Chinese_Coca_ColaYesterday, I was leading a training event for one of the districts in The Rio Texas Conference. We were talking about how to get started in the world of social media. Where do you start when you are thinking about bringing your church into the world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc? One of the attendees at the training event made an important comment. He reminded us that, the first thing we need to do, is go into these digital realms and spend some time looking around and getting to know the culture.

In the Rio Texas Annual Conference, we are investing time and money into Cultural Competency training. In the blending of the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Annual Conferences, we are taking time to ensure that we understand our cultural differences. We are learning how to better communicate and work together realizing that there are some differences in our norms, expectations, and unspoken rules. Some amount of training helps us to better understand one another and work together.

I think that, if we want to reach our mission field, we need to spend some effort working on our e-cultural competency. Nearly every space on the digital realm has its own set of spoken and unspoken rules, norms and expectations.

Let’s take the global village of Instagram as an example. I don’t recall every reading, as I signed up for Instagram, anything about how many pictures to post and how often. Yet, the unspoken culture in this space is that it is not cool to post 10 baby pictures in a row. You post one. If you violate that norm, you won’t be kicked off Instagram, but people will likely “unfollow” you. They may even leave a snarky comment before doing so but likely, they will just stop following. They will stop listening. That is the currency of the social media world.

These are the same sort of unspoken norms that exist in the physical world. If I were to walk into Starbucks later today and order a large coffee, I would be mildly messing with the norms. A venti coffee of the day or a grande latte would fall more in line with the expected norms. If I were to walk in, sit down at a table and yell “Waitress! Coffee, please!” I would be way out of line.

As I write this post, I am sitting in the gym of University United Methodist Church where my Son, Josh, attends Sk8 Church. The young people skate the obstacles set up in the skate park that is constructed each week and then take a break to hear the gospel preached. This is a very particular culture. There are unspoken rules and norms that I still don’t understand. Somehow all these boys (and a couple of girls) on skateboards manage to skate a breakneck speed around the place and seldom run over each other. It is amazing to watch the silent language and understanding that makes the culture work. The first few times Josh attended, I had to help him to learn how to watch and begin to understand how to fit into the culture (and not get run over.)

History is full of examples of organizations failing to grasp some aspect of our culture they tried to market in. If you don’t listen before speaking, you will likely blunder. One example, courtesy of Campaign Asia-Pacific:

When Coca-Cola entered the China market, they named their product something that when pronounced, sounded like, “Coca-Cola”. The only problem was that the characters used meant “Bite the Wax Tadpole”. When they learned of their blunder, they later changed to a set of characters that mean “Happiness in the Mouth”.

Before you go wading into the digital world, spend some time getting to know the culture. If you want people to listen, make sure you know how to talk. If you don’t, you might get tuned out or even run over.

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