Exploring God Through Old Media, Social Media and Content Marketing

Questions about the impact of social media on religion are as old as social media — although certainly not as old as religion.

Many other bloggers and journalists have opined on the topic, books have been written about it, and a Google Scholar search turns up more than a million results.

There are the major players like the Pope who’s “Selfie Blows Up Twitter,” the grassroots themes of sunrises and sunsets inspiring digital adoration of God as artist, and even the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently announced that missionaries will do less door-to-door proselytizing, and instead, use the Internet to recruit new church members.a billboard in Austin, TX, with #ExploreGod on it

But much closer to my home, I’ve been watching with great interest as billboards began popping up all over Austin with simply “#ExploreGod” on them. I only wondered a short time what it was all about before I heard at my church that we were joining more than 300 other churches in Central Texas, from at least 12 different denominations, in a four-month campaign to invite people to investigate questions about God in a non-threatening way.

It was evident that social media was part of this campaign when billboards sporting hashtags popped up, but ExploreGod pulled off a truly integrated marketing campaign with their website, out of home advertising, online video, DVDs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, livestreaming broadcasts of Q&A forums, daily messages that could be delivered to your inbox or cell phone, and… of course, the powerful word of mouth from the pulpit with a sermon series on seven common questions about God and faith. Talk about your content creation!

My own weekly Bible study group made up of members from two different non-denominational Christian churches, and one mostly agnostic skeptic that likes to play devil’s advocate, has been using the DVDs and study guide.  Last week’s question of “Is Christianity Too Narrow?” was one of my favorites so far.

The well-produced videos have sparked good conversation, although our agnostic hasn’t really changed his stance. But, I don’t think the goal was really conversion, so much as encouraging conversation.

Too many people proclaiming their Christianity today are doing a lot of talking about what they think God wants people to do and believe, but they’re doing little listening and showing little grace, and this creates an environment where other Christians fear conversation about their beliefs will alienate or offend. So ExploreGod says, “If our work here can start a good conversation and give you something valuable to think about in your own life, then we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.”

For that I applaud them. And as a communicator, I admire them for their ability to create such expansive content, leveraging just about every modern marketing tool plus the old reliable ones, and to bring together hundreds of different congregations in support of it.

Surprisingly, the church with the Instagraming Pontiff was not one of them.

A Perfect Spring Austin Day

Springtime in Austin is fantastic! It’s usually short-lived before we move on to full-blown summer, so on days like today you want to make the best of it. And that’s just what my girl and I did.Orbit Salon

First, it was haircuts at Orbit Salon where Sunny keeps all our family looking good. It’s a cool East Austin place that supports local artists by not only being a part of the East Austin Studio Tour, but also hosting parties like this where we got a look at new artists one evening.

Then we headed toward SoCo (as the hipsters call South Congress) for a slice of pizza and a look at a few of the hot rods in town for the Lone Star Roundup.

When I first moved to Austin, if you went very south on South Congress you’d find [ahem] women walking the street. These days the street is full of men, women and children – too many of them, in fact. So, we decided to head toward Shady Grove for lunch instead.

Most people eat outside under the pecan trees at the Grove, but the inside – designed like a 1940s era park lodge – has a kitschy charm that is just as perfectly Austin.

Next stop was my girl’s choice – Peter Pan putt putt golf. It actually has been around since the 1940s and can seem a bit run-down at times, but there was a fresh coat of paint on the whale and turtle today and one hole was closed for a more extensive renovation.Peter Pan Putt Putt

Austin has changed and grown so much just in the 15 years I’ve lived here, it got me to wondering what that intersection of Barton Springs and Lamar must have looked like when Peter Pan first opened. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos online, but if anyone knows of some I’d love to see them.

Our last uniquely Austin stop of the day was to cool off with some Amy’s Ice Cream.  Known as much for their employees as their yummy ice cream, the 6th Street location currently has a great exhibit of photos from Austin’s Cathedral of Trash.

A little Belgian chocolate with Oreos crushed in hit the spot for us and topped off a perfect Spring day!

Foursquare vs. Gowalla – The SXSW Showdown that Wasn’t

Heading into SXSW Interactive this year, everyone was talking about an eminent showdown between the top two location-based social networking services: Gowalla and foursquare. Both companies released updates and enhancements just before the conference started; and, I’m sure both hoped they would take off with users like Twitter did after SXSW Interactive 2007.
Texas Showdown Saloon sign
I have been playing foursquare for a few months and feel a bit guilty for not supporting Austin’s home team Gowalla. It came about that way simply because foursquare is the first one I heard about. Several of my Twitter friends were tweeting their foursquare check-ins and it made sense to go where the people I was already connected to were going.

