Strategy & Marketing

The Illusion of Controlling Your Perception

One of the greatest myths that plague pastors and religious leaders today is that they can control their image, story, and brand.  I’ve worked with major pastors and ministry leaders all my life and heard everything:  what we can’t shoot or photograph, who gets access, who makes decisions, etc – all in an effort to tightly control their image and brand.  But in a digital world, that’s simply impossible.  Sure, I’m a branding advocate, and we can certainly INFLUENCE our brand story and I’m a strong believer in doing exactly that.  But as I say in my book “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media” a brand isn’t what YOU say it is, it’s what THEY say it is.  It’s other people’s perception of you, your church, product, or your organization.

Now, this article from the Harvard Business Review confirms my point.  But traditional thinking pastors still hang on to the tired myth.  For instance, one thing I’ve seen lately is pastors who highly filter the responses to their blogs.  The entire point of a blog is to create discussion, and on the web, that means the potential for disagreement and occasional fireworks.  But these pastors don’t get it, and filter out any response that doesn’t confirm their point or their brilliance.  The only filtering I do on my blog is the occasional profanity or if someone criticizes another by name.  Outside of that, let the criticism begin.

The digital generation understands that once it’s online, you’ve lost control.  Discuss, debate, argue.  Follow the strongest reasoning.  The best ideas win.  Of all people, Jesus created controversy.  He was provocative.  He wasn’t afraid to mix it up.  He knew the truth was what mattered.

If you choose to live your life in public – either in a pulpit, on a stage, or online, the truth is, discussion, debate, and yes – criticism is going to happen, whether you can take it or not.

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  1. When you are on one of those “filtered” sites, you can tell.  There is usually nothing but flowers and positive responses, very simular to a ministries monthly “lookie what we’re doing” magazines. I have been on some blogs that are so filtered that even a minor disagreement is enough to get your response “removed” or “filtered.” Many are afraid to “mix it up” and shouldn’t be trying to “live life in public,” or at least exposing themselves in the blogosphere.

    BTW…enjoyed the book.

  2. “a brand isn’t what YOU say it is, it’s what THEY say it is. It’s other people’s perception of you.”

    Now that is a great insight Phil. So many organisations actually think they can massage their brand or tweak it and therefore that will change how people receive their brand.


    They’ve already made that crucial decision about you/us waaay before that.

    Good stuff.

    Would love to know more of your thoughts on the ‘other people’ and any examples of how they have given this feedback to you regarding this…


  3. The truth sets the Christian free. And one would assume that having people speak their minds would altimately lead to truth or at least open discussions that can be pointed in that direction. But the catch is in the old, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” There are those who refuse to accept the truth.

    Worse, there are those who “troll” sites trying to stir up trouble. Just imagine what would happen if such a person, claiming to be a member of the church, started posting hate-filled notes on the blog or web page. Suddenly unfiltered posts aren’t so attractive.

    So while the idea of people freely speaking their minds has its appeal, that only works if they are truthful and seeking the ultimate truth and meaning in life. If their desire is simply to stir up contention, then I think giving them a forum to do this is a big mistake.

  4. You can read all the blog you want and even form an opinion but the bottem line is, John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Remember this as you arrive at conclusions about what you read.

  5. Your point about transparency is relevant here.  It’s very hard for traditional, autocratic, top down leaders to understand real conversation where conflict is the engine that drives dialog.  In the oppressively nice, agressively clean and inordinately positive cultural world of Christianity, there just isn’t any room for real life.  Gen X and Gen Y understand that and they’re voting with their feet.

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