Tag Archives: social media

i am not a social media guru

A couple weeks back, Fort Wayne had its first Social Media Breakfast. Brad Ward and Howard Kang from Bluefuego came to town to talk about “what’s next with the social web.”

About 100 people showed up. Brad and Howard did a good job. They even helped me understand a couple things.

I don’t say that to be arrogant. It’s just that I have tried lots of things and read lots of things and talked with lots of people involved in social media. In fact, I’ve realized that I talk regularly with some of the brightest and most experienced people in social media (including some social media gurus).

When the floor was opened for conversation, the first guy to speak didn’t have a question. He pitched the value of networking, talked about how much leverage social media people can have by getting involved in networking groups, and offered his business card. After that, people had real questions. I realized that I knew most of the answers, had played with most of the social networking platforms being identified. I wanted to say, “here’s why you would use that. Here’s what you could say that way. Don’t go there.”

However.

Even as I was thinking through those things, I thought, “Why do I really want to get into those conversations?”

Like many people who have used social media tools, I have built experience that could be helpful to other people. I have ideas of what may work and not work for a variety of organizations. In fact, I could probably help nonprofits in particular. In fact, I have one such group asking me to be part of a marketing committee.

But I am not a social media guru.

I’m not talking about the self-identified kind, the person who is selling themselves by proclaiming their expertise while not using technology. No, I’m talking about people who have made a discipline of knowing how to use social media effectively regardless of the message. I love them. I read them. But I’m not one of them.

When it comes to social media, I’m a social media chaplain. When I’m doing what I love to do, social media is a tool, not a subject. It’s the method, not the goal.

People. God. Confusion. Clarification. That’s what I’m about.

Or what I ought to be about.

pie chartTrouble is, it’s fun to be a guru. It’s fun to get caught up in the conversations about the means of communication. And I do like communication conversations. I love saying, “what if you tried that. If you shot it this way, and then said this…” You can help people be effective that way. You can impress people that way.

You can get distracted that way.

This is where the last sentence goes, the catchy phrasing that ties the pieces together. But there isn’t one yet. Social media the method and social media the goal are easy to confuse. And depending on your calling, there isn’t one right order.

I still working to remember mine.

Of course, so are you.

5 questions with Amber Naslund

coffee and klondike barsI met Amber Naslund at SOBcon 2009. Briefly. That’s the face-to-face part. She writes marvelously well about social media and listening. So I decided to ask her 5 questions about the connections between her learning there, in the rest of her life, and how we can interact in all of our worlds.

1. Radian6 is about listening. Much of my local community, the church I am on staff with, is not talking online, at least not about us. We are on facebook (facebook.com/grabillmissionary) and have moved there on purpose, but if I used Radian6 to vanity search, it would be pretty quiet. But people are talking offline, I’m sure. How should we listen? What have you learned about online tracking that works offline?

Sometimes, listening is about paying attention to a broader conversation. So the idea of listening just for vanity searches can be limiting, especially for smaller or new communities. So the idea is to spark conversation that’s bigger than your “brand”; find out what larger topics and interests your community IS talking about and host conversations about the things that matter to them. It’s a give-first kind of approach.

As for offline, the same principle applies. Gathering your community together and being interested and helpful goes a long way. Find out what’s on their minds. Ask. Be attentive and invested in the discussions and issues that have their attention. You can bring those conversations, online or off, to whatever places they’re gathering. Your own brand becomes the architect rather than the subject of those conversations, but the trust and affinity builds as a result by demonstrating that the interests and needs of your community come first.

2. What lessons in remodeling your house teaching you about how someone could renovate a reputation, on and offline?

Patience and time. Patience and time. There is nothing consistent about home renovation except the unexpected. That means that being methodical, patient, and attentive to detail matters a great deal. And owning the mistakes – and taking the time to go back and repair them – is what ensures that a project all comes together.

Reputations are funny things; you have control over what you put out there, but not so much over how it’s interpreted. For businesses and individuals alike, online reputation is a balance of appearances, perceptions, and what you demonstrate actively to the world around you. Put out there the things you’re proud of. Be humble (no one does it alone). Own your mistakes, acknowledge them, and move past them. And recognize that humanity is one of the most powerful brand attributes of all.

3. You actually have communication degrees, right? (You’ve heard of rhetoric, I think.) How does the study of communication help you focus on effective use of media rather than the bright shiny objects?

