Interesting people interviews: Helen Thompson

12 10 2007

From time to time I will interview interesting people. helen-thompson.jpgThe first is Helen Thompson, a social media guru with some fabulous things to say.

MB: Tell us a little about yourself.

HT: I’m a cradle Episcopalian in the Diocese of Virginia, living in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the U.S. I had a break with faith in my teens that lasted until I was 32, and I’ll talk more about that in a moment. But first, a little more about the rest of me–professionally, I am a writer, on one shoe, and a social media strategist, on the other. I have one son, a teenager who loves sports and cheese. We have three cats, whom I like to torment by taking endless pictures of them, which go on to become LOLcats. I’m engaged to a Luddite (of all things) and I confess to spending many years in the goth scene.

MB: You are an active blogger with some 10 blogs. How long have you been involved in blogging and what got you started?

 

HT: I started keeping an online journal at a writing community called SFF.net in 1996–back then, it was considered a newsgroup on a private services. Around that same time I was participating in online communities on AOL and USENET, as well as some listserv-based ones. So I was already very familiar with having an online presence when some friends of mine from a listserv in Colorado posted a link to livejournal. I signed up thinking I’d just use it for staying in touch with that group, and made my first post on Sept. 10, 2001.

Then Sept. 11 happened. I had friends all over the country and I found myself bouncing through various friends to find other friends to find other friends and so on to make sure that everyone I knew in every place in the world was okay. And I found myself writing, compulsively, inexorably. I have been continuing to do that ever since. As my audience has grown, I’ve found myself compartmentalizing my interests to different blogs on different platforms. Knitting goes to one place, goth music, humor and general trenchancy to another, faithy bits are all branded as “Gallycat,” and so on. All told, I’ve written more than 10,000 posts to various blogs and journals. That’s pretty scary, when you think about it.

MB: What do you see as the benefits of blogging for those involved in ministry?

HT: As a professional social media strategist (and blogging is just one form of social media), I’ve seen myriad avenues for connecting with “believers in exile” and the unchurched (seekers?), for one, and for networking with other believers all around the world, for two, and acting as ambassadors for the Christianity I’m in love with for the doubters who think all Christian roads point to dogmatic restrictions and hypocritical solipsism. I’d like to think that my writing across all these platforms to such a broad audience helps people understand Jesus’ call to social justice and for radical love. Blogging is different from traditional media in that it’s instant and it’s accessible, and as such it has the potential to be a wonderful evangelistic tool. Additionally, blogs are about sharing. One of my favorite blogs, written by my Episcopal Cafe colleague the Very Rev. Nicholas Knisely, provides regular pointers to blogs of interest as well as his own thought-provoking content. And, he podcasts his sermons. I love this! It’s easy for me to transcribe a paragraph or two of one of his sermons and share it with other readers of my journals and blogs for fascinating new insights… and these are people who wouldn’t go near a church, yet engage me on the issues I bring up!

 

MB: What are your top 5 tips for blogging?

HT: I have a tipsheet for generating social media content; it’s not written for ministers so much as it is for nonprofits in general (my workplace), and can be found by clicking here

In addition, one thing I’ve struggled to teach people doing this as part of ministry: Don’t write academic stuff on theology and ecclesiology. Keep it short, break it up into digestible bits with subheads or bulletpoints, and remember to share!

 

MB: You are involved in the virtual world of Second Life, what got you into that?

HT: I got into Second Life because my best friend’s husband is, well, Feted Inner Core, the creator of SLBoutique and Gogomodo Trivia, among others. I resisted for ages, partly because my computer was so old it couldn’t handle the software. But when I got my new computer earlier this year, I started flirting with the platform again. Nothing engaged me about Second Life, aside from hanging out with my best friend virtually (since she now lives 200 miles away), until I saw that the Cathedral was being built. But it wasn’t until I got a full-time job as a social media strategist that I could look into integrating my volunteer duties as a correspondent for the Episcopal Cafe into establishing a presence for us there.

MB: How do you see the virtual platform developing and what are your thoughts on how the church should be involved in the virtual platform?

HT: Well, I think it’s catching everyone’s attention right now. Corporations and businesses are starting to take a closer look at it. I’m alarmed at the amount of sexual activity on the platform, and I’m patently offended at the activities of griefers. But there has always been disruptive behavior in interactive online platforms–email, USENET, Blog comments, and so on. I just hope there comes a day when we can not sigh and write it off as something that happens. Aside from that, there is far too much good that can come out of virtual interactions like this. I think, for instance. of my father, who is disabled, and how as his mobility continues to decrease, this might be just the thing to keep him active in the church. For myself, having been incredibly peripatetic and being the sort of person to travel on weekends frequently, it allows me to touch base with a faith community no matter where I am. And, I’m starting to see social groups form as people realize how much they have in common, no matter where they are geographically. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate connecting with other people in my peer group through this medium, because there are so few of my peers at my actual church. All of these areas are places we can focus on as we figure out our own identity as Anglicans in Second Life, and I’m particularly gratified that we’re not worried so much about the politics of the Anglican Communion and more about the message of Christ’s Love.

MB: Thanks for that!!

 

Check out Helen’s blogs at http://deviathan.livejournal.com and http://gallycat.com

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