AT about 8:45 Eastern time this morning, we reached 2,500 likes on Facebook. It has been a long road to this point, and it wasn’t even a goal when the page was launched. Let me tell you a little of the history of the I Am UU page and the movement it is becoming.
My name is Thomas. Back in 2009, I was in a bad place. I made a new year’s resolution for 2010 that I was going to dig my way out. Part of that decision came from finding a community that helped me emotionally, socially, intellectually, and, during one of my hardest months, financially. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a car (which is a big problem in the Dallas suburbs), but I did have time and some rusty skills in both communication and computers. I decided that I was going to learn how to use social media, and I was going to use it to make the world a nicer place. Central to that goal was the decision to focus on improving the world by sharing the 7 Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which had helped me start to turn around my attitude, and thus, my life.
Please note that while the history of the I Am UU page could be told without any of the names or links that I have included, it would not be fair to ignore the Unitarian Universalist social media that inspires and educates me. The names included as acknowledgement and thanks, and not as a statement of endorsement or direct involvement with the project.
I started on Twitter, because it was still gaining popularity. I had an account already, and was following a few UUs who had formed a community of sorts. I knew the basics, I knew some of the etiquette, and it seemed like I could make an impact there. I started to feel like I had done that in just a few months. I was getting involved in the conversations and finding blogs and news items. I “met” great UUs like Peter Bowden, Rev. Naomi King, “Matt Kinsi“, Rev. Beth Ellen Cooper and others who made the experience interactive, rewarding, and educational.
As I started reading and sharing more on Twitter, I realized that my Facebook feed was starting to turn off some of my friends. The calls for social justice and the desire to share my faith were too passionate for some of my non-UU friends. I decided that I might need a new outlet. Thus “I Am UU” was created in the summer of 2010.
The project quickly became focused on Unitarian Universalist evangelism. It was a word that was used pretty openly on Twitter, and that I came to embrace thanks largely to Adrian Hilliard, but it is also a word that came with a lot of baggage. That only made it more perfect for the part of the mission that involved not letting Unitarian Universalists forget that we are a faith community and a religious movement, and we need to be shaken up a little. The I Am UU page became a place to invite conversation about sharing Unitarian Universalist values and Principles (always with a capital P) openly and politely, but with passion and pride. I devoted it to being about affirming our Principles, and actively promoting them in the world.
Facebook underwent a lot of changes in the last three and a half years. They gave us discussion fora, then took them away again. The layout has changed several times. The display size of images and the introduction of “Cover Images” was a big game changer. Peter Bowden launched the UU Growth Lab, which branched out into more than 20 different Facebook groups focused on different aspects of congregational life, growth, and sharing. One such group was the UU Media Collaborative. That one changed everything for me.
The rise of “memes” began, and I watched it happen for over a year, missing the potential completely. Then, the UU Media Collaborative launched, and I saw what was being created by Tim Atkins really reached people. More over, I saw the work of Jessica Ferguson, and realized that memes could be art. I was inspired to start creating my own images and sharing them on the page. The first several were either very simple, not very good, or both, but they were still well received considering the number of people who were following the page, and they seemed to attract more people.
That is when the page started to take off, growing tremendously over the last year. As I developed more skill at graphic design and we shared more of the images from UU Media Works and others, the page started to get a lot of attention. I enlisted a few friends to help me refine my ideas and to critique works in progress. We’ve grown even more on the last few weeks as we’ve needed more diverse talents to build new resources for the community.
418 fans seemed like a lot of pressure last January, but in 12 months, we’ve grown to more than 5 times that many as people started sharing our posts. The focus of the page didn’t change, the energy of it sure did. It became even more of a community, and one that people valued. The posts became resources for sharing faith and starting conversations. We’ve even had a few people tell us that we helped them find Unitarian Universalism. Whether these people ever call themselves UU or not, we have feel that we’ve accomplished a lot just by introducing them to the faith in a positive way. That was what I always hoped for the project. We want to foster the desire in others to share the message of Unitarian Universalism, and to welcome the people who hear something in it that resonates. We know it has a positive message that makes the world easy to share and life easier to live.
Today, the project moves boldly forward. I’ve convinced a few people to help me run the page, and we are working up some guidelines and policies and hopefully some editing practices. We are now building what we know will be a great website that we will fill with resources. The other projects in the works will require more team work and resources, and we will tell you all about them as they mature.
The I Am UU project will keep producing, publishing, and sharing content on social media, now including Twitter and Tumblr. It has also grown to include a Cafe Press shop, where people can buy all kinds of items designed to be conversation starters in the real world. There will be a YouTube channel, likely in early summer, and we are always interested in new ways to reach people and support Unitarian Universalist outreach.
I really cannot express my appreciation for the community you all have built around this project. It has become the ministry I was never sure I would have. It has outgrown me, and that is something that fills me with both joy and fear as I continue to let it be shaped by the community it has become. Thank you all for the comments and the sharing. Please keep posting your stories, links, and images to the page to share with the community. Please let us know if there is something we can do better, and know that this is a labor of love, given freely because you all have made it worthwhile.