A Step at A Time

This month marks the two year anniversary of Sacred Language Communications. So we celebrate today, and look forward. But caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware!). Humor, sports metaphors, and important news that could change your life follow. Enjoy! And thank you.

My son loves football. So do I. This season, he’ll be playing high school ball for the first time. He’ll be playing some quarterback, some linebacker; but mainly, he’s building himself into a kicker. He works hard at it. He spends 6-8 hours a month with a private kicking coach who formerly played for the University of Virginia. Then there’s a minimum of 12 hours a week at football practice. And then, there are countless hours on the field, kicking over, and over, and over again.

A lot of practice sounds like this (turn up the volume): 

 

At times, things go a little better: 

 

In between, there’s a lot of sweat, work, attention to technique, and, yes, even anxiety. Am I kicking far enough? Who’s coming up behind me?

And always, there’s a desire to do more. A year ago, when he began, he was kicking 25 yards, tops. Couldn’t punt. Couldn’t handle kick-offs.

This year, he’s kicking 45 yards, punts 50-55 yards, and is learning to kick off. And still, he pressures himself to do more.

It’s All Good

We all want to succeed–and as soon as possible. But we must remember, too, that there’s a lot of growth that must happen along the way.

It’s true in all aspects of communications.

It’s true in your professional development.

And it’s true in business.

Two years ago, I launched Sacred Language Communications with the belief that what organizations wanted and needed was education about social media, e-newsletters, and how to do them on their own.

There’s certainly a number of groups for whom this is true.

But more than before, I’ve learned that having a valued advisor, and someone who can build communication platforms, monitor their growth, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and write a great deal of the content is also needed.

And so, I am refining our business to better serve you.

SLC Web

Learn more about the changes at SLC by visiting our revamped website.

1. More emphasis on Taking Communication Burdens off Your Shoulders. The fact is most organizations realize little to any impact from their online efforts. There are many reasons for this, of course, but a big issue is a lack of time and talent to manage the site–from getting it launched, to creating the content; and from placing online media into your overall strategy to ensuring your online tools connect with people and strengthen your community. We are doubling down on delivering both communication strategies and the content you need to support that strategy, whether it be blogging, e-newsletters, or social media.

2. More-timely news about changes in technology. In addition to the SLC weekly blog, each wednesday I will be sending along links to the best stories in communications technology that will benefit you and your organization. (Register now.) The newsletter will be delivered on Tuesdays.

3. More hands-on tools. Look, learning online tools is like learning a foreign language. You can spend months and years learning grammar and syntax, but that won’t help you speak the language fluently. Today, students begin speaking from day one. So we’re launching a new series entitled “Let’s Get …” that leads you day-by-day through leading online and social media tools. Our first one is Let’s Get Tweeting, coming out next week. We don’t explain how to do it–over 10 days we help you do it yourself in manageable chunks.And we support your effort with daily encouraging emails. By the end of this course, you’re on your way to fluency.

It’s been a marvelous journey thus far–and I wish to thank all of my customers who have entrusted their communication needs to SLC.

He’s to the next year … One step at a time!

The Death of Church Marketing, or A Return to Communications

A year ago, I made the decision to launch Sacred Language Communications. I didn’t put “marketing” in my company name then, and ever since I have tried (not as successfully as I’d like) to avoid using the term.

The traditional marketing approach is failing--two-way communications is the next step.

The traditional marketing approach is failing–two-way communications is the next step.

Marketing as a concept for faith communities, I believe, is largely dead. Buried initially by the introduction of social media—which exposed to all how little marketers can really influence people’s habits. And increasingly buried by a return to sanity—at the end of the day, it’s your ability to connect to the people you serve that makes the difference.

Traditionally, people talked about doing this work as “marketing.” I prefer to talk about “communications.” The term is clunky, to be sure. Maybe I’ll invent a better word or phrase someday. But until then, there’s value in using this longer, five syllable term for the work we do. It describes a dialogue, a discussion–not a one-way funnel of information trying to convince people to join something.

A recent event demonstrates the difference between marketing and communications very well.

Cantor’s Lesson: Be Real

If you follow politics, you no doubt heard about Eric Cantor’s defeat to a relatively unknown challenger in the recent primary. Of all the bluster and verbiage that has come from this election, Matt Bai of the Washington Postsaw past the obscure to the obvious. And his observation applies to more than politicians.

Rep. Cantor learned the hard way that talking points and marketing efforts don't trump real communications.

