Religion is one of the oldest pursuits of mankind while blogging has only been around since the advent of the Internet. Just as social media permeates every aspect of a business over time, it has the the potential to do so over many parts of our daily life. Upon the introduction of, Michael Myers, an SEO guru who started out in his profession by helping his church hit the top of Google search results for their niche, I had the opportunity to interview someone who is considered a global expert on the relationship between social media and religion, Brandon Vogt. Brandon is the author of the recently released “The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts,Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet,” and in May, 2010 he was actually invited by the Vatican to dialogue with Church officials on the topic.
Even if you are not Catholic nor religious, I think we can all learn a lot about social media through Brandon’s teachings. It is with this intent, of finding a unique perspective to help us all understand the depth of social media, that I embarked on this interview.
Q1. Brandon, you were already a Catholic blogger, but with your new book out you are now a Catholic author! Can you describe to the average person the role blogging has made in your religious activities and why others should use it as part of their religious practice? Or is Catholic blogging only for a small subset of religious Catholics?
Blogging is one of the most powerful communication tools the world has ever seen. No other medium creates such immediate, instant conversation about important topics, and few others connect such different groups of people. Look at any comment box and chances are you’ll see a panoply of characters: angry teenagers, joyous mothers, radical socialists, immature zealots, and more. Where else would you ever see these people gather if not in the comboxes?
For Catholicism this is huge. Blogging allows a probing skeptic who would never darken the doors of a church to stumble into a conversation with a priest. Bloggers help expose false caricatures many people have of Catholicism, instead revealing the radiance, brilliance, beauty, and texture of the Church. And in terms of displaying the humanity of an often distant institution, few tools are better.
Blogging has also been a useful spiritual discipline for me. It’s helped me refine and untangle many thoughts while connecting me with people much wiser than I. Where else could I instantly bounce ideas off of theologians, scholars, scientists, friends, family, and even my local priest?
So while, of course, blogging carries some negative baggage, its potency can’t be neglected. I don’t think blogging is only for a subset of Catholics anymore than a mouse is only for a subset of computer users. And I’m not alone in that. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI issued a rousing call for all Catholics to gird their keyboards and engage the so called ‘digital continent’, using all the modern tools to “cast wide our nets.” If an 84-year old Pope can see the value in blogging, all Catholics should.
Q2. Your new book, The Church and New Media, is about the unique convergence of old traditions and new technology. Who is the intended reader of the book? Can you give us a short summary as to what the book is about?
Simply put, The Church and New Media helps Christians use new media both effectively and faithfully. More specifically, readers learn how Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, and text-messaging can be used to connect with non-Christians, form the Church’s faithful, build deep community, and change the world. Covering both the benefits and dangers of these tools, the book is both practical and theoretical. We explore not only how to use these tools but how they are shaping the religious landscape around us.
And as every good, first-time author should boldly proclaim, “my book is for everyone!” But in this case, the book does appeal to every Christian demographic–professed technophiles, Christ-following Luddites, inquisitive leaders, and even those looking for a “Facebook” at their local Barnes and Noble. The books’ contributors are just as diverse as its intended audience. More than a dozen Catholics have a chapter including tech-savvy priests, stay-at-home moms, full-time bloggers, Internet activists, Catholic bishops, and even me, a full-time mechanical engineer. Because it’s both intelligent and approachable, it doesn’t matter whether you know 47 different coding languages or have no idea what a “tweet” is–you’ll learn a lot from The Church and New Media.
Q3. How does the advice in your book transcend religion and be potentially applicable for any professional or business?
The Church and New Media shows how these tools can further the mission of the Catholic Church. But every business, every professional, every author, and every creator has a mission they’re trying to push. So in that sense, the book’s advice is applicable everywhere. How can you plunge your message into the global conversation? How can you link up with people who are currently disconnected? How can you use new media to change hearts, build movements, and rally support for a world-changing cause? All these questions transcend religion and therefore the answers are applicable everywhere.
Ultimately, the best social media experts realize that this digital revolution is grounded on relationship. That to build love for your brand, product, or movement, necessitates a focus on intentional connections. That’s what the Church does. And that’s what this book helps everyone to do.
Q4. If you were to name a few blogs or Twitter users who you consider to be authoritative on the topic of social media and religion, who would they be and why?
Some of my favorite experts include Matthew Warner, Fr. Robert Barron, Angela Santana, Lisa Hendey, and Tim Challies. But I’ll also point readers to the resources page on the book’s website for more on religion and social media. And finally, if his brilliant messages and iPad forays are any kind of sign, Pope Benedict XVI is increasingly becoming a global authority on faith and social media.
(end of interview)
If global religions represent some of the biggest “brands” and communities on earth, those of us involved in social media as part of our profession can learn a lot from experts in how religion uses social media.
Do you use social media as part of your religious practice? Any takeaways here that you can use for your business?