Tag Archives: SOBcon 2010

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