Many people are struggling to understand the place for Social Media within a fraternity that has existed for nearly three hundred years and for the last eighty years has been largely hidden from public view. For most Freemasons alive today, being a Mason was something you only ever mentioned to those you really trusted.
For the general public, this fosters the conspiracy theories, but it can be easily explained by the fear felt by Freemason during the 1930s as a result of the political situation in central Europe. There are no definitive figures for the number of Freemasons killed as the records did not always record that a person was selected because they were a Freemason. However, estimates range from 80-250,000 killed in the Holocaust.
Slowly, Freemasonry is emerging from this self-imposed isolation, re-entering the public arena and seeking to redress the balance. This is proving difficult for those who have been raised to believe that being a Mason was something that one did not talk about and that the public viewed with derision.
Today Masonic organisations run websites and increasingly are turning to Social Media platforms to get their message out. Facebook and Twitter are popular platforms with LinkedIn being used where Lodges have an affinity with a school, university college or organisation.
The Provincial Executive for Berkshire has defined three priorities for the team currently which are:
This is essentially a cradle to grave plan framed as the 3 Rs. So how can Social Media play a role in these three areas?
Many Freemasons have an issue with the concept of recruitment as traditionally we did not recruit, we nurtured interest when it was shown but advertising and naked recruitment was and is generally frowned upon. To this end, a senior Mason suggested that the term “attraction” be adopted which this author prefers, but it does not scan as well.
This approach was widely described as “To Be One Ask One” which was fine when people were open about being a member but flawed when nobody knew who to ask. The challenge was also that only the brave would be prepared to join an organisation surrounded by all of the negative publicity that Freemasonry was suffering over the last 40 years.
Social Media allows us to address both of these issues. Having a presence on the popular platforms makes it easier for the curious to find someone to ask about joining. Our presence on the platforms also encourages us to publish stories about what we are really doing and thus become more open which promotes a generally more positive opinion of the institution. This should result in a positive feedback loop where more positive opinion results in more people being curious about joining.
In common with all clubs and societies, Freemasonry suffers with people losing interest in the organisation, perhaps as their family or work life makes it more difficult to attend the meetings. Strenuous efforts are being made to ensure that we keep these Masons interested and engaged even if they cannot attend formal meetings. We want to keep in contact with them, let them know that we are ready when they feel that they can come back and that there are ways to keep in contact.
Social Media enables them to follow the activities of their Lodge and, in cases where they have moved away from their Mother Lodge (the Lodge through which they joined Freemasonry), to more easily find a new Lodge that meets their needs.
Equally, Social Media is playing a role in increasing the enjoyment of those who are active Freemasons. Members connect across the globe with other Masons to get a better understanding of what Freemasonry means in other jurisdictions. Meetings are arranged when Masons go on holiday, allowing people to experience different ways of doing things.
Social Media is also being used like any other communications tool to exchange views, to support one another and to share jokes. All of this can be done via any other medium, but it is easier through these platforms. They are geared to bring together like minded individuals. All of the Social Media platforms encourage you to increase your network by adding people that your existing contacts interact with. This is no different than being introduced to someone new in your Lodge, the pub or at work, it just happens more quickly and as the result of a computer suggestion.
Inevitably, some Masons will drift away from the organisation, perhaps due to the aforementioned pressures but times change and they may be encouraged to return. Re-engaging “lapsed” masons is a great way to bring them back to the organisation.
Many people use Facebook to keep in touch with family, friends and former colleagues that they have moved away from. Families are probably more geographically dispersed today than they have been at any other point in history. As a result, one of the fastest growing demographics on Facebook is the so called Silver Surfer generation who are using the platform to keep up with their children and grandchildren. As the younger generations move to new platforms, the older generations will inevitably be encouraged to follow them.
With this in mind, it is worthwhile Provinces and Lodges engaging in Social Media to enable these lapsed Masons to re-engage more readily.
Is Social Media the magic bullet?
There is no magic bullet to address these issues, we need to adopt an omni-channel strategy encompassing in person, printed and online communications to reach our intended audience. As with all communications strategies, we need to talk to potential members (including the lapsed and disenchanted) in the medium and language that they are using.
Social media is not the be all and end all, but it is an underutilised part of our toolbox.