Friday, January 11, 2013

Media Meets Religion - Day 5

We started today with two speakers and the pace was a bit slowed because one of the speakers originally scheduled couldn't make it. Elder Fred Kinsey has a long history working in media, he got his start as a rock DJ and made a deal with God that he would go to Seminary but if it didn't work out God would leave him alone. It turns out that it did work out and Fred has been working in the church and communications for quite a while. Fred gave us a great quote: "We are in a world that is so connected that it is disconnected." That's a very cogent thought and reflects on how our relationships have changed with the advent of new technologies that are supposed to make us more connected to each other. In some ways we are more like a small village since we know what everyone is up to but in some ways all of that knowing is leading us to be more selective about the things we talk about online.

Next we heard from The Reverend Kellie Anderson-Picallo from Auburn Media. Kellie is part of an interesting project that is trying to make religious professionals more media savvy. Kellie took us back to day two with her reminder that we need to be very aware of our personal brand and how we present ourselves online. This was a good reminder at the end of the week that has been very busy and focused on learning so many things that it's easy to forget about ourselves.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Media Meets Religion Day 4 - Mixed bag

Today was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The speakers were again excellent but my energy is flagging. There's only one day of class left but I don't have rest to look forward to since I'm getting on a plane early Saturday morning for New Orleans and a week of service with college students. I always look forward to the Dickinson trips but this two weeks is going to be grueling for me.

I took the time today to send some tweets while we were speaking with people. It occurred to me that I had been announcing who we were speaking to, but I never really shared anything that we learned on Twitter, so I made an effort to find the people and then share a quote from them that I found thought provoking. The first thought that I shared was from Ash Greyson when he spoke about the roads built by the Romans. They built them for trade and kept them secure, but the early Christians used them for evangelism. He urged us to think about the social media tools that exist in the world today as the new roads that we can use to spread our word.

Our next speaker was Pastor Elise Brown from Advent Lutheran Church in Manhattan. I was honestly too engrossed with the conversation with Elise to even tweet that we were talking with her. She was willing to share the details of her church re-branding efforts with us (something I'm wondering if even members of her congregation have seen). I have been a part of the logo design process for both professional and personal organizations and it's always interesting for me to see the formation of an identity take place. Tristan offered some very good insight into the process as well and really got to highlight his background in the arts.

The next speaker was Frankie Fredericks, a very accomplished young man. He had a lot of what I would call "big ideas" to share that took us back to thinking about bigger picture things and I think he might have been a better fit for an earlier class session. The pearl of wisdom I took from Fankie was that technology is a how that answers a bigger why. This fits in with how I view technology but Frankie puts it very well.

Next up was Paul Edison-Swift from the ELCA. Paul went beyond the Click 2 Save book and talked about some of the places where he saw gaps. Paul's talk was informative but coming where it did at a low energy point of the day it was difficult to process it all. I'm glad he setup some web resources for us to look at so that I can go back to them later.

The last speaker of the day was the Rev. Peter Panagore from Daily Devotions. Peter talked about how they use social ministry to achieve saturation in the market of their videos. He puts a lot of work into making sure they are posted to seven different networks although he said it only takes him about twenty minutes every day to get it done. I shared a quote from Peter: "Social media is a beast you need to feed." Peter was referring to the fact that if you don't pay attention to social media every day you'll lose your following and then all of the work you did in the first place will have to be repeated.

Media and Religion Day 3 - Crisis, Ethics and Getting Noticed

I keep trying to think of synonyms for interesting, because I feel like I have used that word too often here in the past few days. The class has already been more than I expected in several ways. The speakers we have had so far in addition to the expertise brought by Mat and Eric has really added to the course.

Neva Rae Fox works in the Public Affairs Office for the Episcopal Church of America. Yesterday provided a perfect developing case study for us because the news was breaking that the National Cathedral just announced that they would be using the new provisional rights for blessing same sex unions. This was huge news for the Episcopal Church and Neva Rae gave us lots of information about how to keep up with the news in a "crisis" situation. One of the important learnings we all had from her talk was that we don't have to work in this type of situation alone. Neva Rae herself doesn't use Twitter and relies on another person in the staff for that work. She also spoke to not needing to respond to every thing that's out there, especially those that are known to be hostile to your cause. It's sometimes important to let someone else respond first and give yourself a moment to calm down and think through the situation.

Neva Rae had prepared several case studies for us to work through and reflect on. They included handling requests by the media to attend a funeral, dealing with a congregant that is charged with a crime, and having a dignitary attend a dedication for a new church ministry. These were helpful exercises to work through with someone that has been dealing with public relations and crises like Neva Rae.

In the afternoon we spoke with John Brooks from North Park University in Chicago. John is their Director of News and he had extensive experience as a news director and was able to share many techniques that he has used successfully to get his institution noticed by mass media outlets. One thing that struck me was his emphasis on the importance of relationships. John seems to put a lot of time into building relationships with reporters in the area where he is working. In today's age where there aren't as many dedicated religion reporters it takes more effort to become noticed, but by making sure that the local reporters know who John is, they are more likely to be receptive to the stories he sends their way. John is also very selective about sending stories to reporters and puts an emphasis on local stories of interest. By local he also looks for news outlets that aren't geographically local to him but have a connection somehow to the story. For instance, a story about a student will be sent to the hometown paper of that student. While many of the things John spoke to were more applicable to a large institution it was valuable advice on dealing with the media even for a local congregation.