Rep. Cantor learned the hard way that talking points and marketing efforts don’t trump real communications.

“I can tell you this: Cantor didn’t lose because his opponent, who was backed by radio hosts and tea party activists, articulated some brilliant distillation of conservative thought. Brat struck me, when we spoke, as affable and well intended but nowhere near fluent in the complexities of policy or government…. But, hey, at least Dave Brat talks like an actual person and engages in something resembling an actual conversation. There’s not a lot of that going on in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol.”

And there’s not a lot of actual conversation going on in church-speak or church-marketing, either.

In this work that we are engaged, listening trumps everything. Listening to those in your community. Listening to those you hope to reach. And only after listening, do you talk. Not in the puffery of marketing lingo, nor the obscurity of theological lingo, but in the language of the community you leave.

Data-Crunching: Stay Real

Many, sensing the communications break-downs that are occurring in our world, aim their ire at the tools. So anti-technology people have enjoyed something of a renaissance in our age, blaming the tools for the breakdowns that we see.

Social media tools are just that--"tools." Used for communication, they're powerful arrows in your quiver. Used for marketing, and your aim is off. Photo Courtesy Rebecca Bollwitt

Social media tools are just that–“tools.” Used for communication, they’re powerful arrows in your quiver. Used for marketing, and your aim is off. Photo Courtesy Rebecca Bollwitt

But the frustration is misplaced. The tools are just that—tools. And generally speaking, people who excel in communicating in their communities will do well across the spectrum of communication tools. Unfortunately, because modern tools—social media, e-newsletters, and related technologies—allow us to not guess, but know exactly, how well our communications are, many use the raw data they provide (click rates, open rates, Likes, Follows, etc.) to measure goals and punish people who can’t “produce the numbers.”

But data—for all that it shows us about how people react—is not a tool for punishing people. It’s a tool for learning. “OK, this doesn’t resonate with people. Why?” And the discussion goes on from there.

Data should keep your language and motivations “real,” not become a tool for judging people’s performance.

Live Real

Marketing isn’t a four-letter word. You need to carry out campaigns, organize events, recruit volunteers, etc.

But don’t mistake this work for communications—listening to, learning about, and talking with those you serve and work with.

This is communications.

Sacred Language Communications works with you to advance your communications efforts in order to strengthen your existing community, and grow it for the future. Feel free to call us at 540-498-5994, or write us at mdavis@sacredlanguagecommunications.com

 

How “Real” Are Social Media “Friends”?

In a conference call with a friend and business partner, I had one of those “Eureka” moments this week as we were discussing friendships we shared. Several times when names were raised, I responded—“Yes, I am friends with him/her.”

And very often, I also had to confess that I had never met some of the people we were discussing. Instead, our relationships had been born, nurtured, and developed online.

abelardEureka. I don’t have just a few friends I’ve never physically met, but many. Which raises a question about just what “friendship” is, and whether or not our virtual friends are “friends” in the classic sense. The question is hardly academic, as many congregations I work with retain a cautious approach to social media because, in part, they will not, or cannot, accept that online relationships are “real.”

But a thinker from my academic past can, I believe, ease that concern for many, while helping others understand just how profound social media friendships are.

Medieval Plug-in

My academic days are well behind me, but not the information I learned. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that my Eureka moment is rooted in the words of a medieval theologian who knew a thing or two about friendship—Peter Abelard.

Best known for his love affair with Heloise, Abelard was also a student of what it was to truly love God—a love that he believed had a counterpart in this life; charity. His ideas about what charity and love of God really are were heavily influenced by the works of Cicero. In fact, Abelard’s definition of what it is to love God comes directly from Cicero’s definition of friendship (amicitia, for you Latin lovers). But it’s how Abelard altered the understanding of charity that most interests us here.

Cicero, you see, stated that friendship was a reciprocal relationship—you act on behalf of one because you want the best for him or her, and because you expect similar actions in return.

Abelard stressed only the first idea. That you care for the fate of your friend, with no concern for reciprocity.

It is a genuinely selfless gift. One gives, and expects nothing in return.

A selflessness that Abelard knew a great deal about personally, if you know about his tragic relationship with Heloise—a woman he loved, bore a child with, and suffered mutilation because of. After moving to a monastery, he never saw Heloise again, though he retained a deep, abiding friendship with her using 12th century social media—letters.

