By Jason Menard
What Would Jesus Tweet? If Facebook will not come to Muhammad, then would Muhammed log on to Facebook? And what is the role of religion on social networking?
For obvious reasons, this weekend I found an increase in religious commentary on both my Facebook timeline and Twitter feeds. From generalized well wishes to full-scale scripture-quoting, the Christians were out in full force.
But does social media represent the right forum for religious messaging — especially if you’re also using social networking as a business tool?
For those interested, there are virtual services where believers can attend Church services via the Internet; there are Facebook pages offering daily affirmations to be read and shared; and there are apps for every mobile platform, ranging from virtual prayer books to a Confession app that offers users a form on-the-go absolution for just $1.99.
However, all of those options are user-directed. They represent communities, applications, and content that the user chooses to use or visit. By broadcasting religious-themed messaging to your friends and followers, you remove that choice from them.
There are those who will suggest it’s not a big deal. For me, it’s not. I’m not offended by religious messaging and am quite content to move on to the next post or Tweet. But there are those who do take offense; and there are those for whom representations of other deities is against their religious beliefs; and there are those who abhor any and all evangelical behaviour.
Generally, the risk is minimal when you’re talking about personal social networking profiles. Chances are, if I’ve accepted a friend request on Facebook, I’m not going to be surprised by your religious affiliation. I’m all in favour of you believing what you want to believe. If it makes you happy, then more power to you! Sure, I’d rather not be peppered with religious dogma, but I’m also fed up of receiving FarmVille and CityVille invites. On Twitter, the lines are even more blurry as, for the most part, I actively have to choose to follow you to get your content (retweets excepted).
But there’s a very real risk when it comes to broadcasting religious messaging – no matter how innocuous you intend it to be – from a social networking profile that you use to promote your business.
I was exposed to these types of posts a few times over the weekend and I was taken aback. Why, as a business owner, would you want to expose your company to this type of risk? Why run the risk of alienating certain segments of your customer base? Why create an environment where they may feel uncomfortable or judged for their personal believes – or lack thereof?
Of course, it’s hard to balance the risks and rewards when you’re considering your act as part of an effort to convert the heathens and save us from ourselves. After all, losing a little business pales in comparison to everlasting salvation. But business is business and religion is personal.
There are ways around this issue. You can create personal lists of like-minded friends and followers and target specific content to them. You could create two accounts, one business and one personal, so that you can direct content to the appropriate audiences. And if you are going to continue to broadcast on your feed, you could give your audience a choice – let them know, whether it’s in your profile or by a post or a Tweet, that you will occasionally be discussing religion. At that point, it’s up to the individual as to whether they want to continue following.
Most importantly, if you run a business or are responsible for a corporate social media platform, have a conversation about what’s appropriate for your business’ image. Writing down guidelines is ideal, but at the very least talk about your on-line branding and content. Does your business truly need to delve into religion, politics, and other hot-button topics? Is what you’re saying representative of the company as a whole or just the writer? If so, perhaps that content should come from a more personalized account.
In the end the decision shouldn’t come down to a desire to “save” someone. Nor should it be about exercising your freedom to express yourself and your religion. It all comes down to respect.
As much as I respect your religious choices and right to believe, it’s nice to have that respect reciprocated. And, for a business, affording that respect to a diverse customer base shouldn’t even be a choice.
To steal liberally from the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau: the Church has no business in the boardrooms of the nation! Freedom of expression exists, but so too does the responsibility we all bear to use it wisely.