In the afternoon we had some time to compose some tweets and I had asked on twitter whether "No website is better than bad website" is true or false. I haven't received a ton of feedback but one insight was related to how we are defining bad. If bad is incorrect then that is a definite problem. One commenter (@syre) noted that if the website had incorrect information that is more damaging. A very simple website with just the basics like time of worship is better than no website.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Other Media Meets Religion Bloggers

For those interested in others in the When 21st Century Media Meets Religion class, here's a list of their blogs. Some of the members are still new to blogging, so the blog titles are a little messy:

Media Meets Religion Day 2 - Branding and Language

Day two was great for me. Not only did I survive through most of the day without any coughing fits but the discussion was excellent, too!

We started off the day talking about branding and what that means. Parts of this discussion got pretty personal since we were talking about our personal brand. Mat asked who among us had given thought to our personal brands and then asked me specifically. I'm wondering if that was partially influenced by our brief conversation the previous night about my political aspirations but it might have just been the attentive look I had on my face (I think that's how I looked, at least). Since I am interested in pursuing a career in politics I have given quite a bit of thought to my personal brand. I shared some of the things that have gone into that thought process and also the struggles that this had led me to.

The discussion morphed into the possible clash between our individual brands and our corporate brands that we might represent. The entire class was very engaged in trying to sort out the ramifications of what we were talking about and topics ranged widely from theologies to praxis and all sorts of things. In the end I found the entire discussion to be very helpful, especially once we were assigned the task to start developing and writing down our personal brand. I found myself going back to this document throughout the day and adding things as I thought of new aspects about myself that I wanted to be included in how others perceive Chuck Steel.

The bulk of the afternoon was spent speaking with Verity Jones who is the Director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary and also the Director of the New Media Project now at CTS (formerly Union). Her brief lecture provided a lot of points and one of the most salient for me was concerning the language used on Facebook pages. Because it is a social network churches should be sure to use welcoming language when posting on a page, rather than treating it like an advertisement of old. For instance, instead of saying "Bake Sale on Saturday. Volunteers Needed" a much better tone would be "We're having a bake sale this Saturday and would love to see you there. Let us know if you can help out."

This focus on language has been a theme in my learnings when studying theology. Often times the language we use plays a key role in how we think about a subject, and this language will cast overtones on how we interact and relate to the thing we're describing in ways that we may not fully understand at first. This also goes back to some of the things we said yesterday about being very intentional with how we are using social media.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Day 1 Recap

Today was a long day, both in class and then afterwards for me, at least. First off, I actually woke up feeling pretty well this morning which was a minor miracle considering how I felt going to bed last night. I think that Barbara Bradley Hagerty was right when she said in Fingerprints of God that modern medicine is like a miracle.

Anyway, I'm supposed to be talking about the class, so I'll get on with it. We spent a lot of time today getting to know one another and the course instructors, Eric Shafer and Matt Tombers. They both have a lot of experience in the area of media and religion but their backgrounds are different enough that I think they will complement each other very well throughout the week. The morning was wrapped up with looking at an article on the Simply Zesty site showing some interesting trends and metrics on social media. I think that one of the more interesting statements for me was the following: "Auto-posting to Facebook decreases likes and comments by 70%". This prompted some discussion of some of the things Michael Hyatt said in his book Platform with regards to twitter. He mentioned having a set of links periodically tweeted to his account on a rotating basis based on a schedule and it seemed to me that I would find this rather annoying. I know that the volume of tweets on twitter is large enough that I don't see everything that is posted but I got the impression that these links would appear with enough frequency that I'd remember them.

Our afternoon session began with a very good talk by Dr. Scott Thumma from Hartford Seminary. Dr. Thumma studies the sociology of religion and he shared some very interesting statistics regarding growth (and decline) trends of churches over the past several decades. It was also intriguing to see towards the end that using technology in the church doesn't guarantee that membership will increase. This further emphasizes the point that we must be deliberate and intentional about how we use technology. Just as "no website is better than a bad website" it's also important to remember that any use of technology and media needs to be matched to the needs of the congregation at hand.

The rest of the afternoon was spent creating blogs and twitter accounts for everyone in the class. This led to some confusion which I think could have been alleviated if some of the terms were discussed prior to having everyone go through the process. It might have been helpful if Eric went through the process on the classroom computer and everyone else followed along while he created his Wordpress account and blog. As it was we had different people progress through the process at different rates and that led to more confusion in a few instances. I also might have reversed the order that we setup our accounts so that everyone could have posted their blog URL to twitter, making it easy for everyone else to click on the link and get to the sites to follow it from there.

All in all it was a good beginning to the week and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

When 21st Century Media Meets Religion

I'm taking a course at LTSG called When 21st Century Media Meets Religion and we will be blogging for class. This is my first post related to this class and there should be a few more to follow.