What's in this session?

  • Facebook Developers Conference held at the end of April/early May (0:28)
  • An experiment was run to Get rid of like counts on Instagram (2:37)
  • Instagram announced at its F8 developer conference today that it’ll start testing a new feature later this week that’ll hide users’ public like counts on videos and photos. (2:55)
  • Likes are a currency on social; devalue the currency - upend the culture (3:22)
  • Problem #1: Do it for the gram - Iceland/Scotland trip research - the performative nature of IG (3:59)
  • Problem #2: Like for like (6:48)
  • New Facebook app design Is called FB5 - it’s cleaner, faster, and isn’t blue anymore (13:23)
  • For the longest time, I’ve said ”The only reason I use Facebook is because of groups” - both as a consumer AND a publisher (14:08)
  • Good #1: Less emphasis on news stories generating outrage (16:05)
  • Good #2: Focus on communities (16:48)
  • Why is this important? Americans are very unhappy "Happiness and life satisfaction among United Stated adolescents which increases between 1991 and 2011, suddenly declined after 2012" (19:05)
  • Correlation does not equal causation (19:25)
  • The responsibility falls on the social platforms, the parents/leaders, and the church (22:05)

Show notes and resources

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The Transcript

Brady: Social media is constantly changing and it can sometimes feel like an impossible task trying to keep up, but that’s why this podcast exists. And so by the end of this episode, you’ll know all about the big changes coming to Facebook and Instagram right now, and what it means for your church online.

Alex: Well, hey there, and welcome to Pro Church Tools. The show to help you share the message of Jesus while we try and navigate the biggest communication shift in 500 years. I’m your host Alex Mills joined as always by Brady Shearer.

Brady: Alex, Facebook had their developers conference held at the end of April, early May. Just a couple of weeks ago and at that conference, they introduced a ton of new changes.

Alex: They did.

Brady: Experiments they have been making that in my mind kind of showed the future. The next stage of evolution for social media. It’s crazy because we’re young and it feels like social has always been around since our adult years.

Alex: Right.

Brady: But it is still in its infancy and what social platforms are beginning to experience are the awkward adolescence stages where they’re past like the super cute young age where everything’s golden.

Alex: Right.

Brady: Except that your child will never sleep through the night. Okay, side, that’s more about me than about Facebook.

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: But they’re reaching those awkward stages and they’re getting into some legal troubles, they’re realizing, because we have now large data that they have leaked to everybody, but we’re getting large data on like the problems that social is causing.

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: And they’re starting to look inwardly, at least that’s kind of the optics that they’re trying to give us. They’re looking inwardly and saying, “Okay, what responsibility do we have to make this better and what changes do we need to make to move forward in a positive way?”

Alex: I think it’s going to be interesting to see what the longevity of some of these platforms can be like. You know we saw Myspace kind of come and go. It had a good, you know, short run. Platforms like Vine. They came and they were everything until they were literally nothing.

Brady: Pure volume.

Alex: Yeah. But like Facebook has stuck around and Instagram seems to be sticking around. And like you said it feels like, as digital natives it feels like, social has just been around forever, but it hasn’t. We’re still, you know, kind of in the beginning of this communication shift, right. That we talk about all the time. So it’s going to be interesting to see what the longevity of these specific companies and platforms can be. And so it’s always super interesting to kind of pay attention to when they have these conferences and say, “Hey, yeah, this is what. This is the data. This is how people are using our platforms and this is where we’re going to be going in the future.” So we kind of have some insider baseball here a little bit about changes that are coming. That aren’t in all instances live yet. Some of them are, some of them aren’t. But kind of where these platforms are headed in the future.

Brady: So the first big experiment that Instagram ran was to illuminate the like count. And this was a test that was only done in Canada.

Alex: Shout out Canada.

Brady: Did you get it?

Alex: No. Roxanne did though.

