"It is the author's job to try to dislocate older media into postures that permit attention to the new. To this end, the artist must ever play and experiment with new means of arranging experience, even though the majority of their audience may prefer to remain fixed in their old perceptual attitudes." (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man)
All writing (all media, for that matter) has the potential to be not simply informational but formational. What I mean by this is that many people make use of the resources we author as part of their faith development, not just as publicity on how to attend events where real formation happens.
For example, with our church e-newsletter, we see much higher click through rates on material that is fresh, formative, and opens space for readers to learn, grow, and explore. The best content generates comments on blogs, re-posts in their networks, and conversation around coffee Sunday morning or supper Wednesday night.
Three things contribute to high levels of engagement, all of which correspond nicely to Aristotle's three elements of rhetoric--ethos, logos, pathos--so I will use these as the frame.
I think pathos in modern publishing jargon is "copy." So much media comes at us every single day, we need writers to attend to that first sentence, the title, and draw us in with an appeal to our emotions. We need what is published to capture our eye.
Good titles matter, attractive content matters, layout matters, design matters. Anything published that does not attend to copy simply doesn't get read.
Copyblogger is the best resource I know to learn how to write great copy. I suggest everyone take time to read their tutorials:
The art and science of direct-response copywriting involves strategically delivering words (whether written or spoken) that get people to take some form of action.
For another great resource on the creation of designs that capture the attention, see: Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter)
This is the actual content, the deliverable. We want to capture the attention of our audience for a reason---we believe in the content. What we write needs to make a difference in people's lives. It needs to inform, persuade, inspire, convict.
Increasingly, those of us publishing in digital media are realizing it also needs to cultivate community, engage conversation, and "spread" (check out Henry Jenkins new book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (Postmillennial Pop)
A sign that the content matters to people is their sharing of it. When media spreads, it matters. It matters even more if the content then changes other aspects of the life of those who read it. This is formation. For one spectacular resource observing how faith formation is happening on-line all over the place:
Ethos is the appeal to the authority or honesty of the speaker/author. I may have caught your attention, my content might be engaging, but do you trust me? Why should you listen to me? This last point may be the most elusive aspect of using digital media for faith formation. Those of us who publish and write in this digitally mediated contexts have to earn the trust and interest of our readers, and it is not always clear how to do that.
A good friend, Drew Curtis, who started the web site fark.com and has figured out far more about creating community in digital environments than I will ever know, wrote recently,
"I've never been any good at making Farkers do anything either [he had just finished reading my dissertation, where I mentioned that in running the ELCA Clergy Facebook group, although I could get the group to discuss almost anything, I struggled to get them to collectively "do" something together], however I've gotten really good at putting things in front of them that I know they'll want to react to. It's a subtle distinction. The lever you use is context - tell them why they should care. If you can't figure out why or they just plain don't agree, they won't move. And that's fine. Sometimes though the right contextual twist makes all the difference between ignored and viral."Which brings us full circle. Speakers and authors are trusted at least in part because they know their audience well, and read the context. To gain the trust of readers, know your readers. Listen to them. Then put things in front of them that you know they'll react to. Then get out of the way.