Actually I don’t. :) My degree (singular, in fact) is in Music Performance. I’m a classically trained flute player with a rusty couple of  piano hands. I’m terrible at guitar.

But I can tell you that music has its own kind of lessons (and I even wrote about it once: http://altitudebranding.com/2009/01/seven-music-school-secrets-for-social-media/). The bundle of all those things is probably that the culmination of an amazing piece of music takes dozens of moving parts – people, instruments, practice, practice – and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Truly great performances come from months of rehearsal. Shiny objects in social media are the means, not the end, and it’s the mastery of the intent behind the tools that matters most.

4. In what ways does having a child help you (make you) think about social media differently?

Wow. Well, it definitely makes me more conscious of personal accountability on the social web. My actions don’t just affect me, they can potentially affect the people I love – and the choices are mine. So, it makes me careful to behave in a way that I’d be proud of 10 years from now, and that my daughter would be proud of when she’s an adult.

I definitely think it also highlights to me that evolution, growth, and progress are unstoppable. Things never really stay the same, and we have to learn to embrace change as much as we can. Finding the underlying intent (again) – being human, being helpful, being friendly, being kind – is the constant in social media. The rest is just how we get there. There’s nothing that can point that out to you sometimes more profoundly than the crystal clear, simple and unfettered views of the world through the eyes of a child (as she grows up much too fast).

5. There is a lot of talk about brand evangelists these days. You have done some of it yourself. What makes me smile is that many people who are leery of evangelists in the religious sense, embrace the word in the business sense. Further, part of the reason that there is distrust of the religious kind is because so often those people have been after the sale and haven’t done the ongoing teaching, living explaining. It’s what we call making disciples. Is there a risk that brand evangelists will run into that same problem…and that the solution is the same–make disciples rather than converts? Make followers rather than clones?

Absolutely. Without question. That’s the essence of it all, really.

Being an evangelist isn’t about barking a pile of bullet points. Evangelism, in its truest form, is about sharing why you think something is worth following or believing in. We often miss the mark in business because even we don’t believe what we’re saying; we’re just reading off of a script, and that shows. We’re not taking the time to understand our value and our importance in the eyes of the people we’re hoping to reach, and we’re certainly not doing it on a personable level often enough. We see ourselves as job descriptions with responsibilities, instead of stewards of a company, part of the same communities we hope to build, and caretakers of the people that support our business. Humanity and business success can and should coexist.

Disciples aren’t created, either. They’re invited, and the choice is theirs. They need to feel as though you’re investing in them as much as they’re investing in you. It’s a relationship of trust and shared belief in something, not transaction. And having the benefit of those kinds of advocates for your business means a long term investment in those people over time. It doesn’t scale well, it’s lots of work, it’s fraught with the unexpected, and it’s deeply rich and rewarding when you get it right.

—–

This is one in a series of 5 Questions conversations. For more information, go to my 5 Questions page.

Just like when we started – a social media reflection

new building GMC in 1917Grabill Missionary Church started more than one hundred years ago.

Here’s how it happened.

In 1898, a bunch of like-minded people were meeting in small groups in fifteen church buildings and school houses, all served by a couple brothers who were preachers, all within a circle about 12 miles across. Some of the places had preaching services, some of them had Sunday school.

Some of the people in these small gatherings came from other churches, responding to a new (for them) understanding of what the Bible taught. Others came from no church at all. There was great excitement about the new things God was doing, and some resistance from those who had learned the old way.

In 1900, the railroad decided to build a town and the spreadout groups started talking about a central location.  In November, 1901, a church building was dedicated. In January, 1902, the first train went by. In February, 1902, the first plat of the town was filed.

At the time, people from the congregation saw each other all the time. They lived within walking distance. They shopped from each other, traded goods, chatted while at the post office or hardware store. They lived local.

Much of the conversation was, I’m guessing, pretty mundane. People talked about weather and sick animals. They mentioned that they needed to get some work done. They mentioned coffee.

This mundane conversation was, however, the fabric of community. You can’t talk about deep spiritual concepts all the time. Sometimes you just talk. And in that chatter grows connection and in that connection can grow faith. Particularly when you watch what happens in a life across time, how a person handles crisis.

Community is formed in communication and communion, interaction and intimacy. The more of both, the deeper the relationships.

In churches, that kind of interaction doesn’t happen easily anymore, at least not for large parts of a congregation. The technology of the car has made it possible to travel further to church, to shop, to eat, to live. A community is less defined by geography.

