The other day, a friend told me he wanted to start a ministry online. I haven’t been at this long but did learn a few things from the Vietnam adventure, so I told him I’d help him out.
My first question was simple, “Do you have a blog?”
He said, “No, but I’m starting one about this ministry.”
I asked him what his first few posts were going to be about. He said, “I’m going to tell them some statistics about how bad things are in the corner of the world I’m focusing on and then hopefully ask them to support the ministry.”
And that’s when he made the #1 social media mistake we all make. What is it? Simple …
We pretend people online are radically different from people offline.
There’s something weird that happens when writers and ministries and companies and pastors and churches go online. They’ve spent years, sometimes decades, learning how to be a vital, giving part of their real life communities. They’ve done the slow work of building relationships with neighbors and friends, and then they come online and throw all that out the window. They disconnect real life from online life as if the two are that different.
Take my friend. What he was proposing in online terms didn’t seem that crazy. He was going to start a blog about a ministry and then ask people for money. That’s not that big of a deal, but it fails one of the tests I think every website needs to pass. It fails the living room test.
When you’re trying something new in the social media realm, you need to ask yourself or your team or your church, this simple question:
“Would I do this in someone’s living room?”
That sounds dumb maybe, but it’s the kind of question that reframes what you’re doing.
If I asked my friend if he’d ever knock on a stranger’s front door, march inside their living room, tell them a bunch of random facts and then ask them for money without introducing himself, he’d quickly say “no.”
If I asked you if you’d ever mail a complete stranger, who you’d never had a conversation with, a t-shirt with your company’s logo on it and then in a form letter ask her to tell every one of her friends and family members that you’re awesome and can be trusted with their money, would you do that? No, you’d never do that.
But we do that kind of thing all the time. And I think we do, because we forget that people online are a lot like people offline. They want to be treated with respect and compassion and curiosity. They want to be listened to and engaged and befriended. They don’t want to be your “platform.” They don’t want to be a blog traffic statistic. They want to be your friend. But sometimes when we get into an online environment we forget that.
What advice did I give my friend? I told him to introduce himself. I told him to open up his heart to the people he wanted to read his blog. I told him he needed to focus on his story and slowly share that with the hope of one day introducing his ministry to people that had learned to trust him. I told him we didn’t raise $30,000 in 18 hours on Stuff Christians Like. We raised $30,000 in 18 months. That was an exercise of honesty that started with the first word I wrote and the first comment you left. That wasn’t the product of a flash mob community that sprang up out of nowhere. That was a network of friends stepping out.
There are differences certainly. The relationship between online and offline isn’t 1 to 1 all the time, but I promise they are more similar than you think. Next time you start a new blog or a new ministry online or simply write a new post, ask yourself, “Would I do this in someone’s living room?” If you wouldn’t, be careful about thinking you should do the same thing online.
p.s. I’m getting a lot of questions right now from people about blogging and I want to be faithful to sharing the meager lessons I’ve learned which is why I wrote this piece. For more about blog mistakes people make, read what Michael Hyatt wrote. He’s brilliant.