You may or may not know that our church has been running some social media campaigns during the lock down months. We have tried to offer a range of videos either telling the stories of members who have come to faith, apologetic videos answering common questions or ‘opportunity’ videos, like our one related to Halloween. You can see most of the videos here on our YouTube channel.
But it bears saying what, if anything, we have learnt from our social media campaign. What are some of the positives and negatives? Are there things that have been more or less useful? What have we found out from doing it? Here, in no particular order, are some things.
I think we mentioned this on one of our recent (or upcoming) podcasts. The reach we have gotten for relatively little outlay has been incredible. We have reached literally tens of thousands of people through our videos, with thousands watching a significant portion, hundreds watching the whole things and many commenting. There is a clear scale: the level of engagement is inverse to the number of people engaging.
But, nonetheless, compare this to the amount of money and level of reach we might get creating some flyers. If we handed these out around our local area, we might have reached a few thousand people and the level of engagement is necessarily limited by the medium. We would never have reached the thousands of people we have, for considerably less cost that producing flyers, using the online videos. The reach has been fantastic and the level of engagement has been valuable.
The double-edged sword of engagement
The fact is, whenever you put something publicly on the internet, you will draw a range of responses. For every ‘like’ or apparently supportive comment, you may get several negative and unpleasant ones. This is the nature of the beast. If you are going to engage in this sort of campaign, you need to prepare yourself for some ardent, and quite unpleasant, engagement from certain quarters.
Memes bear more weight for people than they should
Amongst the negative engagement, it became quite clear that some of the comments were simply drawn from memes. It continually amazed me how many aggressive Atheists insisted that they had ‘higher IQ’ or were not ‘so easily led’ whilst clearly drawing – if not directly posting – all of their arguments from memes they found on the internet.
Of course, there are plenty of thoughtful and reasonable Atheists out there. I know because I’ve met them and chatted with them. But sadly, many of those who engage on the internet make spurious claims, based on not much and seem to provide little more than memes to back up their case. Whilst I know that many do draw their support from things they find on the internet, I was surprised by just how brazen quoting specious sources is – often directly showing them as if a meme is case made and proven – and with what a frequency this seemed to happen.
It was similarly interesting to see just how many seemed viscerally angry at a God they didn’t seem to believe in. It is – as David Robertson has elsewhere noted – the two tenets of Fundamentalist Atheism coming to the fore: 1. there is no God and 2. I hate him. There seemed to be a total lack of awareness that these things belie consistency.
Loud voices don’t speak for everyone
We can sometimes hear these loud and aggressive voices and assume that ‘the culture’ or ‘everyone’ thinks the same way. But, of course, not everybody does and nor does ‘the culture’ necessarily. Whilst some have publicly commented to suggest that they are far more interested in what is in those videos than the aggressors, stating overtly that they think differently, we shouldn’t forget that the tens of thousands of people who have come across the videos haven’t felt the need to aggressively attack them either. They may sympathise with the aggressive comments, they may sympathise with the video or they may be indifferent. In the end, it is impossible to interpret silence. But we do know that they haven’t felt compelled to aggressively and unpleasant comment on them, suggesting they minimally disapprove of the approach. Not everybody is an aggressor who is unwilling to engage and we shouldn’t allow those with loud mouths and itchy fingers allow us to form the false impression that everybody is utterly against, or aggressively anti, these things. That doesn’t seem to be borne out in reality.
How we respond is almost as key as what we say
It is certainly true that content is important. Nobody should listen to us if our case is total nonsense. We want people to engage with the arguments and the positions being put. Our content does have to be credible to get a hearing.
But it is also true that a lot of people will see how we engage with comments too. Regardless of one’s sympathies, when the responses of aggressive Fundamentalist Atheists are set alongside those from the church account, people will see the fruit of our respective beliefs and will begin to join some dots. They may or may not be swayed entirely by the content – such is life – but they may just see the two sets of comments side by side and draw conclusions as to which belief leads to the more pleasant, reasonable people. Sometimes, people will draw conclusions based on the fruit of belief, as much as for its specific content. That has real gospel value.
Engagement has extended reach
Interestingly, even those who dislike the videos and aggressively tell us so (which is, of course, their prerogative) have helped to extend our reach. Every comment makes the video more widely seen by that person’s contacts. Just as hecklers in the open air inevitably draw a larger crowd, serving what we’re doing more than detracting from it, so those writing even unpleasant comments spread the videos to a wider audience too.
But beyond the comments, we’ve had a steady stream of visitors and engagement throughout the restricted period of meeting. People have ‘found us’ on the internet, phoned us or come down to services. Whilst almost none of these were directly driven by the video campaigns, it is almost certainly true that our visibility when they were looking for a church was much better as a result of those videos. Many may not have realised it, but we were probably much easier to find because of the presence of those videos and the clicks we have been getting on them.
So, there are a bunch of random thoughts on our video campaign. We have put a bit of money behind it – but not a vast amount – and we have been largely impressed by the results.