Saturday, July 28, 2012

Interview: Sister Susan Wolf, founder of Catholic Web Solutions on Social Media and Communities

Sr. Susan Wolf (@srsusan), an Internet and social media strategist, blogs at CatholicWeb Solutions, which she founded in 2010. Follow her on Twitter and/or contact her via email.   

MG: You've been at this for a while, please tell readers a bit of your history with Catholic Web Solutions and how it has evolved over time. 
Susan Wolf: I served in executive positions at two different national Catholic organizations for 21 years. I’d always used computers in my work and got on the Internet when that came to be and became very committed to providing online services to members: newsletters, webinars, courses, and even multi-day conferences. I also started using social media for marketing and networking. 

During the summer of 2010 I founded Catholic Web Solutions because I saw the power of web-based services and could also see that other organizations, especially religious communities, wanted to become more active online, but had no idea where to begin.

While my intention was to help Catholic organizations and religious communities, I realized that it might be good to narrow the niche even more. So now I’m focusing on using the Internet and social media to support vocation ministries.

In February, I did a webinar with Christian Brothers Services on how vocation ministers are using the Internet and social media in their work.  And I do Internet and social media audits to help communities assess their online activities.  I just published my first e-book, Create A Facebook Page forMinistry, An E-Guide for Beginners and hope to publish others on the use of social media for ministry in the future.

My own community, the Sisters of Notre Dame, Chardon, Ohio asked me to lead the redesign of our website and incorporate social media into our ministries.  In less than a year, we’ve launched three Facebook pages and Twitter profiles, a YouTube channel, five blogs in addition to mine and a brand new interactive website.  More than 40 sisters and 8 lay staff contributed to these achievements.  I’m very proud of my sisters and our staff members.

MG: What lessons learned from working with a community of religious sisters apply equally well to working with or even developing an online community via social media? 
SW: The make-up of religious communities reflects the leadership demographic of many ministry groups today.  Members and group leaders are very often not digital natives.  The Internet has not been a ministry or communication tool in the past and given all they have to do, they’re hesitant to add something more to their plate. 

At the same time, they recognize the potential of the Internet and social media and want to use them to advance their mission. Key to success is engaging stakeholders in an efficient and thoughtful planning process, recruiting and training the right people for what is needed and breaking up the work into manageable pieces, so no one person feels over-burdened. Once people actually see the impact of what they are doing and how it contributes to the overall mission, they’re hooked.

MG: As an Internet and social media strategist, how do you persuade audiences or clients that strategy is an important factor? 
SW: We cannot convince anyone that strategic planning is important.  I've been a strategic planner all of my ministry life which goes back more than 40 years. I've written planning processes, facilitated and implemented them.  It is hard work and demands discipline and commitment to get results.

Groups that succeed in strategic planning have leaders who already know strategic planning is needed, will see the process through and hold people accountable for results. 

Strategic planning is not just about writing a plan. It is about getting buy-in from all the stakeholders from the beginning and then getting results—easier said than done. Some leaders come to this insight naturally or from previous experiences, others come to it from a compelling need to change or grow.

Unless, they have the motivation and conviction needed to begin with, I don’t think it is possible to convince them. They may say they want a strategic plan—but at best all they get is more paper on the shelf and members/staff who are frustrated that planning never goes anywhere.

MG: ‘Fess up!  What’s your favorite form of social media and why? 
SW: My favorite social media tool is Twitter.  I love Twitter.  It’s quick and easy to use.  It’s a great source of information on topics I follow.  I love that I can tweet links to blogs and other articles that I read to my followers with just a mouse click. Using Twitter, I've come to connect with people I never would have met otherwise, including you, Meredith.  It is just fun to use.

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