Churches, at least wise ones, respond by creating additional times of interaction. We create small groups or Sunday school classes where people can share life together. Or that’s what we hope. And sometimes people are aware of what is happening in each other’s lives daily, and sometimes not.

And for a long time, no one has known any better. We’ve known that more communication and communion would be nice, that our sense of community was suffering, but we figured that we were like the rest of American culture, feeling the disconnection that comes from distances.

And then came a new set of communication tools. They are simple enough for almost anyone to use. They are cheap enough for almost anyone to afford (as cheap as a free library card if necessary). We call them social media. We could call them “small town streets”

Just like people were able to chat with each other while heading to the store or waiting at the mill or taking the milk to the creamery, people now can chat while sitting at home. And some of the conversations sound the same, about weather or work or coffee. Or the neighbor’s odd behavior at midnight every night.

At first, only one or two people in a congregation knew about these tools. The first person to talk about Twitter or Facebook or Myspace was viewed as peculiar. When it was explained that this was an Internet thing, all the stories about bad people lurking in chat rooms to injure children were mentioned.

A funny thing has happened, however. More people are becoming aware of these tools. Parents and then grandparents discover new ways to see pictures of the trips that their children or grandchildren are taking. And then conversations like this happen as a small group from a church gets together.

A: “How was that phone call this afternoon?”

B: “It was great. He’s doing well.”

A. had heard about the phone call from looking at B’s facebook status.

To look at social media as a new evangelism tool, just like broadcasting was viewed, misses one of the core values of social media: transparent interaction. Rather than thinking of social media (facebook, twitter, myspace, youtube, blogs, flickr) as a new broadcasting tool, churches are probably wisest to think of it as a way to live life together away from Sunday morning, to live in the community as a community, like churches that make a difference usually do.

There are some cautionary notes, however.

  • We can’t fall into believing that this way is the best way, that people not on Facebook are somehow missing out. In fact, congregations using social media have to be more aware than ever of the need to be redundant, to provide key information in as many forms as possible, to foster communication and communion wherever possible.
  • We have to remember that what is online is a search away. I have chuckled sadly at the times I have read online comments about how to reach people on the Internet, how to convert “lost people.” There has been a complete lack of understanding that those “lost people” can read what is being said about them.
  • Social media is a place where the new is addictive. I spend time bouncing from platform to platform wondering if there is something new, if someone said something that I need to respond to. This fear of missing out (FOMO) is an addiction of sorts. Of course, people probably spent too much time chatting in front of Grabill Hardware, too. But no one ever thought the answer was to tear the porch off.

Technology is not relationship. Jesus did not talk about technologies, he talked about people. However, it the technology allows more frequent interaction, even about the details of life, then maybe we can build the same kind of community that happened in the early days of our congregation.

——————–

For more on online/offline as a difference on tools rather than a difference between real life/fake life, see Liz Strauss’s wonderful post Online Culture: is your definition out of date?.

For history on Grabill, Indiana see Grabill.net.

Grabill Missionary Church is on facebook at www.facebook.com/grabillmissionary.

8 ways social media can learn from church

I decided to start on my presentation for SOBcon 2010 early.

I haven’t been invited to make a presentation. I did, however,  spend most of two wonderful days in Chicago with some good friends, listening to people from marketing and PR and social media and communication and a bunch of other places talk about successful blogging. Driving home, I realized that I have some suggestions as well, drawn from an unexpected perspective.

Here’s my rough draft for next year.

——

jon swanson and liz strauss at SOBcon 09Good afternoon. Thanks, Liz, for that introduction.

As you heard last year, I’m a social media chaplain. Not a chaplain of social media, in the way that people are social media experts, but more of a chaplain in social media.

My expertise, if I may be so bold, isn’t in social media but in communication. And even more specifically, in church communication. I have been around church for five decades. I have talked a lot and listened a lot and learned a little.

As I listened to all the experts last year talking about how to move big businesses into social media and how to help bloggers build their businesses, I realized that there are a few lessons that can be learned from church. After all, we’ve been about communicating messages for a long time. We’ve done it well sometimes and poorly more often.

Let me suggest 8 lessons you may want to consider as you expand your social media efforts.

1. Great stories stick

Seems obvious. Everyone talks about story these days. And lots of people forget to tell them, even in church. However, over the years, it is the stories that get people’s hearts. Stories, for example, about shepherds who leave a whole flock in a field and go looking for one sheep that has somehow wandered off.  Arguments prove, numbers support, stories transform.

