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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sr. Anne Elizabeth Fiore On Bridging New & Old: Social Media Series

This week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Sister Anne Elizabeth Fiore.

Sister Anne Elizabeth Fiore is a Nun with the Monastery of Visitation, in Georgetown, which she joined in 2000 after obtaining a BA in classic languages and an MA in theology from Georgetown University.

The Visitation Monastery is closely associated with Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, my high school. That's how I 'met' Sr. Anne E. whom I did finally - although briefly - meet in person at my reunion this past April. She teaches Latin, coaches JV Softball and moderates the school's Club Dodgeball. She also manages the Monastery's vocational outreach.

Now, I had heard about Sr. Anne E., starting in June 2006, at my niece's high school graduation, right before I took the blogging plunge. At that point, I knew of her as Visitation's 'blogging nun' who launched Live + Jesus about monastic musings in the tradition of Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal in 2005. The blog is filled with warmth and humor and marvelous perspective on life as a Visitation sister -- a perspective I didn't have a clue about as a high schooler.

Sr. Anne Elizabeth and I both participated in Blog Action Day - Poverty and highlighted the amazing work of Visitation alumna Liz McCartney, St. Bernard Project co-founder and winner of the CNN Hero of 2008. I discovered her love of puns during our email exchanges [I'm the 'carpet blogger'] and convinced her to share with us her perspectives on social media.

Sister Anne E. captures 'bridging new & old' beyond making Latin come alive for 21st century students. She brings to life people like St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, the founders of the Visitation order, who lived a very long time ago. Not only by blogging, but also in presentations. Take Holiness and Humor Learning and Laughing with the Saints [note the Twitter feed] or Free To Obey for the Theology on Tap series.

She also connects a monastery, founded in 1799, to the world of social networking, thereby broadening the reach of the order's message and appeal. Imagine, the Visitation Monastery is on Facebook, has a channel on YouTube and through Live + Jesus offers an authentic experience.

C.B.: Sister Anne E., how/why did you get involved in social media?

Sr AE: I’m not even sure I knew what social media was until just recently. I never really thought of “media visibility” as “social media” but given the interactive nature of blogs, comment boxes, facebook, etc., I think I understand the appellation. I got involved, as you can see, rather unknowingly in an effort to provide greater visibility for our monastery’s vocation efforts.

C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

Sr AE: I like the ease and convenience of it. With a mouse click, one can connect with – or begin the process of connecting with – a target audience of those who may be interested in religious life, those who are interested in learning more about our life in particular and those who, although not candidates for religious life, are interested in learning more about our spirituality and our daily life.

C.B.: What do you like least about social media?

Sr AE: I dislike the general milieu of this ‘no privacy’ culture. People seem to maintain no privacy; the things that are on some blogs and FB pages really belong in a journal, not on the Internet. I think it is possible to maintain a balance between sharing our life as a religious community, having my own FB account and connecting with “friends” … at the moment, 100 friends, which is about 98 more than I have in real life … but FB “friends” … and, at the same time, maintaining an appropriate level of privacy.

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a customer?

Sr AE: I don’t do much “consuming” as a customer. Other than the convenience of ordering things on line .. most of what I have the occasion to order are things which relate to vocation work, visibility, etc. I might buy DVDs to burn or a new digital camera or something like that. I do read customer reviews, etc., which I guess is all part of “social media” but, on the whole, I don’t do a whole lot of purchasing as a customer.

C.B.: What about religion? What resources are available to you? Are you connecting with other monasteries or religious orders? Are there other blogging sisters?

Sr AE: There’s a lot of “company” in the Catholic blog-o-sphere. When we first registered our blog in December 2005 at St. Blog’s parish, there were only about 10 blogs that were in the category of “blogs by women religious or women discerning religious life” … now there are many. I’ve had the occasion to connect with a number of different monasteries and religious communities via the Catholic blog-o-sphere … and in one case I’ve forged a friendship with a sister – whom I’ve yet to meet in person – who blogs [see Moniales OP] for her monastery in New Jersey. We hope to meet in person one of these years.

C.B.: Has that added a different dimension to your religious life? To how you interact with your students? With the sisters? How do you bridge the cultural and generational gaps?

Sr AE: I can’t say that social media as added a different dimension, per se, but it calls for greater vigilance on our part, as religious, that we do not allow something – anything – to compromise how we live our religious life. It doesn’t take social media, necessarily … one could become overly engrossed with work, leisure reading, and one doesn’t have to be a religious to lose balance in life, but I think that the potential for social media to BECOME time consuming calls for appropriate and mature vigilance on the part of each religious and each religious community.

I can’t say it has changed the way I interact with my students … but it does provide an opportunity to model moderate behavior: “Yes, I do use social media, I’m on FB, but I don’t spend my life there.” I think it shows them that these things – social media -- aren’t good or bad in themselves, but it’s how we use them. They’re there for our use, not for us to be consumed by them.

I think also, that when people become aware of a religious presence in social media, they become interested because they are hungry for something. They’re hungry for God. There are a couple of FB ‘friends’ who write frequently for prayer intentions. That’s our job. We’re here to pray for the people of God and their needs. We’re here to pray for the Church and with the Church … and being accessible makes it easier for those who have needs to connect with us.

C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for people to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

Sister Anne E.:
(1) Keep what’s useful about “old media” such as standards. We have become casual in how we write on the Internet, email, blogs, etc. Good grammar, good spelling, good style. Maintain good standards even if other people don’t.

(2) Use the old media to access the new media. In our case, instead of taking out a big ad in the local Catholic paper and trying to tell people 10 things about our community, take out a small ad and POINT people to your website.

(3) Keep your “look” the same. If your paper copy is red and black with your initials in a circle then make sure people see the same thing when they go to your website.

(4) Represent yourself honestly. It’s okay to make the Internet image(s) look as good as possible, but make sure that when people who have seen you on the Internet, meet you in person, they say, “Wow! What you see is really what you get.” The best compliment from a vocational retreatant was that the pictures and descriptions on the Internet were an accurate portrait of the community she met when she arrived here. She mentioned how many communities she has visited advertised with pictures that were 10 and 20 years old. When she visited those communities what she saw on the Internet was not what she met!

(5) Don’t use technology and the latest in media just because it’s new; make sure it suits your needs or make it suit your needs. Just because iPhones are the in thing doesn’t mean we need one. As monastics we don’t need our own cell phones and we don’t need updates every 5 seconds about sports, friends, news, etc. … but we can be educated about them enough to tell friends and family that there’s a free downloadable version of two of St. Francis de Sales’ works available as an iPhone application … to say nothing of iBreviary, the entire Roman Breviary in the language of your choice. We don’t need to use EVERY medium available, but we should be educated and use those which serve our outreach needs.

C.B.: Sister, any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with end users and how best to do so.

Sr. AE: I’m not sure I know what an ‘end user’ is … sorry, I’m just an amateur in the field of marketing.

Thank you very much, Sister Anne Elizabeth!

Questions? Comments? Feedback?

What about Sister Anne E.'s comments about managing the tools of social media? "These things – social media -- aren’t good or bad in themselves, but it’s how we use them. They’re there for our use, not for us to be consumed by them."

The notion of standards is particularly relevant: "Keep what’s useful about “old media” such as standards. ... Good grammar, good spelling, good style. Maintain good standards even if other people don’t."

Also, "represent yourself honestly."

As a practical marketer, I love the notion of "Use the old media to access the new media." How have you adapted your old media to reflect new media?

What else did you identify with?

For additional insights from other participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old series, which includes a link to the e-book based on the first 26 interviews in the series.

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