Brady: Roxanne did. Yeah, I didn’t either. So Roxanne saw this so, she’s obviously a Canadian user that was part of this experiment that was being done to quote an article on The Verge, “Instagram announced at its F8 developer conference day that it’ll start testing a new feature later this week that will hide users public like counts on videos and photos. Test is only in Canada. Likes will be hidden in the feed, permalinked pages, so if you embed a post, and on profiles. Instagram says it wants followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.” Okay, that’s not realistic. “Only the person who owns the account will be able to see how many likes their content received. Likes on social are currency.”

Brady: So I think what Instagram, Facebook, they’re the same thing, what they’re trying to do here is devalue that currency to hopefully upend the culture. When we think about the culture of Instagram it’s known, for good reason, to be kind of the kind and nice, pretty social platform. It doesn’t have the same angry culture that YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook do that are marked in their own ways, each uniquely, by their outrage. Instagram’s not like that.

Alex: Right.

Brady: But Instagram’s biggest failing is its performative nature. So much of Instagram to quote Post Malone is, “Do it for the Gram.”

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: That’s what it’s all about. And I saw this recently, we were planning our big summer trips. We’re going to Scotland. We’re going to Iceland. And so, one of the things I’ll often do is I’ll head to Instagram and search specific photogenic locations in these countries that I think maybe this is worth filming. Maybe this is worth photographing and what I always find on these is, one, photos of beautiful places with people standing on the edge of mountains.

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: Super safe. Most definitely like one out of ten of these people didn’t make it.

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: But [crosstalk 00:04:31].

Alex: But you’ll never know because they posted it on Instagram so.

Brady: Absolutely. Hey, as long as you do it for the Gram. And then the other, somewhat sensitive, thing was beautiful locations that were obscured by women’s backsides. This place is beautiful enough. Not necessary.

Alex: I don’t need that.

Brady: Unnecessary.

Alex: That is not suitable for work.

Brady: Trying to scroll through Iceland and “Oh, wow, okay.”

Alex: Covenant eyes didn’t catch that.

Brady: Come on XXX Church how are you not finding this.

Alex: I thought it was just a photo of a mountain in Iceland, sorry.

Brady: And this is what the currency of likes have done. You get this feedback loop. If you are a woman posting on Instagram, you find, the less clothes I wear, the more likes I get. And because we know that engagement and likes, especially if you are a “influencer” on social are hugely important when it comes to getting endorsements, getting sponsorships, growing your account. You know, the more followers you have is important and if your post has a huge amount of likes because of your backside in a photo it gets found in the discover section and then someone follows you and then the more followers you have the more money you get from sponsorships and endorsements. Oh, that bathing suit wasn’t one that you bought. You’re actually being sponsored to wear that and flown to that location to drive in that car to take that photo. And it’s this endless cycle.

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: And it’s all being triggered and powered by likes. And so Instagram’s big thought experiment here is, “If we can remove those likes from public view maybe we can remove some of the problematic natures of our platform.”

Alex: Yeah. I had some conversations with people about this very thing when it got announced. You know I posted about it on my account. We were chatting about it. And this currency of likes is, like you said, this kind of awed, kind of poisonous feedback loop that we all.

Brady: It’s a little Black Mirrorish.

Alex: Yeah, we kind of like exist in it and we don’t talk about it very much. We kind of just accept that this is how it is. And so like not only are people succumbing to evaluating others worth by how many likes they got. So, me saying, “Oh well Brady is worth this much on social because his photo got x amount of likes.” But Facebook and Instagram is likely trying to upend this because now I’m making those same kind of decisions about what I post, and if once I’ve posted if I’m going to leave that post up. And here’s another problem that this kind of like currency kind of capitulates is this like for like kind of culture.

Brady: Right.

Alex: That happens, that I’ve never really been privy to. I think I’m a little bit too old for this.

Brady: I agree.

Alex: But we were having some conversations in the office of some other people who have younger siblings who are in high school age. And there is this weird, vial kind of culture where if you’re my friend and you haven’t liked my photo, now there’s a thing between us, right. Like, “Why didn’t you double tap this photo?” And then also and inversely, if I post something and it doesn’t get as many likes as either I thought it would or is socially acceptable then I’m going to delete that photo.