2. Some people will never believe.

Lots of people in church can’t accept this. They spend huge energy hammering on people who resist (and in the process, undermine everything about carrying that they are trying to say). Spend your energy on people who will listen, who are interested, who do need what you offer. And maybe, in the process, even the people who “never believe” will be eavesdropping.

3. If the customer is always right, you have nothing to sell.

I struggle with people who are in “the meaning business” always giving in. Part of my struggle, of course, is with myself. But there comes a point when there are lines, when the customer can’t stretch the belief system so far that it becomes completely transparent. Be willing to say, “you know, we just can’t do that.”

4. Admit hypocrisy or it will kill you.

There are lots of people who hate church because they were told one thing and they were shown something else. You can fill in your own examples. I can offer you some of my own, times when I have taught that faith brings confidence…and have been worrying about making that very presentation.  Where we often fail is by ignoring the reality that grace implies failure. If you are perfect, you don’t need grace. So acknowledge your hypocrisy. Point out your own failings. Show where your product doesn’t measure up. And offer hope.

5. Sometimes you do have to ask

There is a place for asking for commitment, for inviting people to make a choice. But don’t start there.

6. Looking at the edges takes your eyes off the core.

There are, if you haven’t noticed, approximately 1 billion protestant denominations. (There are days that I would love to slug Martin Luther for demonstrating that the way to solve theological differences is to split into two groups. However, it wasn’t his fault and it certainly has been preferable to killing the other group, which continues to happen too often.) Often, those splits happen because people begin focusing on fine differences between them.  Unfortunately for outsiders, this means that insiders spend huge amounts of time saying, “we don’t do this like that group and we don’t do this like that group and we aren’t as __ as that group and we care more about ___ than that group.” It’s much like spending time differentiating between blogging and tweeting and pr and marketing and sales.

What matters is the people you are trying to reach and what you are trying to connect them to.

7. Broadcasting feels wrong, but it lets you reach some people.

While driving home from SOBcon 09, reading @chriscree‘s tweets of the sessions, I was listening to public radio. There was a story about “bottle evangelists”, people who put Bible verses on slips of paper and seal them in bottles and throw them into the ocean. I was listening and thinking, “that is incredible one-sided, non-conversational, inefficient.” You are probably thinking something else. But then they talked about the period when Albania was completely closed to religion. No way in. And they talked about being able to drop bottles that would wash up on the shore.

Sometimes apparently ineffective and untrendy methods are what works.

8. Authentic identification isn’t a tactic, it’s the point.

If we are wanting to sell people on being transparent, we can use that as a tactic, we have to be transparent. If we want to come alongside someone to help them understand our message, we may have to actually come alongside them. You can’t put on the mask of openness, you have to be open.

If you are arguing that lives are transformed, yours has to be. Or people will see the inconsistacy. Church knows that one well. We mess it up often.

But it is, after all, where we started.

—–

There it is. I’m still working on the slide deck. And I’m open for questions. In fact, if we start talking now, this will be something more by next May.

Photo credit Becky McCray

The talking newspaper

This is a story about how my local paper talked to me.

I used to watch the news in the morning. I don’t any more. Partly for silence, partly for control. I can’t handle the chatter, I want to decide what I read.

I do, on the other hand, check twitter almost every morning. I don’t follow very many people. So at 6:15 on Tuesday morning, the 6:00 am tweets from our local evening newspaper were still easy to find.

Early every morning,  the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel (@newsentinel) tweets four or five articles to the 73 of us who are paying attention. Each tweet is a link to the article on the paper’s website.

Note that I said that this is an evening paper. Fort Wayne has a morning paper as well. But the evening paper has new articles online by 6:00am. And others by 10:00.

Tuesday morning, one tweet in particular caught my attention.

So I read the article about a couple expecting a baby, knowing that the child has Down syndrome and a hole in its heart. (article here) It’s a great article about a caring family, written thoughtfully.

Except for one sentence:

“Doctors told them the baby could have trisomy 18, caused by three copies of the 18th chromosome. It is incompatible with life.”

Because our daughter Kathryn was born with trisomy 18 and lived for five weeks, I knew that the sentence was wrong.

By 6:45 am, I had written an email. It was a letter to the editor, copied to Jennifer Boen, the reporter. It’s probably my second letter to the editor, and my first letter to a reporter. But the accuracy of this sentence mattered to me.

