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!

Making My SXSW List and Checking It Twice

Location-aware mobile marketing

  1. Laptop
  2. Laptop charger
  3. Smartphone
  4. Smartphone charger
  5. Flip camera
  6. Extra batteries for flip camera
  7. Moo cards
  8. Coke

That’s my list of things not to forget as I prepare to head down to the Austin Convention Center tomorrow for South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi). This will be my fourth SXSWi – a conference I told communicators two years ago they should attend, and I stand by that even more today as social media and all things digital pervade communication.

For those taking the advice and coming to Austin, I thought about posting some tips from my past experience; but, several others have already put together great lists for you.

CC Chapman (who I got to meet in person when I snuck into one of the SXSW Film panels last year) is a pro at the conference and made a great video with his SXSW advice. I won’t be taking his advice to ditch the laptop, however – mostly because I’ll be showing off one of my employer’s newest ones.

Web Worker Daily published their 10 Tips for Enjoying SXSW. They pegged our crazy unpredictable weather correctly. And the fact that you do a lot of walking.

SXSW Baby! has tips on how not to get sick, what to do upon arrival in Austin, and more.

The Glam Girl’s SXSWi Survival Guide has some great iPhone app suggestions to help you through the conference, and thanks to her for the illustration above that speaks to the location-based apps that will be all the rage at SXSWi this year. I have to disagree with her suggestion to skip the big bag, though, because I love taking my collection of them grocery shopping. Whether I ditch all the insides in the trash or they do, either way the paper is already wasted, so no eco-benefit to not getting the bag.

One thing you may be wondering about when looking at my list above is number eight – Coke. It’s my one unique bit of advice to share that no one else seems to have mentioned and only applies to those of us who are die-hard Coca-Cola drinkers. The Austin Convention Center concessions only serve Pepsi and while there are some Coke machines tucked away in far corners of the building, I’ve found they aren’t always working.  So better safe than sorry, I always bring one along with me to get me pumped with caffeine and sugar in the morning! 🙂

Be sure to give me a shout if you see me there!

Spring Break in Austin Means SXSW

Local schools are about to embark on the week-long recess from classes known as Spring Break and I will be embarking on “five days of exciting panel content and amazing parties” as the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference bills itself.

This will be my third year to attend this portion of SXSW which focuses on emerging technology. It’s been a great way to learn some of the basics I needed as I transitioned from traditional corporate communications to a more online-focused job at Dell. It’s also an opportunity to bring back new trends and technologies that our business can leverage.  And, I get a cool new bag to add to my environmentally friendly collection of grocery shopping bags!

“In its 22 years, SXSW has grown from a tiny music festival in the Texas capital into a massive, unavoidable media beast that reflects, discusses and showcases trends in culture and media but also often creates them.” National Post, 3/13/08

While I’ll be attending the Interactive conference, my husband will be more interested in the music portion of the conference that follows the film festival. His band Shallow Reign played showcases the very first and second years of SXSW. Who knew then that it would have grown into what it is now!

I blogged about some of last year’s panels on Direct2Dell and will be one of several Dell employees blogging from the conference again this year. So watch for updates over the next few days on Direct2Dell!

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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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Blogging Tips for Austin Women (and Anyone Else)

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed a nice new profile photo today. It was taken for the March issue of Austin Woman magazine that will feature several local Austin women who are involved in social media, including Sheila Scarborough and Connie Reece.

As part of that, they asked me to share some brief blogging tips. The third one I listed made me feel hypocritical because I haven’t posted here in so long; so, I decided to publish them here now and try to do a better job of taking my own advice.

Tips for Blogging

Be ready for a conversation. Blogging may seem just an outlet for your thoughts and opinions, but what differentiates a blog from other web sites is the interaction with readers.

Read and comment on other blogs. This jump-starts the creative process, introduces you to bright minds you can link to from your blog and creates links back to your blog.

Post often. It doesn’t have to be daily, but once a month is too infrequent for you to develop your voice and build rapport with readers. Blogging as a team can help with frequency.

Don’t fear the blank page. A great way to get more comfortable talking online is to start microblogging at Twitter.com. It helps you develop your voice, and you soon find topics you want to expand beyond the 140-character limit.

Don’t be afraid, but do be aware: You can share your thoughts without sharing too much personally identifiable information; but, always remember that those thoughts can be searched and found online by anyone. (just read my previous post here for a lesson on that one)

Lagniappe: include photos and videos, make it easy for readers to share, enable RSS feeds and get to know these sites: Technorati, Google’s blog search, Friendfeed, Flickr, YouTube, Stumbleupon, Delicious.

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