During SXSW, I tried like heck to win some of the special badges foursquare unveiled for the event, to no avail. But, I certainly didn’t make the shift that Jeff Pulver described in an e-mail that Misae “Minxymoggy” Richwoods shared on her blog this week:

“A community of twitter faithful shifted from sharing everything about everything on only twitter (and maybe Facebook) and changed their habits to rely on learning about what was happening and where things were happening by using foursquare and Gowalla instead.”

No, I was still relying very much on Twitter as my means of communicating with friends and finding out what was happening around the conference, as I mentioned in my post recapping a Core Conversation about Second Life.

My use of foursquare at SXSW was all about the badges (maybe trying to make up for not being a Girl Scout when I was little?); and, quite frankly, when I was unable to secure them after name-dropping, staying out late on a school night, making it to the early panels, and attending a SXSW Music show, the lily lost of bit of its gild.

Aside from throwing competing parties on the same day at the same time, I didn’t really see any showdown between foursquare and Gowalla, either. Nothing visible like the TV screens in the convention center showing Twitter feeds in years past, or anything like the Zappos takeover of what attendees wore when they handed out ponchos from their trade show booth on a rainy day one year. I don’t have bandwidth to be active in both services, so I wasn’t seeing Gowalla from the inside. That may be part of why I didn’t see any showdown.

The other reason may have been that as a 40-year-old mother, I’m not really their target demographic. I didn’t go to either company’s party, choosing instead to come home to my family that evening. And, I can go to all the places people were checking in at during SXSW any time I choose, unlike all the out-of-town visitors. But, let’s face it, I just don’t party like I used to. I’m not going to be the person Chase Straight describes when he notes “you know a night has been good when you look at your Twitter feed the next morning and see five or more check-ins.”

But, maybe there really wasn’t a showdown at all. Maybe as Jemima Kiss put it, “perhaps that just reflects how much the press and the crowd wanted to claim The New Twitter, etc. etc.” Headlines like “Hot Startups Battle To The Death Deep In The Heart Of Texas” are great fun to write.

And that fun didn’t seem to hurt anyone. Richard Whittaker pointed out in the Austin Chronicle, “neither Gowalla nor Foursquare delivered a killer blow this year, [but] both benefited from the national exposure.”

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrflip/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Oh, the People You’ll Meet Via Social Media

When I was asked by Austin Woman Magazine “What is the biggest impact of social media on your life?” it didn’t take but a second for me to reply that it was all the new and interesting people I would never have met otherwise. Some have been on the opposite side of the globe from me, and some have been right around the corner.

Austin Kleon is one of those. He is a writer and cartoonist who lives here in Austin, TX, that I met when I saw another acquaintance Tim Walker talking to him at that giant cocktail party known as Twitter. I was intrigued by a tweet about a newspaper blackout poem which is described as “Newspaper + Sharpie = Poems.” By blacking out all but select words in a newspaper article, Austin creates poetry. He has quite a collection of them on his blog that I could pass hours reading. He also recently posted this cool time-lapsed video showing the making of a blackout poem.

While it took Twitter to introduce me to this cool poet and artist in my own backyard, ye old mainstream media is introducing him to a global audience. He was recently featured in the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia:
Austin Kleon

A collection of Austin’s Newspaper Blackout Poems is forthcoming from HarperCollins in February 2010. I encourage you to check him out! You can follow him on Twitter, read his blog and become a fan on Facebook.

Do Nothing and Help End Hunger

Pledge to End HungerIf someone told you that you could help feed hungry children without opening your pocketbook, handing out a sandwich or even leaving your house, would you believe it?

Well, it’s true.  While your donations of money or time as a volunteer would certainly be appreciated, all you have to do to see that 140,000 meals are served to Central Texas children in need is pledge to spread the word about Pledge to End Hunger.

For each pledge made via the online form, Tyson Foods, Inc. will donate 35 lbs of food product — the equivalent of 140 servings. You type your name, your e-mail (that will only be used to update you on the progress of the campaign) and select your state, then hit submit. It’s really that easy.

Fulfilling your pledge simply means talking about this with your friends and family. You can do that face-to-face, on the phone, via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, your blog, a billboard, skywriting … well, you get the picture.

If the goal of 1,000 people taking the online pledge is reached, a semi-trailer filled with 140,000 meals will arrive at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas in Austin during the SXSW ’09 Interactive Festival.


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Loving the Austin Scenes

When traveling recently I began to think about how much I enjoy living in Austin, TX. While being from Louisiana is a big part of my identity, and although I love to see new places and meet new people, it’s always nice to come home to Austin.