And then I went to work.

By 1:15 pm, I had an email back from Jennifer. She was very gracious, explaining why she had written what she had written, acknowledging that the language could have been different, showing sympathy for our situation. I wrote back. She wrote back.

It was a nice conversation.

(A doctor had given her the information about trisomy 18, and it is deadly and people who have that extra chromosome die young, sometimes before birth. And it was a only a stop on the ride to the point of the article.  I understand.)

About 4:30 pm, the newsprint version of the newspaper showed up on our front step. I’m guesing that it was delivered by our regular carrier and her mom. Though she is in her teens, her mom always follows because our carrier is working with her own physical and mental challenges. I’ve never asked. I say “thank you” when I see them, I once signed “thank you” and received a smile.

There are, it seems, two stories here. One is the story of an article about a family treasuring life appearing in a paper delivered by a girl whose life is treasured to a family that lost such a child and that has Hope. That story, though almost invisible to most people, is significant.

The other story is about a newspaper taking baby steps to make itself more valuable to the people of its community using social media. There are, I know, only 73 of us following @newssentinel. (There may be more after this post). But think about this: a reader and a reporter had a significant interaction about a published article in the paper…before the newprint was delivered.

I know that papers are closing. I know that they are trying everything. I know that the twittering by this paper in this comparatively small market may be someone’s little experiment.

But real stories about real lives connected real people. Jennifer and I interacted. It makes me proud of my newspaper, for good writers and for trying new things. Before it’s too late.

i am socially inept.

I have nearly 600 people that follow me on twitter. I follow less than 100.

I have 21 suggestions of friends on Facebook. Many of the suggestions are for people from my graduating class in high school. I haven’t added them.

I have an incredible number of things that people have given me or thrown at me or mentioned to me on Facebook. I have let them bounce off from me.

I have written thousands of words in posts. I have commented on most of the comments that people have made. But I haven’t consistently gone to the commenters’ blogs and written comments there. I haven’t even followed all of them.

I am a pretty clumsy social media person.

However, I am exactly the same way socially. At parties I stand around the edges. Or I help clear the tables. When I was in high school, I spent three years not connecting to those same people because of being incredibly shy. And then, in the fourth year, I only sort of connected.

I do way more teaching than I do conversing, at least with informal conversation. In many settings, I do way more listening than I do talking (though there are a couple people in particular that would argue that point. At great length.)

In short, I am in social what I am in social media. Because that is what I can handle.

I would love, I guess, to follow the 500 people who are in an unrequited following relationship with me. But I can’t keep up. And that isn’t likely to change. Because there are probably 1000 people that would call our church (my ‘employer’) their home, and I ‘follow’ between 100-150 of them. I know more, I’m willing to respond to the comments of more, but I’ve got capacity limits.

This post isn’t a fishing post. This isn’t a “that’s awful, I’m going to unfollow you” post. This isn’t a “that’s fine, Jon, we love you anyway (you doofus)” post.

This is a “find your comfort level in social media and don’t feel guilty for not being exactly like everyone else” post.

For those of us clumsy ones, that’s a pretty important piece of permission.

I hope the rest of you don’t mind.

Social Media Pastor part two

Emilio rises at six and starts coffee. His RSS reader has many blogs to read, plus links to a “Bible in a Year” website that sends him daily updates.

He took the weekend away from the internet, kind of a forced tech sabbath. He would have loved to have the willpower to walk away for a whole weekend. Other people do it regularly. Other people don’t feel like they have a spiritual responsibility to stay connected. Because he is so aware of the relationship element of his work as a pastor, Emilio has a hard time disconnecting from his social networks, whether face-to-face or online.

This time, however, Emilio didn’t have much choice. His parents didn’t have wifi anywhere close to their summer home and he needed the weekend away to see them. He considered the $9.95 connection at the hotel, but decided that if he needed to pay to connect “just to find out if anyone wrote to me”, then he probably needed a break.

Back in his home office this morning, recovering from being away, among the 200 new items in his reader was one that would change the week significantly. Emilio had a vanity search set up with Google, looking for his name on the internet. Usually it only showed his own writing. Today he discovered that Chris Brogan and Jon Swanson had been talking about him.

“Workflow – Social Media Pastor.”

As he scanned through the post, all his social networking struggles came rushing to the front of his mind, not the least being, “What if someone from the church reads this?”

