Social Media as Religion

One of the most fun parts of Untech10 was the end of the day tweetaway session. Everyone was asked to capture their top takeaway from the day in 140 characters or less. Mine was:

“socmed doesn’t have rules – it has religions – need 2 provide diff spaces 4 devotees of diff sects (inc agnostics)”

This is nearly a direct quote (shortened for Twitter) of a statement made during the opening “fishbowl” session. It struck me as a really profound observation.

I’m not going to try to get too clever with this borrowed analogy, but while those of us who are involved in social media tend to operate in more than one space, I’d bet that most of us have a home platform that is our primary social media outlet. It’s the one that’s always open when your computer’s on and is the first thing you check – the first app you installed on your smartphone – the one people accuse you of being “addicted” to. And, much like different religions and denominations, they each have their own rules, norms, and ways of interacting.

In some ways, this is just another way of expressing the “LinkedIn is the business meeting, Facebook is the hallway conversation, Twitter is the cocktail party” concept so many of us are familiar with. Except there is a certain level of dogmatism attached to the platforms – not only is my favorite one my favorite one, it’s also the RIGHT one to be using for X, Y, and Z reasons.

So if you’re a LinkedInian, it’s the RIGHT one because Twitter’s ratio of signal to noise is too low and Facebook is too silly (Farmville overload, anyone?). Likewise, if you’re a Tweep, it’s the RIGHT one because you can pay attention to anyone you want to unlike Facebook that requires them to follow you back, and because it’s concise, immediate and engaging, unlike the LinkedIn business rolodex and resume focus. And on and on.

But much like with religion, the audience you’re trying to engage is likely to be a mix of different faiths. And you don’t have the option of just not talking about it in polite company.

So what do you do?

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that there are agnostics/atheists in the Church of Social Media. Which means you have to maintain traditional ways of engaging, communicating, and marketing in addition to playing with all your shiny new socmed toys.

Secondly, you need to know your audience. What socmed faith do they pledge? And what does that say about how they want to engage with you and each other and what they’re looking for out of their interactions?

Third, remember that religion inspires passion. What are you doing to tap into the passion of your community and enable them to express it? Who are your proselytizers?

Finally, don’t confuse your own role. You’re not an evangelist for a particular faith – you’re a professor of comparative religion. Your task is to help your congregants understand the options available to them and see the core truth in all: these tools exist to help us find new ways of connecting with each other. (But I won’t make you sing Kumbaya.)

One thought on “Social Media as Religion”

  • Great post. Now I have a title for myself that doesn't make me sound like a goober (social media guru, anyone) — Professor of Comparative Religions.

    Seriously, though, it is important to realize social media doesn't stand alone in marketing strategy. We as association executives need use all the tools available to us to spread our message.

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