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Facebook’s ‘gentle rain’

The questioner on LinkedIn was asking whether Facebook could be an effective tool for proclaiming the Gospel. The first responses dealt with techniques of using Facebook.


It dawned on me that the issue isn’t mastering Facebook methodology, but getting beyond our tendency toward linear thinking and linear processes, and moving toward the cloud-like, unpredictable and chaotic.


Here’s what I mean:


In linear thinking, faithful people (individuals, a faith community, an evangelism team) want to proclaim a message. They hone the message. They study potential recipients. They assess what proclamation methods can reach that desired audience. They proclaim. They expect to see a discernible response. In time, some recipients take the message to heart, seek to engage with the proclaimer, and enter into the faith community.


The key points of linear thinking are cause and effect: you cause something to happen, it has an effect. And metrics: you can measure effort expended, response received, affiliations attained.


None of that happens in Facebook. I see people trying to make it happen — most commercial marketers are still trying a linear way — but I don’t think Facebook rewards such efforts.


Facebook is more like standing in a gentle rain. In time, you get wet. One person, many drops.


It seems to work like this:


Let’s say a Facebook regular has 500 “friends.” (I think the current average is around 250.) That means 500 potential sources of rain, some dripping several times a day, some rarely. Let’s say that 100 of these 500 post at least daily, and each posts twice. On any given day, therefore, 200 drops of rain could reach the Facebook user if they checked every message (which they don’t).


You can try to turn those encounters linear by directing specific messages to specific recipients. But I don’t think Facebook is the right venue for dialog. Email is better. Or you can ask people to “like” a branded page or an event, which seems to have little impact.

Instead, imagine a Facebook user opening the application and scanning down their newsfeed. Their eye is caught by photos and by headlines. In time they begin to recognize people who have something to say, and they pause a bit on their posts. If those posts give away content, rather than argue or sell, the user opens a link and reads.


Then the user reads on before engaging any further with the content just read. This can be maddening to the content provider, but that’s the way people behave on Facebook. No one “raindrop” carries much impact.


The message emerges over time, as themes, snippets of thought, images, even stray words begin to resonate. You can see why linear thinkers find Facebook so vexing. Or why some major corporate advertisers are giving up on Facebook.


Your best strategy is this:

  • Be aggressive in adding friends. Think of it as a mission field, not a close-friendship circle.

  • Be yourself and be consistent in what you post. You are communicating a “brand” — your brand, not denomination or congregation.

  • Focus on a few topics, maybe just one, and address it as a person of faith.