Emilio regularly wrestled with what he called his “living in two worlds” question. He had his “real world” congregation, the people he saw and talked with and cried with every day. But then he had his “digital world” friends, the people he saw and talked with and cried with…every day. To call the latter a congregation was a stretch. But they were friends, he was their touchpoint for questions about God and church. He even was in conversations once about doing a wedding for a couple he only had contact with through twitter.

If he were hired to work full-time in social media, working as campus pastor for an online campus, for example, it wouldn’t be so hard. The worlds could merge that way. Instead, like most of the people he knew in social networking, whatever their occupation, he had real world responsibilities. He had to manage a facility and visit sick people and teach and preach. He had to spend time in meetings and in counseling. He struggled to keep up with reading and silence. And he didn’t even want to think about that tech sabbath question.

He was torn: one of his worlds paid the bills. Both of them were full of people that he cared about…and for.

And now people from both groups might be reading about the other. And the people in his ‘real world’ might look at the time of his posts and think, “is he writing that on work time?”

Emilio had a funny feeling that now that people were inside his head, there were going to be a lot of conversations. Some of them were going to be pretty uncomfortable.

“But maybe ministry is supposed to be uncomfortable,” he thought. “Maybe transparency will be healthy.”

8 ways people talking about intentional social media strategy may be right.

jon and texasYou know, them. The people who suggest that you can be thoughtful and strategic about this blogging stuff. I mean, the people:

  1. like Joanna Young, who suggests that you can generate a month’s worth of posts in 30 minutes. She talks about creating a mindmap with the theme of your blog. I tried it one day, while driving. I wrote one phrase, “affirming words” on the middle of a post-it index card. I generated 5 post topics in four minutes. They wrote themselves quickly and they actually were thoughtful and connected and significant.
  2. like Liz Strauss, who suggests that you can build an editorial calendar for different days, and that you can map out a month of blogging activities and control your blogging time rather than having it control you. A month ago I started a theme for Sundays. I’m working through the week the same way. (Note: the calendar idea is near the bottom of the post. It stayed with me for months before I realized that I could do it, too.).
  3. like Chris Brogan, who suggests that you stop just thinking about your personal brand and instead, actually do specific things in social media. I discovered that I have several things covered, but that I need to be more specific about a few more.
  4. like Becky McCray, who says that we need to learn to say no. Actually, Becky has said a lot of things to help me focus, but that’s one collection.
  5. like Rob Hatch, who is proof that people on the other end of social media are people. There are other examples, and you know who you are, but who’d have imagined Brogan’s and Hatch’s and Swanson’s in the same physical space at the same time?
  6. like Cheryl Smith who started a blog intended for public consumption but didn’t tell anyone about it until she had written enough posts to prove to herself she could. That kind of patience has borne fruit for her. (And she let me look ahead of time and helped me find some words from Isaiah that I had been trying to remember for months.)
  7. like Paul Merrill, who I finally believed about turning off the comment approval. It has freed up conversation wonderfully. (In the process, I also finally got wordpress set to email me each comment so I know. It hadn’t been working before.)
  8. like these faces who remind me by their daily patience and love that the core of social media is the social, not the media.

8 ways to use social media in church

Chris Brogan is helping people figure out how to apply social media tools in particular contexts. I offered to do the church application. Of course, because Chris has been helping me explore the possibilities for the past couple years, he has been mentoring this post.

I’ll start with a couple of principles which I try to remember.

Church buildings are tools. So are social media.

When people think about church, they think location. They go to a building. But the building is a convenience, a place to gather and stay warm and dry. Although we want buildings that are useful, if we get stuck on making them too cool, too amazing, too vast, we use up resources that could go elsewhere. Not just money, but time and attention and energy. When we think about social media, we often get captured by the coolness.

I do. As a result for example, I have a pownce account that I never check, which has left one person thinking I left the internet. When I am at my best, however, I am looking at social media as a set of tools to be used for a variety of specific purposes…and I will choose carefully based on what I want to accomplish.

Church is by definition about community and relationships. So are social media.

If you take what Jesus said about what we know as church with some seriousness, it is a set of vertical and horizontal relationships. It is about the people. And so it is with social media. How are we building relationships? How are we developing connections and using the connections to help people grow?

The curtain is pretty transparent

For some reason, people who are exploring social media for proselytizing seem to think that no one will know what they are trying to do. For example, if you are creating strategies for saving people and you publish those strategies online, the “lost people” who are the “target” of the “assimilation strategies” can read them. And will understand that the appearance of authenticity is just a strategy. Maybe of the borg.