Brady: Because it’s awkward, like you’re leaving that up, it only had like 47 likes?

Alex: Right. And so when I heard about this I thought, “Oh, this must be unique to like younger kids”, but it’s not. I was listening to some videos this week about people who make money on social full-time.

Brady: As influencers.

Alex: As grown adults, and they were saying, “I fall into this trap myself. I know that this is wrong because I’m old enough and I know that this is wrong. I know that I shouldn’t be getting validation from likes, but I myself fall into this trap of questioning myself. Should I leave this up because this hasn’t got enough likes?” So this is people who are doing this full-time and are grown adults saying like, “Should I leave this up? Does this have enough likes?” So I think this is going to be really interesting because the creators if you post a photo, you’re still going to be able to get that data about how many people have liked your photos. It’s your followers that can’t see it. They will be able to click and see who has liked it. There just won’t be a number of, you know, x amount of people have liked this. But you’ll be able to see still who liked the image.

Alex: So I think it’s going to be very interesting. I don’t know if they have collected any data so far about this test in Canada. I haven’t heard anything about how people are responding to it. The responses I got on my personal social feed were very, it was a mixed bag. Some people were saying, “Yep. I think this is great”, and other people saying like, “No. Like I need.”

Brady: How do I know what’s popular?

Alex: Yeah, like I need that data.

Brady: I talked to one of our employees, and they even mentioned, we’ve talked about the kind of ramifications from a publisher’s standpoint. From a consumer’s standpoint this person, very self-aware, said I find myself liking stuff that has a lot of likes. And if something doesn’t have too many likes, I think I’m less likely to double tap that.

Alex: Oh, that’s interesting.

Brady: And so now there’s kind of like this snowball effect. Like, once things are going really well, well obviously Instagram is using those metrics to decide what gets shown in the new feed and what doesn’t.

Alex: Sure.

Brady: So you know, it’s not just social currency. We’re talking about algorithmic currency that these engagement signals are producing. And that person was pretty self-aware. Like if something doesn’t get a lot of likes I think I’m less likely to like it and so perhaps, if Instagram did remove the public like count you wouldn’t have this kind of, there’s surely a word that describes this effect, but if you go past a restaurant and it’s full and you go past a restaurant and it’s empty your more.

Alex: Yeah, it’s like a form of social proof.

Brady: Exactly. If you remove that, perhaps, you would be able to create a little more meritocracy on these social platforms. Spoiler alert: nudity always wins.

Alex: That’s true, unfortunately.

Brady: But that’s actually an interesting point because we’ve been recently on my phone so.

Alex: You’re right. It is interesting. I’m interested to hear what you’re about to say.

Brady: Well, how many photos have you taken of me shirtless that we haven’t posted because we were like, “You know, this will get a lot of likes.” Only kind of jokes. The point is we’ve been experimenting on my own social platform. Not with Brady nudity.

Alex: Right.

Brady: But with memes. Right.

Alex: Yes. Yeah.

Brady: Because if I post a meme on my Instagram account it is almost guaranteed to get considerably more likes.

Alex: Right.

Brady: Than an everyday type of post.

Alex: Which is offensive to me because we used to work really, really hard curating the imagery on your Instagram account. Like whether it was the treatment that I was putting on photos or like what we were doing. We were super intentional about that and we’ve kind of shifted lanes and started posting more memes and it’s like, “Okay. Well, apparently this is what works. So thanks.”

Brady: If it’s not the Simpsons or SpongeBob what are we even doing here?

Alex: I know.

Brady: But, you know we talk a lot about creating engagement on social and how it’s so important to drive engagement, but everyone has their own line between engagement for the sake of it and meaningful engagement.

Alex: Sure.

Brady: So for some people, especially those that are more creative or more purest, like they could never post a meme even if it kind of reached their end goal. It would compromise their own creative morals and standards.

