Digital communities as a home for conversation
If you’re checking out blogs, that means you’re certainly one of us. A citizen of the digital world. Pew Research began tracking social media adoption in 2005, when only 5% of American adults were using at least one social network. This number grew to half of all American adults by 2011, and at the start of 2017, 69% of adults were using at least one social media network. That number swells to 80% of those aged 30-49 and 86% of 18-29 year olds. The days of door hangers and block parties have largely passed, and the neighborhood has gone digital.
It’s not that people no longer connect with each other. Worship services, small groups, coffee shop hangouts, and fellowship over dinner are just as important as ever. Social media networking can’t replace the connections and spiritual growth that our culture provides, but it can, and does, accentuate it. As conversations about politics, social justice, religion, sports, entertainment, and the mundane continue to grow online, every outward detail of our lives can find a place in social networking.
Although it’s been around en masse for only about a decade, it’s almost impossible to remember life without it. As a forty-year-old Gen Xer, I often find myself sharing stories that, depending on the age of the listener, increasingly have to be prefaced with, “Of course, this was before we had [fill in the blank with any combination of texting, cell phones, Facebook, or Twitter]...”. As much as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have adopted the social networking culture, we’re just hanging out here with the Millennials who are native to it. So if an organization wants to survive through this generation and reach out to Millennials, they must learn to market digitally.
But let’s take a step back. Some people reading may have just recoiled at the word “market,” so let’s address the elephant in the digital room. Marketing is not a dirty word.
Marketing is often associated with some form of deception--either a lie about a product itself or creating a false need for one. And, sure, marketing can be used that way, but at its core, marketing is a process by which someone works to spread the word of something of value. Your church signs, bulletins, website, invitations, and even the very concept of evangelism are all forms of marketing. And when you are marketing something as important as the gospel - in all of its fullness - it is crucial to do so effectively.
Marketing at its core has changed along with this shift in the digital landscape. No longer are marketers shouting from the rooftops. We’re joining conversations - and when we’re doing it well, we’re starting conversations. We’re taking ideas that people have already heard and turning them on their heads in order show a side of a product that people haven’t considered.
But what if it’s not a product? What if it’s a person? What if Jesus, defined now to a generation in an extremely limited scope as the guy with all the rules who will forgive the select few, could be seen from the infinite angles he deserves? What if in addition to teachers and pastors speaking to those in the pews, a conversation began that showed Jesus not just as a disinterested generation sees him, but as the one who is here to bring justice, mercy, and love?
In a fractured society, that’s a conversation I’d like to be a part of, and younger generations are waiting to know that Jesus. Let’s embrace our digital communities, in addition to our brick and mortar ones, as a home for that conversation.
Mike Tufano has been working in social media marketing since 2011 with a variety of clients including churches, non-profits, publishers, small business and corporations. He is currently the Social Media Director for Elevation Brands in Kansas City, the digital arm of Miller Meiers Communications Arts. He has also served in a variety of ministry roles including associate pastor and youth ministry director. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram as @RealMikeT.