Soon our town will experience the annual influx of visitors from around the world who come to “make the scene” at the South By Southwest Music + Film + Interactive conferences and festivals. But, it’s the more common day-to-day scenes that remind me what an interesting, quirky, relaxed, fun place this is to live.

Downtown Austin, TX

There’s the Sunday afternoon pictured above when the Auditorium Shores park filled with dogs and their shorts-wearing people who can’t quite believe it’s not summer year-round, while families in their Christmas finery, and even a fur coat or two, file in to watch Ballet Austin’s inaugural performance of The Nutcracker in the Long Center.

Waiting at Austin Bergstrom Airport watching three grown men play each other on their Nintendo DSes while nearby a camouflaged soldier enjoys a burger and taps his feet to the sounds of Shelley King performing live and free-of-charge for passing travelers.

A triple-digit heat day at the liquid heart of town – Barton Springs Pool – where the sun shines on lots of skin in all sorts of colors and shapes, while turtles, silver-haired lap swimmers and the occasional whiff of something herbal drift by.

I’m sure you’ve got a few vivid scenes in your own memories where ever you are. I’d love to hear about what makes your town a great place to live, too!

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Help a Girl Out (of Poverty)

Poverty is bad. How’s that for over-simplification of a complex issue?

But, poverty’s impact is felt even harder by girls. What do I mean? Take a moment to let these tidbits sink in:

  • Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school. (Cynthia B. Lloyd, ed., Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries [Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005].)
  • In Nicaragua, 45 percent of girls with no schooling are married before age 18 versus only 16 percent of their educated counterparts. In Mozambique, the figures are 60 percent versus 10; in Senegal, 41 percent versus 6. (International Center for Research on Women, Too Young to Wed: Education & Action Toward Ending Child Marriage, http://www.icrw.org/docs/2006_cmtoolkit/cm_all.pdf [2007].
  • Medical complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide. (United Nations Children’s Fund, Equality, Development and Peace, http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/pub_equality_en.pdf [New York: UNICEF, 2000], 19.
  • 75 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds living with HIV in Africa are female, up from 62 percent in 2001. (Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, Keeping the Promise: An Agenda for Action on Women and AIDS, http://data.unaids.org/pub/Booklet/2006/20060530_FS_Keeping_Promise_en.pdf [2006a].)
  • The total global population of girls ages 10 to 24—already the largest in history—is expected to peak in the next decade. (Ruth Levine et al., Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda [Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2008].)

Now, watch this video. Really. Do it before you read more.

Then, just a couple of more facts to chew on:

  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent. (George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881 [Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].)
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man. (Phil Borges, with foreword by Madeleine Albright, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World [New York: Rizzoli, 2007], 13.)

So what is one person like you or I supposed to do to impact that? The Girl Effect campaign directs us to some great resources, including globalgiving. Globalgiving connects you to more than 450 pre-screened grassroots charity projects around the world. You can feel confident that your money is being put to good use because projects on globalgiving undergo compliance checks to ensure they have a bona fide charitable purpose and meet applicable laws relating to international philanthropy (sort of like giving through United Way). The organization also has some interesting volunteer opportunities for writers, photographers and web developers.

BRAC is “one of the pioneering implementers of the Girl Effect” and an organization nearly as old as myself founded in Bangladesh in 1972. Its focus is on long-term sustainable poverty reduction and BRAC reaches more than 110 million people with their development interventions in Asia and Africa. Their newest project in Uganda and Tanzania provides safe spaces, informal education and micro loans to girls, which will help them lead confident, self-reliant and dignified lives. As little as a $50 donation to BRAC could provide a loan for a girl to start a business of her own, so that was my first contribution today.

Then I contemplated the work of several local bloggers today who are focusing on poverty in Austin – should I be following the Think Global, Act Local style of participation and look for a volunteer opportunity in my home town? Or do I worry less about acts of volunteerism and more about the city’s I live here, I give here campaign?

In the end, I think I have to do a little of both. So, I also made a donation to the Capital Area Food Bank where every $5 donated provides $20 worth of nutritious food to Central Texas families; and, I enlisted my own girl to participate in their “Hunger is Unacceptable” meme:

Hunger is Unacceptable

It was a great opportunity to initiate a conversation with her about just what poverty is, but I’m not sure it really sunk into her 6-year-old brain. So, I’m also going to look into some of the volunteer opportunities at Mobile Loaves and Fishes that we can do together to help make it real for her.

Hopefully, it will be the start of our own Girl Effect.


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