Alex: That would be.

Brady: I have none. I have no creative.

Alex: And I have all of yours.

Brady: I have zero. Gave them away.

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: No creative standards. My standards though have to do with what we’re trying to accomplish with our platform. We want to help churches learn about digital. Help them to seize the 167. Help them to navigate the biggest communication shift in 500 years.

Alex: Yep.

Brady: So I was kind of, every so often if I post a meme about like, you know, churches loving mailers over social like, and it’s just a fun jab, and it’ll get 1,000 likes based on the audience that we have now, which is great engagement, fine. But if that’s all I did, and you just become a meme account, you’re getting, sure, a ton of engagement but none of its meaningful.

Alex: Sure.

Brady: So I’ve started trying in the last couple of weeks to take these meme formats but still to teach through them.

Alex: Yes.

Brady: So we’ve been taking a meme and talking about, “Okay, here are some language tips when it comes to wording when it comes to referring to people that are new to your church. Don’t call them visitor or guest. Call them new. That’s better.” And then I explain why in the caption. So the same format that’s driving engagement but hopefully still making that engagement meaningful.

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: Hopefully, that’s the best of both worlds.

Alex: This is going to be a really interesting shift if it gets applied globally and Instagram determines that you know, this test, this is what we’re going to roll with. Especially in the Instagram influencer world, people who are making money for a sponsored post or what have you.

Brady: Right. It’s probably not good for them.

Alex: Yeah, because likes is a great indicator of how your post is performing and what your account is worth, right, to a potential advertiser. So this is going to be really interesting. I love that they’re trying it. I love that they’re testing it.

Brady: Because they’re recognizing, “Hey, this is causing harm.”

Alex: Yes. Yeah.

Brady: And we have a responsibility to mitigate that.

Alex: Yeah, and as Christians, you know, there’s a whole other element of this that we believe that, you know, getting validation on our worth by likes is probably not good or healthy and so as Christians, there’s a whole nother spiritual element to like.

Brady: Eh, you will know them by their fruit, let’s define fruit. I define it as likes. Convince me I’m wrong meme.

Alex: Thank you, Lord.

Brady: So that’s the first experiment. That isn’t a public change. Again, we saw one person in our friend group in Canada get that. That was just an experiment, but one change that’s actually taken place globally I believe is the new Facebook App design. Internally they’re calling it FB5, it’s cleaner, it’s faster, and notably, it is no longer blue. Looks a lot like Facebook messenger, which is very white, very clean design, no blue branding everywhere, which is interesting. And the big change functionally is that it puts groups and events front and center rather than the news feed that has become, for the most part, sharing of funny videos and news stories that generate outrage.

Alex: Yes. Fake news stories. For the most part.

Brady: Okay. I think we should just ban that term.

Alex: I know but like it’s actually fake. Like this is fake.

Brady: You are fake news.

Alex: Thank you. Facebook is fake.

Brady: I’ve often said the only reason I use Facebook is because of the groups.

Alex: Yes.

Brady: Everything else has become just noise and that was a trend that wasn’t just true for me but true for so many of the people that I knew. And last year we saw Mark Zuckerberg go on this church tour that was really interesting and we know this happened because we have a lot of friends who run these big Facebook groups for churches and Christians. And they were getting hit up by Facebook executives saying, “Hey, we want to bring you in because we want to do this think tank on groups. You have one of the most engaged groups on Facebook by the ranking factors that we use. What are you doing well? Because this is one of the things that is working on Facebook. We’ve got a lot that’s not working. Why?” Well, because we’re bad people and people are bad people and what has happened is we’ve brought people together and we’ve combined it with capitalism and it succeeded at a crazy amount unlike any other platform ever, which has been great for advertisers, great for marketing your church, but not surprisingly humans have brought their crap and made this platform crappy.

Brady: You know Gary Vee is famous for saying, “Marketers ruin everything.” The truth is humans ruin everything.

Alex: Yes.

