On 19 November 2022 at a pre-Area Meeting session, interested Friends from a number of LMs spent time assessing their confidence levels in using various online communication platforms, from emails to Tiktok, reviewing the options for spreading the word about their Meeting’s events, and hearing about the ways that Central England Quakers (CEQ) uses electronic communications.
A simple chart demonstrated the range of confidence within the room for using different platforms. Direct communication with individuals and Local Groups, as with emails, WhatsApp and Zoom (not seen here) people’s confidence is higher. Putting information out into the ether and following it up is another matter, and very few in the group were happy with having to keep up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and least of all TikTok, the choice of younger generations. Significantly, one person in the room declared vote of no confidence in social media corporates, while another used them for campaigning.
We tried a small group exercise to think about effective ways of spreading information about a hypothetical Local Meeting (LM) Outreach event. It showed that LMs are aware of the huge range of possibilities from Mail Chimp, YouTube videos, local radio coverage, Eventbrite registration, posters, emails to personal phone calls. They are also acutely aware that one format does not suit all. What methods we use are ultimately guided by those preferred by the communities we want to engage, and determined by the capacities and experience that each LM has in using those methods.
The impression was that few people in LMs are willing to engage in online posting or responding to public comments. There are concerns about misuse of data by advertisers and even unwanted intrusion. People in the room talked about the frustrations of LM emails going into Friends’ spam boxes. Newsletters are mainly sent by email but a few are printed for people who do not have computers and for outreach. Some Friends search online for the activities of other LMs, but most are focused on their own Meeting.
Someone related a vivid illustration of how communications often operate within LMs: “We put the news feed from Area Meeting and our events into a weekly e-newsletter, but still, one of the clarks stands up at the end of each Meeting for Worship and goes through the contents of the newsletter, and at that point people put it in their diaries”. Yet we know how adaptable Quakers have shown themselves in times when it’s difficult to meet up. Zoom took off during Covid, and Woodbrooke now has a thriving online programme.
Central England Quakers (CEQ) has a well maintained website and provides space for LMs to share upcoming events and news. People can easily sign up to the weekly news feed. The website provides the best up-to-date information for anyone in the region wanting to know what’s what. CEQ Facebook posts are simple to share to LM pages as are the Twitter posts on @CEQuakers. Peter Doubtfire, CEQ website coordinator, can advise on using CEQ social media and handling emails; he is on email@example.com. There is mutual support for LMs through Quaker Life on Quakers in Britain website.
We need educating, examples, opportunities to experiment and experience! Maybe we need social media support group(s) within CEQ, or even an IT Officer? Young people choose to use social media for communication, but platforms shift in popularity. While online communication is quicker, has huge outreach potential and advantages for people with access issues, our LMs have to be skilled up to keep up.
Are we part of wider online communities? Do we share our values and our activities with individuals and groups who could tune in to our social media, and do we respond to them where we find common ground?
CEQ Communications Committee hopes to hold a follow-up meeting later this year, and will be in touch with Meetings about what Friends would find useful in a workshop.