Hello there. You probably don’t know me, and we have almost certainly never met. From the outset, I have an agenda: to keep you interested enough to read through to the end and to make you think. How successful I will be may well be decided by the time you finish reading this sentence.
Because first impressions are really important. The reason this is of interest to me at this moment is that the Ship of Fools website sent one of their reviewers to my church. There is always much discussion in the church about how we can be welcoming to newcomers. Often, such discussions are led and dominated by extroverts whose ideas are shaped around welcoming other extroverts. Newcomers have a welcome pack shoved into their hands and are “encouraged” to sit next to one of the regulars. Introverts like myself often feel bombarded, preferring a gentler welcome, though these voices, no matter how common, are rarely heard.
Having been a part of that particular church for some years, I see things from a different angle from others. There are those who have spent their whole lives in one church or another and there are those for whom our church is the first they have ever set foot in. How can we be all things to all people (1 Cor 9:19-23), welcoming newcomers from every conceivable background whilst also providing a stable church environment in which the whole church can grow and mature?
But this need not be restricted to the local churches we attend week by week. The digital churches we are part have no lesser a need to balance welcoming inclusivity with challenging and encouraging attitudes to build one another up.
So how do others view our social media output? If you read my Facebook updates, my tweets, my blog, my comments on various user-generated websites, what sort of impression will you get? Am I full of platitudes? Am I dogmatic in my assertions? Do I ask too many rhetorical questions within a single paragraph?
First impressions are vital to forming links for future interaction. We see this in nature with the need for mammals to suckle from their mothers within the first few hours of being born. If this doesn’t happen, the mother sometimes rejects the baby and it soon dies afterwards.
But social media can be so very easy to ignore. If you find a new blog, how long will you spend reading before deciding whether or not to bookmark it? If you walk into a church, you are (usually) committing yourself to stay for the service. The same doesn’t apply in the digital realm; with an abundance of blogs that can be read at the touch of a few buttons, you may well have only a few seconds to capture your audience. Having an interesting title helps, as does the design, but how much thought do we put into welcoming new readers who may not share our views or who may know very little about Christianity?
There is a balance to be struck between being welcoming and merely advertising our views. Yes, I would like to be heard. But if I am to do to others what I would have them do to me, then I also have to listen. If social media is used as a megaphone, then people will generally ignore you.
If you want to engage people, what do you do to try and entice people? How can you make yourself digitally irresistible without coming across as though numbers of readers/commenters/followers are all that are important to you?