We’ve kicked off a somewhat controversial series of questions on Facebook recently along the lines of:
In response we’ve had the usual wide spectrum of replies including:
- Knee jerk jokey response:
“Sticking the plectrum in their mouth……:)”
- Considered feedback:
“1. Telling the congregation/worshippers what to do (“put your hands in the air NOW”)
2. Not changing key so its easier for congregation/worshippers to sing (and for those who write songs, writing them with too big a range)
3. Using a narrow range of songs/styles”
- Positive feedback on the style of questioning
“Ok musicademy, I actually like this approach of yours. It enables us to look in a mirror without the awkwardness of telling people directly. The guitarists I work with are superb. If I had to find one thing I’d say forgetting to watch for direction.”
- Criticism of us asking the question and the negative nature of the question:
“Geez, I hate posts like this! It does nothing to build each other up.”
All of these (and the many many other responses) are great. We love to hear what you think even if it’s critical of us. We learn a huge amount from your responses. But the very diverse reactions did get us thinking.
A detailed complaint
We then had a very measured email from Nick Weatherstone in Australia. I’ve got his permission to quote some of his constructively critical email here:
“I think this is quite a polarising topic anyway, but used in this way, this can be very destructive for individual people as well as the greater body of Christ.
I do believe that constructive criticism is invaluable for us to listen to and learn by, but asking these questions in this form is more likely to get people venting their frustrations or personal preferences, rather than being constructive at all, which can clearly be seen through a lot of the comments being made (eg. about clothing preferences or ‘sticking their plectrum in their mouth, or even guitarists ‘playing’). This certainly isn’t helping to build the body and bride of Christ. All it really does is create division, frustration and stereotypes.
Constructive criticism is something that should be done through love and a desire to help build up the individual, and I believe that if you can’t do that face to face with the person, it shouldn’t be done at all, and certainly not on an open forum like this.
I would love instead to see topics that build up and encourage worship leaders or musicians, as they certainly have enough discouragement and angst thrown their way for even the smallest thing. This is something that Satan has become very good at using music in worship to take the focus of the real reason behind worship. Rather than ‘what don’t you like’ maybe ‘what have worship leaders done to help you connect with God’, or even ‘best ways to help someone through constructive criticism, not destroying someone’s ministry’.
I am a worship leader and guitarist from a small church down here (certainly not claiming to be an expert at all), and I was deeply hurt by some of the comments, but more so upset that so many people out there are completely missing the wonderful purpose of worship in both the corporate and personal settings. We have worked very hard in our community to encourage people to worship in their preferred ways in their personal worship, but when worshiping as a community, to be able to put aside those personal preferences and worship for the greater good and building up of the community. The change in people’s lives as well as the times we have on a Sunday have been staggering.
Your products are fantastic for encouraging people to grow their gifts and ministry, it would be great to see this followed up in the forums and topics as well.”
I felt it was probably time to give some feedback into why we chose this somewhat negative questioning approach in the first place and again ask you for your thoughts on the topic.
At Musicademy we see our blog, newsletter and Facebook presence as performing a variety of roles:
- To provide free resources to worship musicians that help improve their musicianship – we need to make some noise online in order that people find our website
- To provide content that showcases best practice, new ideas but also asks questions of established practices
- To make great content available to a wider audience (for instance when we do guest posts and publish articles that wouldn’t otherwise be widely read)
- To showcase our own paid-for training resources such as our DVD courses
- To genuinely engage with a very wide variety of Christian musicians (this is about a two-way conversation which is why we encourage comments, likes, shares and feedback)
Creating content for our newsletter and blog is hugely time consuming but we are able to provide this content free-of-charge as a result of some of the income from our DVD and online sales. We see this online content as showcasing our expertise and for many customers, finding the articles are the starting point in a journey that ends in them purchasing product from us. We’d prefer to put resources into useful articles, free clips, interviews etc etc than pour money into traditional advertising (which doesn’t seem to work terribly well anyway).
It’s pretty common on social media and websites for some 80% of readers to remain silent and 20% to comment, “like” and share content. We know from our web statistics and Facebook Insights that there are many more thousands of you reading the articles than actively “engaging” with them. And whilst that’s perfectly normal, we do want to encourage you to talk to us (and each other) a little more often.