Brady: We have come to Facebook and it now has what 2.3 billion monthly active users.

Alex: Wow.

Brady: That’s a lot of people with a lot of baggage, and a lot of outrage.

Alex: And a lot of political opinions.

Brady: And a lot of insecurities. And a lot of fear. And not surprisingly algorithms are finding a way to leverage those for the sake of attention, not attention in a way that’s edifying to almost anyone. So Facebook recognized that and said, “Okay. We have a responsibility to our shareholders but we also have a responsibility to just humanity as a whole, and if everyone’s using this platform and we’re making the general outlook on life worse, how can we make money but in a more ethical way, hopefully.” Now, of course, this could all just be a scam.

Alex: Right.

Brady: Like I’m not going to say.

Alex: It’s just a huge social experiment.

Brady: Right.

Alex: We’re just rats.

Brady: Well I mean that is actually what we’re living through.

Alex: Yes, that’s true.

Brady: You know that’s easy to acknowledge.

Alex: Yeah.

Brady: So what’s good about this change. It puts less emphasis on news stories that generate outrage for the sake of it. Hopefully, your newsfeed will now have less news stories that are being shared and then you have either side of the spectrum just fighting each other. Like trying to murder each other in the comments, ending friendships, creating new ones.

Alex: Yeah. When I started working at Pro Church Tools a big part of my job was going to be, you know, being active on Facebook and I didn’t like the sounds of that because I hadn’t used Facebook personally for I think a couple years. I hadn’t posted anything personally. I just used basically Messenger to keep in touch with people, you know, across the globe. And so when I started working more on Facebook and saw that newsfeed every day, one of the first things I did was like, I need to find some groups that I am interested in like church comms groups, like fermented foods groups, coffee groups that I can become a part of so I can like weed out like the noise in my newsfeed and just fill it with things that I want to be a part of.

Brady: And allow me to pause here for a moment to point out how edifying this can be because the two groups you said, to start, were church communications and fermented foods.

Alex: Yep.

Brady: What kind of niches are those?

Alex: I know.

Brady: But that’s what Facebook can facilitate.

Alex: Exactly. So I went out of my way to join these groups in order to kind of curate my own echo chamber, right, and I had to do a lot of work to make that happen for myself. Now Facebook is kind of doing that work for me. They’re realizing that “Oh, you don’t want to hear your third cousin twice removed brother’s son’s kittens political views on Facebook.” I don’t need that in my life.

Brady: You don’t want their commentary on the latest Fox News article.

Alex: Right. I want to talk about fermented foods. And so.

Brady: Who doesn’t?

Alex: They’re putting that stuff front and center for me now on desktop and on mobile and it has made Facebook a place that I want to be. It’s made it a place of like meaningful information for me when previously it was poison. I didn’t want to read what was there. And I’m really learning to enjoy Facebook, and it’s because of the group interactions and this, we can’t stress this enough, and we talked about it I think it was last summer when Mark Zuckerberg said, “Hey, we need to focus less on pages and news feeds and focus more on groups.” We cannot stress enough how imperative it is that your church is leveraging Facebook groups. Your church people are on Facebook in their newsfeed or not. They’re using Facebook and Facebook groups. I mean Facebook is putting this stuff front and center and so you could be having meaningful conversations with your church whether it’s your whole church or smaller groups for small groups or whatever it is.

Alex: Facebook is putting that conversation front and center in your church members news feeds and you can leverage that to have meaningful conversation, life-giving conversation, on Facebook. So this has great ramifications for the church space as well.

Brady: On a macro level, we have new reporting coming from the World Happiness Report that is basically saying, “Hey, people are extremely unhappy and this unhappiness started around 2012.” Allow me to say this that correlation does not equal causation.

Alex: Sure.

