Sunday, August 15, 2010

More on the Jew/Mormon thingie - why evangelism alone does not result in a viral message

Yes, another Sunday post in which I get to talk about religion, sort of, in the Empoprise-BI business blog.

The title of the post probably gives some of you an idea of where I'm going with this. On Friday, Erick Schonfeld posted a video in TechCrunch in which Buzzfeed's Jonah Peretti discussed "five rules for how to make things viral." A lot of attention has been paid to Peretti's fifth rule, which TechCrunch summarized as follows:

5. Be A Mormon, Not A Jew. This one is tongue in cheek. But Mormonism is a growing religion, whereas Judaism is stagnating in terms of population. Why? Mormons are better evangelists. ”The problem with Jews is that they suck at marketing,” says Peretti. ”It’s almost like they don’t want anyone else to be a Jew.” His point is that it is not just the quality of an idea that counts, it is how much effort you put into spreading it.

Needless to say, this caught the attention of Jesse Stay. When Stay isn't trying to get his Xbox to work, he has a day job with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in which he is involved with the church's social media efforts. And as a devout Mormon who served as a missionary, Stay has some observations on how Mormon teachings can also teach general marketing principles:

As a Mormon, I served a mission in Thailand when I was 19 (yes, I speak, read, and write fluent Thai, which I was taught in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah for 2 months before I left to Thailand). When I was a missionary I was taught to teach a message, follow up on that message, and “build relationships of trust”. As members of the Church we follow Jesus Christ’s direction to “come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-18 in the New Testament). We love the message we’ve learned, and we feel compelled to share that message. Building relationships is also something we love doing, again, not out of process, but because relationships, to us, are a core of what we believe in.

However, an evangelistic outlook is not enough to create a viral sensation. Stay certainly acknowledges this:

Peretti’s statement is true, but it’s not at all because we teach “marketing” by process – it’s because as Mormons we’ve got a great message to share.

Now I don't want to get into a debate on the value of the Mormon message - for the record, I am neither Jew nor Mormon - but even a complete secularist cannot deny that the Mormon message is attractive to millions of people. If you started a religion which promoted celibacy for all, human sacrifice, and a fanatical devotion to the Dallas Cowboys, no amount of evangelism is going to make that religion popular.

But even a thirst for evangelism and a good message are not enough. You also need tools to spread the message. Stay's post lists the online tools that the LDS church uses to spread its word, and Stay doesn't even talk about the more traditional media that the church uses.

Anyone who has looked at religion in the United States in the 20th century realizes how important radio was to a number of religious bodies. While I have a soft spot in my heart for the nearly 80-year history of The Lutheran Hour, there are numerous religious leaders who used the radio as a tool to evangelize, including Aimee Semple McPherson, Herbert W. Armstrong, Fulton Sheen, and others.

When considering the importance of a tool, perhaps a Mormon-Jew comparison is not appropriate, but a Mormon-Amish comparison is. Let's face it - even if the Amish were inclined to evangelize, their very beliefs which preclude the use of modern technology would make it very difficult for them to evangelize on any large scale. As it turns out, Amish views on evangelism and technology are inter-related:

The Amish feel that Gelassenheit should permeate every facet of their existence, and even be apparent in their material possessions. Consequently, they will only selectively use modern technologies. As seen in the symbols of Gelassenheit, the Amish believe that using lanterns and the buggies typifies their lifestyle of simplicity and modesty. Any technology that does not uphold the Gelassenheit principles is banned from use. Electricity is seen as a connection with the outside world and violates the Amish principle of separation from society. Electricity also promotes the use of household items, such as the television, that allow the outside, "English," values of sloth, luxury, and vanity to infiltrate the household. Automobiles are not often used because they degrade the Gelassenheit principle of a small, close-knit community. The Amish fear, with good reason, that these modern transportation technologies will cause them to spread apart, much like most modern American families. Also, the Amish fear that the automobile will promote competition among themselves. They worry that the car will become a status symbol and promote vanity, which is in direct violation of the Gelassenheit value of modesty. The telephone is banned from the household because, much like the automobile, it promotes a separation of community. Instead of taking a carriage or walking to a friend's house, the Amish feel that they would be tempted to simply stay home and speak on the phone. In order to uphold Gelassenheit, many modern technologies have been banned from regular use.

So if I may paraphrase, the Amish haven't established a Facebook page (this page was not created by Amish people) because this would, in their view, not only diminish the value of direct contact between people, but would also expose them to the negative, sinful influences of the outside world. Do you think that A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz has a negative view of Farmville? Imagine how the Amish feel about it.

So in summary, the essential things for a viral campaign include:

  • an evangelistic attitude

  • a high-quality message

  • one or more tools to spread the message

Without a high-quality message and some tools, no evangelist is ever going to get a message out.
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