How to Connect the Disconnected

Mena says social media can help religious stations reach out
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Christian broadcasters have a tendency to talk to the faithful, says Emmis Interactive Co-President Rey Mena.

“Yet it is those who have become ‘disconnected’ from their faith that these broadcasters need to reach. And social media sites such as Facebook provide an effective way to do so.”

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Rey Mena. ‘For Christian broadcasters these folks represent the low-hanging fruit to growing their ministries.’ Mena spoke on this topic at the recent National Religious Broadcasters convention. The methodology he described was applied to a religious context, but the thinking behind it can be extended to all types of “disconnected” groups.

“Sometimes people find themselves disconnected from their faith not by a deliberate choice they made to disconnect but by a gradual drifting away from their faith over time,” he said.

“For Christian broadcasters these folks represent the low-hanging fruit to growing their ministries.”

Implicit endorsement

Today, millions of people post comments and links on Facebook to websites, articles and videos that they find personally interesting. In turn, “friends” with whom they are connected are alerted to these postings. Because they have some degree of common interests, such people are thus motivated to take a look at whatever has been posted.

“Posting something to Facebook is akin to giving it an implicit endorsement,” Mena says. “By putting it on your page, you are bringing it to the attention of your friends and saying, ‘Hey, this is worth your attention. I sure liked it or find it important enough to share.

“Therefore, Facebook provides Christian broadcasters with an amazing vehicle to empower their faithful to help reach the disconnected.”

Subtlety

In theory, a church with an evangelical bent could ask its members to start posting overtly Christian content to their Facebook pages. Based on the notion of implicit endorsement, the friends of these people would then click on these links, and the message would thus be delivered to everyone, religious-minded or not.

In practice, such a bold-faced approach to evangelizing can backfire on churches or religious broadcasters, leaving them once again preaching to the faithful while alienating others.

Rey Mena’s solution to this age-old problem is subtlety.

“Rather than sending out a straightforward Christian message from beginning to end, it makes sense to develop content that is interesting and that has room for an appropriate Christian tie-in at the very end,” he advises.

“In this way, the disconnected will not become immediately put off, and remain open to what is being shared. And given that they do have Christian roots, they will be more open to reflecting upon the message sent and what it could awaken in them.”

Though Mena didn’t draw the analogy, the success of this approach might be seen on television in low-key TV ads from the Mormon Church that focus on widely-shared values. These close simply by saying who sponsored the content. The ads illustrate that disconnected audiences respond better if the evangelical message is not front-loaded. Had the spots been formatted to open with the words “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints wants you to know that ...”, their appeal to a wide audience would have been limited.

The broader context

Rey Mena’s point at NRB 2011 was to show Christian broadcasters new ways to reach a wider audience, by the subtle use of social media. But the message he delivered has larger implications.

By focusing on themes with broad appeal — amusing content, sports spectaculars or just cute kittens doing adorable things — content providers can win over broad segments of the population. Having done so, any message attached to this content is more likely to get a favorable reception — or, at least, a reaction that is not as dismissive and hostile.

Having made this point, Mena warns broadcasters not to forget that contact via “social” media must be treated differently than traditional “business” interactions.

“People are posting content to their personal Facebook pages,” he said. “This means that you can’t go after them as if you were approaching a business client. Keep the content personal and low-key — and make sure that it offers the primary value of entertainment first. That’s why people post items to share with their friends, after all.”

Exponential

According to Facebook, the average number of friends per user is 130, though granted, this number varies from person to person; some only have a few, others have amassed thousands.

But every time someone posts content to their Facebook page, the opportunity for it to be seen and then disseminated by other people is literally exponential.

“For Christian broadcasters, and indeed anyone wanting to get a message out, the possibility for reaching the disconnected through social media is huge,” Mena concludes. “So again, if you want to reach the disconnected, take a good, long look at social media — and then develop subtle content that will have the broad appeal necessary to do the job.”

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