— facebook: A no-win solution if it’s all you use for your online congregation

March 2, 2012 at 8:39 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

facebook has changed, yet again, how its profiles and pages function and appear. This change is perhapse the most dramatic of all previous so-called improvements and its being forced onto users faster than previous ones.

It’s yet another example of the company’s arrogant disregard for 100s of millions of individuals. Its only task master is its bottom line, which increasingly is becoming more of a challenge for it to maintain and grow. Given that it is free, it believes it has cart blanche to do what it needs to hold on to its multi-billion-dollar (unrealized) market valuation.

I know, because what’s happening at facebook is no different that what happened at AOL.  When I was there, two schools of thought on change struggled to co-exist: One: introduce it slowly to help members adjust; two: force 95 million people (25 million paying accounts and 70 million free accounts) to upgrade because it will be better for them. Those advocating the latter justification had a point, but it was also true that AOL would fare much better and return an even greater profit to Time Warner if we forced the change. Here’s what happened: We didn’t force upgrades until the company’s GROWTH (not decline) in revenue streams slowed down — even though we were sending $3 billion annually to Time Warner.

Facebook’s design change has a name: Timeline. You no longer have a profile on facebook. You have a timeline. By definition, a timeline displays what you have done most recently. And what facebook knows is this: Your most recent activities are not about community. They are about how you share “brands.”  A “brand” is now used to describe anything that is an original source of content or anyone who influences thousands of individuals through what he or she shares or recommends.

Actually, facebook has never been about community. It has always given the appearance of being about relationships and connections. Some of its tools enable conversation and discussion. But they don’t really provide the features that enable co-creation of knowledge. The tools focus on sharing, recommending and publishing. What you produce with the tools is data that marketers scrutinize. What you discuss is also data mined. Professionals in the field of Community Management have always known that facebook is really not about community. And since Timeline’s rollout, forums of these professionals have acknowledged it as yet another example of a pure marketing tactic. Sophisticated “influence tools” are used by companies, such as facebook, that specialize in “listening” to you. Note: I didn’t say “hearing” you. 

The purpose of timeline is to focus on the brands you rely on for information, for freebies, for discounts and even for news from friends and family. Timeline turns you into a marketer extraordinaire, nowadays known as “The Citizen Influencer.”  The accolade, “citizen,”  is suppose to sound more empowering to you and also be more  monetizable for the brands. It’s supposed to make us feel like we are participating more; that we are determining what gets made, and how it’s made. 

There are plus sides to this. We, UU and liberal faiths, can evangelize as citizen influencers without sounding like religious fanatics.  However, the cons are considerable because the forces of capitalism are paying for the systems that make Citizen Influencers possible.  It ain’t about true democratic citizenry and beloved humanity. 

And so constant changes in design, functionality, and privacy are done for *marketers and businesses. You might say, “well, duh….”  The question is, how much more will we put up with it? And why should we, a religion of heretics and liberal religious conscience, put up with it? We need to scrutinize, how we as UUs, are practicing online. And we need to try to adopt and promote digital living according to our principles. This is important for so many reasons.

Here’s one reason why: Nearly all UU teens are on facebook. But it’s probably never occurred to them that their digital choices likely reflect racism. A Microsoft Fellow recently released a study on teen racism in social networking. One basic finding: teens used to start their social experience on My Space. But they migrated quickly to facebook. Why? MySpace attracted people of color more than facebook. And as the population and culture in My Space began to reflect this diversity, a white flight occurred, according to the study. I will blog more about the study in an upcoming blog from which you’ll be able to download the report.

Getting back to this blog’s point: facebook increasingly is proving why I created the UUCAVA church social media platform. It’s our primary gathering placing online: We control uucava.org, not facebook. 

facebook is a good distribution channel for us. It brings one-third of the traffic to our pages. And that’s its best function: as a marketing channel. Within the next two weeks, I’ll report on the first two years of our online church’s performance and discuss our traffic sources as well as other data. 

UUCAVA members please note: if you are posting only on facebook about issues we all are concerned about, consider posting on our church site first. Then, click the “f” button on the page your post appears. It’s a little white, lowercase “f” in a blue square. It looks like this: Your item will automatically be posted to your facebook page, which means it will be broadcasted out to everyone who’d normally get your posts as well as to those in our church, who are not regularly looking at facebook. I created a video tutorial on the differences between our platform and facebook. You can watch it here. 

By the Phoenix General Assembly, I will have completed most if not all of the grant work to create a program for a global social network of UUs that can be extended to one and/or all liberal religious faiths — a network created by and for the interests of our principles. Hopefully, if I can get enough interest in it, this network will serve congregations, ministers, individuals, seminarians, and the world of the liberal religious.

When UUA president Peter Morales delivered his “Religion Beyond Belief” sermon, he noted how important our church is to the faith. He noted our size and previous contributions to the association as evidence. UUCAVA member Barbara Johnson, professional videographer and long-time recorder of many aspects of UUism, taped Morales’ sermon. We published it here and then I spread it to the larger net through twitter and facebook. I also asked that the text of the sermon be translated into Spanish so that we and others could offer it to communities where it is the first language. I’m expecting to get the text any day. I’ll post it here and spread it virally as well.

Rev. Morales also knows that our online church has also been very important. What we have done has made  wouldn’t the grant possible. Thank you for your support and trust. 

At a time when we are beginning our searches for new professional leadership, I hope those involved in the search recognize the importance of our social ministry to our congregation and also to UUism in general. I hope that we attract and hire individuals who are prophetic and expect our social ministry to be a fundamental component to their work. I hope we look at folks who have proven this ability in their current ministries. If we do, then we will continue to move our congregation to be one of a religion beyond belief. 

One last comment: This post hasn’t discussed Twitter, another channel that is extraordinarily important for UUism. I will write more about Twitter in the future. Rev. Naomi King, of Plantation Florida, is the best example of a minister (of any faith by the way) who uses twitter and many other digital services to reach individuals – especially LGBTQ. Naomi is one of the only UU ministers practicing entirely online. Rev. Meg Riley, whom many of you know from her previous tenure as the executive director of social justice for the UUA, also is ministering primarily now through the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which has a new online sanctuary, www.QuestforMeaning.org

More to come…..

*Key facebook consumer marketing takeways in an interesting analysis. Download it.

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