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.

Pope Benedict XVI Truly Part of the Silent Generation

Why would someone who is adventurous enough to leverage new communication tools like Twitter, suddenly think they’re too old for their job?

That’s what I first wondered when I heard the news that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down citing his age as the reason.

Perhaps it was others within the organization that pressed him into the new social media world, rather than his own embrace of it, though. Maybe it even played a part in his realization that he was just not able to perform his duties in the current world.

But, then CNN reported that the pope’s Twitter account would close when he left office and I thought maybe he really was a part of what I call the Digital Generation. In my mind, this refers not to the kids growing up in today’s digital world, but the people I’ve encountered of all ages embracing new technologies. They’re the grandmothers I met in Second Life and the moms who embraced blogging and Pinterest.

At a recent Social Media Breakfast Austin meeting on “How Different Generations Use Social Media,” someone called them outliers. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book of the same name to try to explain the careers of really successful people. At its more basic sense, though, the term describes something that is outside the norm – in this case, outside of the typical behavior of a certain generation.

Sherry Lowry, who represented the Silent Generation, on that SMB Austin panel, is part of my Digital Generation. But, she’s not necessarily an outlier in my opinion. As she described it that morning, her generation rebuilt the U.S. economy after World War II and did so by working together – transparently and collaboratively.

Key aspects of social media or social business have always been transparency and collaboration.

Sherry said the lack of that in the way generations that came after hers did business will lead her generation to one day leave their wealth not to their kids, but to their grandchildren or great grandchildren. They are of generations that also embrace collaboration and transparency and have never known a world without the ability to leave comments on a company’s Facebook page, write an online review of a restaurant, or tweet directly to the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict, it turns out, was probably not part of my envisioned all-ages Digital Generation, although he was a member of the Silent Generation. It was later clarified that the @Pontifex account would not be deleted; leading me to believe that it was indeed the organization, rather than the man, that embraced it. Since his departure, Vatican has deleted the individual tweets and archived them on their website; but the account remains live, “Sede Vacante,” waiting for the next pope to fill it with Instagram pics of communion wine.

And if the humor of that doesn’t offend you, you might also be interested in this mashup from Religion News Service of March Madness and the conclave of cardinal’s voting on the new pope:

Make your picks in the Vatican’s Sweet Sistine brackets!

Basketball Tournament-Style Brackets with Names of Cardinals that Might Be Pope