Real World Media

How is the proliferation of media really
affecting us? Not speculation, I mean real-world media use. How are we using
media today?

We’re doing a prodigious amount of research at United Methodist Communications attempting to determine how we can serve audiences–individuals and groups–better.

I believe in research. I think it’s fundamental today because evolving media are changing how we receive information, control and use it. This is a moving target.

For example, I had a conversation with a staff person recently about a request we received to produce a CD for youth. But the youth audience has moved beyond CDs. A format that was popular only a year ago–give or take–has become obsolete today.

I was told by a consultant not long ago that the youth market changes every six months. That’s breakneck speed for those of us who are not native to this kind of media and the pace of change it brings, but it’s reality for the generation who have always known it.

I’m even sensitive about using the word “market” because a few days ago I was critiqued for using such language when discussing religious audiences. It isn’t faith language, I was told, and, therefore, it’s not appropriate to describe the religious experience.

In truth, I wasn’t using marketing language to describe faith, but I do think we have to understand how people use media, what they want from a medium (information, entertainment, self-development, actionable alternatives, guidance, reinforcement, experience), and how they behave. This is not a bad thing, it’s good. It’s necessary if we are to serve people today.

I spoke with a leading-edge thinker today who hired a young person to surf the web as part of an on-going research project to identify those sites that are attracting particular kinds of audiences.

The digital age is about micro-audiences. The mass audience era has passed. This will require even more customization, specialization and regionalization. If we insist on telling people what we think they should know in language that makes sense to us but doesn’t communicate with them in their context, we’re likely to be tuned out. That was the mass communication model. Today, communication is not about what “we” want to tell them. Instead, it’s about understanding what “they” want to know and how they want to receive it. Like it or not, control has shifted. My critics haven’t yet comprehended that it’s no longer about themselves, it’s about the audience.

I’m going to post on this in the next few days, sharing some of the broad-stroke research learning we’re gleaning. I’d like to hear from readers about how you view the challenge of staying abreast of new media, the application of research to the task of doing theology, or to put it in less academic terms, “How do you communicate about faith in the language of the day-to-day world that we live in?” What do you make of the capability of religious groups such as mainline denominations to communicate in the digital media world?

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