The Burma Shave Imperative

by vernsanders on February 18, 2011

I’m in the middle of a series of updates about social media and ministry…

The backstory is this…

In April, 2009, my friend Doug Lawrence convinced me–not a social butterfly–to join Facebook. From time to time I’ve updated my progress (here, here, here, and here, for instance), and this month I’m looking at social media (SM) and ministry again…

Social media has only intensified modern culture’s short attention span. Thanks to twitter, SM has altered our human interaction so that communicating within a 140 character restraint has now passed from being a curiosity to being something of a standard. Along the way, the people who have become most successful using twitter (aside from celebrities with a built-in following, and people who use software programs to accumulate large numbers of followers) are those who are comfortable, or who have learned to, write “billboard” copy. Twitter, in many ways, is the online equivalent to the Burma Shave signs that once dotted the highways of America.

The trick to this is to think in headlines, which for many is not natural. With a little practice, however, it comes easier…and practice is part of the aesthetic of twitter. If you are looking for specific examples, just read your morning newspaper and compare the headlines to the “core” of the story. Don’t get a newspaper any more? Stand in the checkout line at the grocery store and read the tabloid front pages. Don’t read? What are you doing here?

The other thing about the 140 character limit is that it has led to a set of “standard” abbreviations – “lol” (laugh out loud) is the most famous – that have become common shorthand. In the January/February issue of Creator magazine, there is an article about “blexting” (the title is “Blessing+Texting=Blexting”), in which tweets full of these kinds of abbreviations (PsBw/U, for instance is “peace be with you”) are sent to friends and family for uplifting purposes.

I could, at this point, lament the lack of depth of content that the Burma Shave Imperative brings. But the beauty of SM is that you either want to communicate a “nugget” or refer to a link. Ideally your tweet will do both.

That means that you have to have access to, or create the content. One of the more common strategies these days is to be a content aggregator. This, quite frankly, in most cases is a license to spend all day reading stuff on the internet. But if you are someone who wants to enter into a conversation with people for ministry purposes, it has become one way to reach those who are umbilicaled to their smart phones.

Got a story of how social media helped or burnt your ministry? Please leave a comment below.

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