Now “engagement” is a term that digital marketers use when people go a step further than just reading and article. We measure engagement by the numbers of you who have clicked “like”, sharing on their Facebook wall or made a comment. Engagement is the holy grail for us as creators of online content. Without it how do we know if the content hits the mark? Certainly every survey we do shows very positive responses to our newsletter and blog content. But immediate engagement is just that – it’s immediate feedback that this is a hot topic, this is something that you are REALLY wanting to read. Immediate feedback also continues the conversation with other people. And sometimes the comments are as interesting as the original article.
There are a number of textbook ways to increase engagement (and subsequently increase the number of people who will read an article). These include:
- Asking a direct question
- Throwing a little controversy into the mix – perhaps showing opposing views or asking a contentious question
- Including something that will deliberately upset a proportion of the readers
- Writing killer headlines and following up with killer copy
- Using celebrities
- Using humour (obviously distasteful humour provokes more response)
- Coming up with quick wins such as Top 10 lists, Do’s and Don’ts etc etc
- “Cute” pictures and heartwarming stories ditto horrific pictures and stories
You’ll be able to find examples of some of the above plus a few more on our website and indeed most well known blogs.
We try really hard to keep the content tasteful but sometimes there is a fine line – and where the line sits changes depending on who is reading. We’re well aware that with British, American, Australian, Asian and many more nationalities and cultures reading our copy it would be very easy to offend someone. Humour (or depending on where you are “humor”) is a very subjective thing. What offends one Christian is hysterically funny to another. That doesn’t make one any lesser a Christian – simply one with a different opinion, background or mindset.
It does seem that with choosing titles, and sometimes content that is perhaps a little risqué for some people we do occasionally offend and of course for that we apologise However, we do want to continue to try and push boundaries a little sometimes. There are not just got cultural expectations that can trip us up, there are theological ones too – for instance the emergent church is viewed very differently in the UK as it is in many parts of the US. In the UK the Church of England has fully embraced what it calls “Fresh Expressions” and this has resulted in lots of coffee shop and community-led expressions of church. In the US, however, many are deeply suspicious of the theology and practice of the emergent church. We can get ourselves into very hot water by appearing to support one side or the other.
However, despite wanting to be careful and not offend anyone, I’m worried that if we tread too carefully we just produce content that is mediocre and “lukewarm”. Content that ultimately most of you won’t be that interested in reading.
We want to hear from you. Sometimes a question needs to be phrased a little controversially in order to elicit a response. We’d love for that not to be the case but in the absence of multiple big Musicademy names (we don’t really have any Christian celebrities on staff), we don’t have the luxury of that status to elicit a response. For us it’s all about the content.
And reading through the responses we’ve had on both those controversial questions I’ve been delighted at how many great ideas have emerged. Here at Musicademy we don’t have all the answers to every question about worship musicianship. You guys are out there doing it every week all over the world. It’s so good to hear your thoughts and your perspectives.
The plan at the moment is to continue to ask these questions until we’ve built a big “crowdsourced” archive of your responses. We’ll then turn it into a helpful, positive series of articles that will encourage best practice and gently discourage the kind of actions that congregations and fellow musicians find offputting.
I’m not at all sure how we could have asked the question differently and got anything like the kind of content/response that we did.
But what do you think?
Maybe you think that this desire for engagement and response is somehow dirty, commercial, not Christian? But the truth is that (particularly in the current economic climate) we simply can’t run a viable business without making some sales. The sales don’t come if we stop marketing. We’ve not found that traditional advertising methods like ads in magazines and sponsorship of Christian events really delivers on the rather high costs we incur. We have found that newsletters, blog content and our Facebook page help to gently encourage sales without us being terribly salesy and pushy about our products. And apart from that, we LOVE writing the content, we love hearing your feedback, we love seeing that an article has got masses of click throughs or a Facebook post has been shared with all your friends.
But – do you agree? Does the end justify the means here? Do you understand why we asked the question the way we did? Were you offended? What would you have done differently? What else would you recommend we do to increase engagement?
And if you were one of the people that didn’t like the negative questioning what effect did that have on you? Did you comment? Did you de-friend us? Will it stop you reading our content in future?