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What does a “social” church look like?

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What Does a Social Anything Look Like?

hey-let's unlock our solipsism

We talk a lot about “social” but often marketers and corporate communicators practice the same old monologue and one-way messaging characteristic of the last century—they just shrink and divide their messages into packets of 140 characters and broadcast them through the channels people happen to be listening to at the moment.

For most of us “social” means only broadcasting through relatively new channels. We mostly don’t get the listening part of dialogue. This deafness comes from a deep place: this human tendency to see ourselves and our thoughts—our messages—as the axis for all that happens in the world. How could it be otherwise, given that we experience every part of life through our senses: the world comes to us as images, sounds, tastes, feeling and odors?

Certainly that is the case with profit-seeking entities like corporations. We monologue because we want people to buy our stuff. Same with churches: leaders broadcast what they want followers to hear and act on. Same with any organization.

3 Lessons and a Revolution

I’ve just finished my third run at teaching Social Media Marketing at Northwestern College and yesterday was my favorite day: when the students present what they learned from their social media excursions and community building activities. They learned:

  • That the most tautly-orchestrated rhetorical strategy falls apart pretty quickly in the face of the opinions and interests of their audience. Students become completely captivated by hearing others respond to their words and ideas. These responses are especially enticing after years of writing papers only for the professor’s eyes.
  • Try-Fail-Adapt was a motto we took from our texts and nearly universally adopted. This is the way forward with building communities using social media.
  • That vague “interesting” titles and headlines don’t pull readers nearly as well as solid simple titles and headlines. And that putting a number in a headline produces a bit of magic. Something women’s magazines have practiced for decades.

One notion that threaded its way through the presentations was this subversive, revolutionary aspect of working with social media. When you look beyond today’s tools as just more broadcast channels and see that people are given a voice, the world starts to tilt differently. People with a voice. A voice that agrees with leaders. Or not. Voices that speak back to power. We’ve already seen those voices collecting around the Arab Spring, Putin’s Russia and our own Occupy movements. What will that look like as people slip into ownership of the church? Because it is sure to happen there as well. Will leaders learn to lead collaboratively and by pulling people toward them? Or will leaders rely on pulpits and authority structures for their power? And how long will that tactic last?

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Image credit: Neatorama

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