I understand this struggle. It is the struggle of every brand that is trying to create a social media strategy. However, at some level, church isn’t a brand. My solution is to just live and talk and explore as if my Invisible Friend is real. Just like Big Bird did.

What I’ve done:

1. Share work trips with flickr and audio blogging. I was part of a team that went to Gulfport as part of Katrina reconstruction. While we were there, we put pictures on flickr, we audioblogged with hipcast, and just blogged. People back home were able to look and listen and read. Even people who didn’t know what the technology was could follow the links that we emailed around and also put on the church website.

2. Share corporate gatherings with ustream. A year ago we started turning on a video camera and streaming our services. These weren’t services produced for broadcast, with great camera work, stellar audio, and TV timeouts. Quite the opposite. The service existed and we let people at home watch it through an unobtrusive camera. For the first couple months, we just used the mic on the camera. We just took what was happening inside outside. And people watched. A guy whose wife couldn’t get out because of early Alzheimer’s disease. People who are living on the other side of the world. And one day, people who couldn’t safely travel because of the ice. (Though I haven’t tried it, I’m guessing that you could use blog.tv and chat back)

3. Share your heart with blogging. I’ve been writing here for a couple years. My friend Rick sometimes tells people what he will be preaching about to get ideas and suggestions. The key, however, is to wrestle.

4. Share community development with a corporate blog. During Lent this year I was part of creating a small group. 7 people wrote once a week each about a lent-related theme. They talked with each other. They talked with commenters. They ended up having as much interaction as a face-to-face small group might have during its first 6 weeks of meeting. They want to keep going.

5. Share your life with twitter. I can’t ever figure out how to describe twitter. Even calling it microblogging doesn’t help. So I just send people here. Especially when I am traveling. And then they discover that they can find out what I’m doing and where I am. And then they understand.

6. Share your heart with youtube. I’ve created a number of pieces of video to use in services and other places. Some are citizen journalism, showing what people connected to church are doing in the community. Some are thought pieces. (Bonus: that video used audio that was captured by on a digital voicemail service. People could call in, leave a message, and then I was able to edit it in.) Some are, well, odd. But all of them are quickly produced and connect to particular people. The secret is to remember that an apology or a birthday greeting with only one intended audience member can be absolutely huge in impact.

7. Share attention with a note. Yep. You can actually handwrite a note to someone. Of course, if you take a picture with your cameraphone, order a print through walgreens or snapfish or other photo sites, and then glue it to cardstock before you write the note, you can personalize a moment or an event in a way that merges multiple media for maximum impact.

8.  Be human. Are people at facebook? Friend them. Building networks at Linkedin? Connect. Writing a book on conversation? Sign up. Raising money to fight cancer? Join in.

Chris has had a ton of other ideas I haven’t done. One of the best? Have kids interview old people on camera and produce videos together.

Oh, one other thing. I know people that I didn’t know a year ago because of all of these things above. I have cried and laughed with, prayed for, talked to, understood, taught, been taught by these people. There are real people behind these words and screens and cameras. Out here, outside the church building.

medium

I use a variety of media to not communicate. I can ignore you in ways I never could ignore you before.

In the old days, I could just not send you a letter. (Okay, before that I could have not painted you a painting on the wall of the cave, but I wanted to keep it to the last millennium or two).  More recently, I could not send you a cable, or I could not call you.

Now, I can not IM you, not contact you through facebook, not tweet, not send a text message, not comment on flickr or on your blog or on your comment on my blog. I can not jaiku. I can not email you. I can not keep up on your wiki or reply to your seesmic or your DM.

I can be rude or insensitive or cold or ignorant in ways that could have never been imagined in previous generations. In the old days, my Swedish grandfathers were just taciturn. Everyone thought they were wise. Now, they would be uncommunicative.

My current challenge is significant because I am trying to figure out how to connect with a whole new physical community. I am realizing that the sheer volume of possible connections (number of people multiplied by number of mediums) is overwhelming my ability to keep current.

The temptation is to resort to broadcasting. For me, this blog is one way of such broadcasting. It’s a way to let people in all of my worlds know that I know that you and I and all of us are in trouble. We want to connect more than we ever have. We have more means than we ever have. We have access to more individuals than we ever have.

And more than ever, we are feeling kind of…medium.