Even a new pastor is quick to learn that congregational business often doesn’t end after the closing prayer. The conversation just moves to the parking lot. So it should not surprise us when Li and Bernoff warn that “your company’s customers are talking about your brand right now on MySpace, probably in ways you haven’t approved.” (8) Yet, given the rapid growth of social networking and the internet, its easy to miss the fact that the conversation has moved from the parking lot to cyberspace. It may not have worried us a few years ago as people sent emails to one another praising or panning the Church of the Brethren, it should give us pause today. Now, given the public nature of social media and the ability to disseminate opinion and resources so publicly, we must account for this new wave of interaction.
So then, what are we facing in this second generation of the internet, Web 2.0. Li and Bernoff are pretty clear that “power” or energy in this new digital age is at the bottom, at the grassroots. They have coined the term “Groundswell” to help make this new life visible. Groundswell, in their parlance, is “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” (9) Note that the phenomenon is not about advertising or brand management, but rather utility. People locate, download, and use the content of the internet for their own purposes to serve their own needs. No amount of advertising can sway such use. Think of Facebook. How many billboards or commercials have you seen for Facebook in the last week?
As good Brethren we probably bristle a bit at all the business lingo involved in this conversation. Brand, image management are all words and concepts with speak of commerce and seem not to be translatable to Church-speak. Yet, if we look closer, I think we can see that these very concepts have impacted our way of understanding the denomination. Though we avoid the ideas of persuasion, it seems to me that we do have a kind of trickle down perspective to our work. We produce and distribute resources for consumption by our constituents, much as our corporate counterparts do in the secular market place.
It is striking to me that despite the commerce jargon, the Groundwell perspective is more akin to our relational theology. This is clear when as Li and Bernoff note that it is more important to “concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” (18) In other words, its not about Facebook or Convio, but what those platforms can do for the higher strategy of building relationships, relationships between CoB membership themselves and between the members and ourselves as denominational ministers. A technology or platform is not judged by its corporate payoffs, but by its utility in building relationships. “If it’s designed well, people will use it. They’ll tell their friends to use it. They’ll conduct commerce, or read the news, or start a popular movement, or make loans to each other, or whatever the site is designed to facilitate.” (13)
So then, how are we understand the uses of our technologies? In other words, what are people doing in the Groundswell? In chapter 2 we finally get a view on what is happening in the grassroots of the internet. In essence people are creating content, connecting and collaborating with others, reacting to and organizing other media. We must ask if the platform enable connections, effortless to sign up, shift power to people, community contribute content to sustain it, is it open to invite partnership. (36-37)
Questions for our consideration:
What are your initial reactions to this way of understanding social networking?
What struck you as you read these first two chapters?
Are there some notes of caution to keep in mind?
What would have to change in the way you as a denominational minister interact with social media given the Groundswell perspective?