A few months ago, you may have found yourself pondering the veracity of a PC game called “Mega Church” for sale on Amazon. It was a parody; I created it to satirize how we often think of church as a game. Putting the merits of this campaign aside, we all have occasions when we want to grab attention. Some say the, “currency of the New Economy won’t be money, but attention“. This is the story of how I got the attention of thousands of people and the lessons I learned.
Starting with an Idea
I learned a long time ago that it is impossible to predict buzz or any viral phenomenon. I take a zen-like approach to creating grassroots buzz (as opposed to so-called astroturf buzz). All of my successful idea viruses (a.k.a. memes) have always evolved from blogging and a conspicuous openness to outside participation.
I started blogging in 2002 and I learned early on that my blog is a sandbox where I can play with ideas. Mega Church evolved from a snarky blog entry. Soon after posting it, I got an e-mail from a reader suggesting that I submit it to the Huffington Post’s Contagious Festival. Although my entry seemed a bit off topic for a political blog, I decided to experiment.
I elaborated on the blog entry by creating a fake Amazon page and uploaded it. If Vice President Cheney had not shot his friend in the face, I might have landed in the top ten but settled for a close 12th with almost 12,000 unique votes.
Sharing an Idea
The first step in sharing is figuring out who might be interested in the idea. I reviewed my e-mail address book and found all the bloggers. I found Gmail an invaluable tool for this kind of authentic e-mail harvesting. Google automatically saves every e-mail address it processes for me. Without any lists, I put together a list of about 120 bloggers and reporters.
This list did not happen by accident; it evolved over time out. I regularly e-mail other bloggers and often comment on their blogs. They e-mail me back. The result is a fairly deep contact list.
I sent a couple personal messages; the first being Dean Peters over at blogs4God. I know he has a sense of humor. He loved it and even wrote a fake press release.
Then I used Infacta’s free-version of Group-Mail to send a plain-text (not HTML) e-mail to the rest of my list. My contacts are valuable and an asset I rarely exploit. When I do, my goal is to add value to their day. I believe that part of generating authentic buzz is creating a win-win situation for you and those you are contacting. (I sometimes use Group-Mail with Group-Metrics to measure open rates and click-throughs.
The number of contacts on your list does not matter; it is whether they are influential nodes on a network. The most critical aspect of generating buzz is knowing the most influencial nodes in your network. And by knowing, I actually mean having a relationship.
I tracked the penetration of the buzz using Technorati and Google Blog Search. I created “vanity” searches then subscribed to the RSS feed. When I saw a new link, I generally visited and posted a comment. This buzz campaign generated 12,000 votes, over 13,000 page views to my blog entry, over 24 new members signed up for e-Church and my Adsense revenue doubled for February.
Lessons I Learned
I already shared some lessons in the re-telling of the story, but here are some take-aways for when you need to get attention:
- Sometimes buzz involves controversy and risk. As one who often takes risks, I have to work hard at being snarky rather than offensive. If you are a church or pastor, risk needs to be part of your culture before you try out something like this or My Lame Sex Life. You not only need to know your audience, but the stakeholders in your ministry.
- The best ideas come from iterations of mediocrity. Most of what I blog about is lame, but my audience helps me refine ideas.
- Others often have ideas that can help you. I do not always get great suggestions, but often readers make the difference.
- Be able to measure the success of your campaign. This implies that you start with an objective in mind. Building this into your campaign helps you iterate and get better.
- Wanting attention is not bad. There are some cynics that think what I did is sort of “sneaky”. But what is the point of having an idea, if it’s not worth sharing?
Using Buzz in Church
If you are reading this, you believe local churches have ideas worth sharing. Here are some suggestions on how to use buzz to the benefit of your church:
- Start blogging. (There are many free applications to help get you started.)
- Search the web, find a clever Flash animator and commission them to create a game that supports an upcoming outreach like Halloween or the Fourth of July. See Bunny Hunt IV: The Good Friday Massacre.
- A more mainstream idea is to author some Flash e-Cards to be hosted by your church web site that your congregation can e-mail to people. But make them useful, like “thinking of you before your surgery” or “congratulations on the birth of your son”.
- Create a “What biblical character are you” survey or my favorite, “What level of hell are you?” (refer to my point about risk).
- Survey your church, identify all the bloggers and meet with them to talk about how you could support their efforts online.
And while you’re at it, please feel free to “sell” the Mega Church Game on your blog or church web site. You can get the code at e-Church. My article on buzz couldn’t end any other way. Right?