Plug-in

Abelard’s understanding of charity (and friendship, in his later letters), could well be used to define online friendships that we develop today. We meet many people online with whom we develop genuine, deeply felt, and life-changing relationships, though we may never personally meet. (On the other side, I find that these relationships increase the chance for meeting—at conferences, when I travel, etc.—and to date I have rarely been disappointed when we met face-to-face.) These relationships can be genuine, deeply felt, and important when they are developed in the contest of friendship as Peter understood it. Doing well for people because you want the best for them … not looking for or expecting something in return.

In fact, this is how many of my own online friendships have begun. People post tweets, Facebook posts, etc., that express a need. And I (and many others) respond to that need because we genuinely enjoy sharing useful information.

This is not to say this is the only use for social media—marketers, for example, see in social media a one-way relationship going the other way. They sweep the landscape looking for clients.

This is fine, too, but it is not how communities engaging in social media get the most from it. Rather, it’s that shared experience of helping one another that creates dynamic, and powerful, communities of people who often have never met one another personally.

But they are, indeed, friends.

Three Questions to Ask about Your Church’s Social Media Use

There’s a great deal of information available to churches and businesses about how to “inventory” and assess your social media program. Many of these inventories are quite good; done properly, they’re also time-consuming and best done with the assistance of someone who specializes in this world.

Should you go to that extent? Take the time to fully account for all your social media projects, assess their effectiveness, and analyze how you manage your channels?

Before undertaking a full inventory, SLC recommends you answer three simple questions.

followQuestion 1: Looking at your existing social media channels, are you following everyone (or as many as you are able) of your congregation? 

Why It Matters: Social media is just that–social. If you are not following your parishoners, you are using social media channels as a one-way street. You can send out information that you find important, but you aren’t seeing information about your community that your members find important.

integrateQuestion 2: Thinking about your online habits, are your church’s social media channels integrated into your work (i.e., they stay on and you check them at the same rate you check e-mail)?

Why It Matters: Social media works best when you respond. Just like e-mail. If you aren’t monitoring and responding to the social media pages of those in your community, you are missing a critical opportunity to discover what people are saying about your community and learning what those in your community are learning and sharing with others.

speedometerQuestion 3: Do you regularly review and make adjustments in your social media habits based on your parishoners’ responses and posts?

Why It Matters: Think about real-time, face-to-face conversations. When you start talking with someone, you use your aural and visual senses to decide how the conversation will develop. If the person you’re speaking with is using sober tones and looking down, you aren’t likely to start talking about how wonderful everything is in your life. Instead, you listen and sympathize more. If someone is excited, you don’t burden them with a heavy question. The same is true of social media. Sending out material that no one responds to and never changing suggests to those who follow you that you’re tone deaf. Staying on top of people’s reaction is critical to your success.

So how’d you do?

If you answer positively to all three questions, you’re set for a full-blown social media inventory. Forge ahead!

Less than that, there are some more fundamental steps you need to take before investing in an inventory. Start with the questions you can’t answer affirmatively, try doing them for a couple months, and then re-evaluate your readiness for an inventory.

Happy Socializing!

Martin Davis is founder of Sacred Language Communications and specializes in helping congregations and faith-based organizations leverage social media to strengthen their communities through improved mutual understanding and discussion. Contact him at mdavis@sacredlanguagecommunications, or call him at 540-498-5994.

Zero-sum Game?

Thursday night, a very select group of college football players will become very wealthy young men when the NFL holds its annual draft.

Most just enjoy and benefit from the game.

Most just enjoy and benefit from the game.

This past Monday night, more than ten times that number entered the weight room at Riverbend High School to take their first steps toward playing high school football–my son (right) among their numbers–with promises of nothing more than sweat, pain, and two-a-day drills in 100 degree heat in August.

rg3

Some guys strike it rich

The paradox between the two worlds raises a question–if the young men beginning their high school careers never make millions in the NFL draft, will the next four years of their lives be wasted? High school football, after all, is no small commitment. Practice/weight training are year-long at this level. Figure a minimum of 10 hours a week (and that’s a low number by any estimate), and these young players are on a track to commit 2080 hours over the next four years to a sport that the vast majority will never play after high school.

Most any high school football player will tell you no–these years are not wasted. In fact, most look back fondly on these years for the rest of their lives.

A Second Look

Carry that lesson to your church’s social media use. A very few communities will realize users in the tens of thousands. (Willow Creek’s Facebook page has 27,500 likes, Saddleback has 92,000 likes, and Adam Hamilton of Resurrection Church of Leawood has 25,500 likes). The vast majority will never crest 200.

saddlebackAre those using social media and not reaching these relatively large numbers wasting their time?