Brady: But the fact that everyone got unhappy right around the time we all got smartphones and social platforms became these mass platforms that weren’t just kind of niche communities is likely, there’s a relation there. Those are not mutually exclusive from each other and adolescents are being especially affected by this. And we’ll have the link to the World Happiness Report in this that you can read through, but just a brief quote, “Happiness, life satisfaction, among United States adolescents which increased between ’91 and 2011, suddenly declined after 2012. Thus, by 2016-17 both adults and adolescents, so not just young people not just teenagers, were reporting significantly less happiness than they had in the 2000s. And then, in addition, numerous indicators of low psychological well being, such as depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm, those increased sharply among girls and young women, adolescents as a whole since 2010.

Brady: This decline in happiness and mental health seems paradoxical because by most accounts Americans should be happier now than ever. Violent crime rate is low. The unemployment rate is low. The stock market crash of ’08 has been like that’s not now, that was a while ago. Income per capita steadily grown over the last few decades. This is the Easterlin paradox.” Love that line. “As the standard of living improves, so should happiness, but it has not.” So everything is bad, and I think what we’re seeing here is everyone looking inwardly, including the social platforms and saying, “What responsibility do we have to mitigate an incoming disaster?”

Alex: Sure.

Brady: “To improve what we’ve created.” This is kind of like that classic line from whatever the movie was like, “Your scientists asked, could they. They never asked should we.”

Alex: Right.

Brady: And that’s kind of what we’ve got here with social. We talk about the biggest communication shift in 500 years. We talk about the opportunity your church has to use a platform like Facebook Ads that is more affordable and versatile than any other communication platform in the history of the world. We know this firsthand. We have built an entire company a livelihood for so many of our families on the back of this communication shift. There’s so much good that comes with it, but with something that has that much opportunity humans are going to find a way to ruin it. This is the Garden of Eden all over again. [crosstalk 00:21:47]. We’re going to give you everything good and the demons were like, “I have an idea.” And that’s where things became bad. That’s what always happens. So what you don’t want to do is, at least in my opinion, completely absolve yourself from these platforms and just say, “It’s not worth it.”

Alex: Right.

Brady: But you also need to be carefully asking yourself, “Okay, as a church who’s publishing content on these platforms what responsibility do we have?” And that’s why we always say, “Your social strategy should be to publish meaningful content that creates meaningful conversations and provokes spiritual practice.” Find a way to redeem all the attention and time that’s being spent on these platforms because we know that for the most part that time and attention is not good time and attention. So your church has a responsibility if you’re going to be on there, use it to do what your church is doing, should be doing, not just inviting people to your events and to your services, but using that time to make disciples. To help people to love God and love others. And then the social platforms themselves, hopefully, we’re going to put enough pressure on them to say, “We have a responsibility too. Yes, we need to be profitable but maybe we don’t need to kill everyone in the process.”

Alex: That’s exactly it and that’s what I gleaned from this World Happiness Report. The thesis of the report was it kind of ranked countries of the world by happiness and the United States was near the bottom. And so they did a breakdown on one of the later pages that said, “Okay, well, what’s going on in the States and why is happiness so low?” And I think that the general thesis or conclusion was it’s directly correlated to our exposure to media. And like you said, whether we like it or not, everyone is using these social mediums and being fed things that they don’t want to read and most of it is vile and it’s just generally a dumpster fire. So we have a choice as the church. Are we going to absolve ourselves from this, step back, and say, “We’re not going to partake in that”, or are we going to lean in and step up? And like you said, post meaningful content that evokes spiritual practice.

Alex: Have meaningful interactions online, so that when people are scrolling through the garbage when they come across a post from your church you can bring a positive interaction on social media to try and curb that trend that is headed downward. And affecting a generation of people who are, and it’s paradoxical, who are unhappy when, you know, otherwise according to all the other circumstances probably should be doing all right.

Brady: As always, we’ll have links to everything we’ve mentioned in this episode. The World Happiness Report along with the write-ups on the changes that Instagram and Facebook are making. So if you want to do additional, more extensive, research on your own those will be linked in the show notes and the description on YouTube. And that’ll do it for this episode of Pro Church Tools. We’ll see you next time.

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