No–and here’s why.

The name of the game in social media is not high numbers of likes or follows. Social media is not, by its nature, a “church-growth” tool. It is a tool for facilitating discussion and communications among people who live in community.

A recent Pew study drives this point home. According to the study, “users say they … appreciate photos and videos from friends … the ability to share with many people at once. … keeping up with news, or receiving support from the people in one’s network–appeal to a more modest audience of users.”

Did you catch it? It’s sharing information, sharing with friends, and not so much getting news, that drives users on Facebook?

It’s not about the numbers. Consider how small the average number of friends Facebook users have:

 

Pew2

 

So when thinking about your social media “strategy”, remember those guys sweating in the weight rooms this summer to make their high school teams. Maybe 20 of the tens of thousands of high school football players will rise one day to the top and claim millions. Most never will; yet, they’re forever changed for the better by taking part.

It’s about the journey and connections–not the numbers.

Tucker’s Gift

2013-11-28 16.58.43

This article breaks from most we dispense because it offers not so much communications advice, as a reminder of the power of unconditional love. And the wonder of our pets. 

In Memory of Tucker: 2010-2014

“A home without a dog,” read a sign on my boyhood home, “is just a house.”

This past week, our home became a house once again when we lost our beloved beagle, Tucker.

Tucker’s loss will be with our family for years to come. As will the unconditional love he freely gave to us each and every day of his too-short life.

In my own day-to-day work, I will certainly miss Tucker’s presence. He was by my side as I worked, teased me into walks when he sensed I needed breaks, and laid beside me as I wrestled with the complex and challenging communications questions congregations face.

But it was his unconditional love for me and for my family that will be most missed. It’s the love that we as faith-communities strive to provide despite all of our human failings, and too often fail to live up to.

Our pets, however, live up to the demands of unconditional love more often than not.

Take some time today to return your pet’s unconditional love, and to be thankful for the special bond that we have with our animal fellow-travelers through life.

When to Make the Switch

Over the past couple weeks, in both my practice with congregations and with small businesses, I’ve encountered the same question from three very different organizations. Can the switch to online communications be iterative, of do we just make it at one time?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.”

In this blog, I’m going to explore the factors to weigh when a congregation is facing this situation.

Social Media usage

  1. Be clear-eyed about your facts: Nationwide, the move toward social networking sites is unmistakable. In most categories (race, education, income, and urbanity), the percentages of social media adoption are nearly equal.
    Lesson: Despite the cries of some, social media is no passing fad. You will have to make the switch eventually.
  2. Be clear-eyed about your facts (Part 2): While social media adoption is consistent across many categories, in one important area, a yawning gulf remains–age. For people age 18-29 a staggering 90 percent are on some sort of social media. But for those 65 and over, the percentage is still (slightly) below 50 percent.
    Lesson: Look carefully at your demographics. If your congregation is older, pay attention to that fact.
  3. Are You Ready?: The time required to establish and perfect protocols for going to social media as your prime means of contact with your congregation should be carefully considered. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it can be done quickly. In fact, moving to social media will require training in technologies and developing content for your staff, even if they’re experienced with social media. And, moving in this direction will fundamentally change the way you and your staff work together. I will argue for the better, but make no mistake, it is a significant transition.
    Lesson: Don’t gloss over the difficulties involved in making this transition.
  4. Do Your Members Want It?: Listen, the fact is there are some communities that will never be comfortable moving to social media. Smaller churches with older congregations and little new blood coming through the doors can be a difficult sale. We all reach a time in our lives where we’re tired of keeping up with Joneses.
    Lesson: You can’t force change.
  5. Are Your Ready to Teach?: Even if your congregation is ripe for the change, there will need to be clear communication about how things are changing, why they’re changing, and when the changes will occur. Failing to do so will leave even power-users perplexed.
    Lesson: Just because people are savvy about social media, doesn’t mean they’ll understand how social media is being implemented and how you intend to use it. No more that those who love to read paper will understand how to find information if you don’t have pre-set, determined, and known locations for the print publications you now produce.

Have you detected a theme? The onus for any such switch is on the leadership. Not the people in your congregation.

So educate yourself, seek advice on how to understand how social media will affect your workflow, and be prepared to walk patiently beside your community as you take this next step.

Sacred Language Communications is here to help. Questions about making the switch from print to social media? Call (540-498-5994) or write us!