Tuesday, April 12, 2005
How's the Unitarian Jihad doing?
Last Friday's San Francisco Chronicle humor column by Jon Carroll warned of the looming threat from the "Unitarian Jihad." Carroll himself stopped by Philocrites to express amazement at the widespread fear ahem, enthusiasm the jihad has generated since its debut last week. How much enthusiasm are we talking about? Why, it's practically a mini sensation on the Web, folks, a pop-culture moment that some enterprising Unitarian Universalists should promptly grab.
Blog trackers like DayPop and BlogPulse show continuing high interest in Carroll's column and in the two "Unitarian Jihad name generators" that have sprung up in its wake. When I started this post earlier this evening, Carroll's column was the number 3 link at DayPop's Top 40;the name generators were number 5 and number 36. But DayPop is small potatoes compared to the traffic BlogPulse is monitoring: BlogPulse had tracked 1,064 blog references to the phrase by this evening and highlighted its "burstiness" in Monday's roundup of weekend blog activity.
More intriguing, however, is how the sudden popularity of the phrase "Unitarian Jihad" compares to the much-commented-on surge of online interest in the United Church of Christ after two broadcast networks rejected its "bouncer" TV ad in December. There are obvious differences, of course, which I'll get to a minute, but let's focus on the opportunity first. Here's a chart comparing the trend lines for "Unitarian Jihad," "United Church of Christ," and "Episcopal Church" over the past six months:
The orange line shows what percentage of all blogs mentioned "United Church of Christ" in the last six months. You can very distinctly see two major spikes: The first surge of blog attention happened around December 1, 2004, when blogs rallied to the church's defense after the ad's rejection. (The denomination quickly realized that it had just been handed a publicity bonanza, and tapped all that blog energy for more than 137,000 visits to its "Find a Church" web page and $23,000 in donations to its FCC license appeal campaign and at least a portion of approximately $500,000 for its ad campaign.) The second surge took place during the third week in January, when the UCC website challenged Focus on the Family's weird anti-Spongebob Squarepants campaign with an article and photograph showing the president of the denomination extending the church's radical hospitality to the cartoon character.
The green line shows blog references to the Episcopal Church, which has been in news a lot lately as the Anglican Communion reacts to the U.S. church's confirmation of the election of an openly gay bishop.
The blue line represents the sudden appearance of "Unitarian Jihad." As you can see, it rocketed past the height of the UCC's sudden online fame. It's much too early to tell whether any of that visibility will translate into interest in actual Unitarian Universalist "cells" ahem, congregations but if we were creative right now, we might be able to point people to the "pockets of reasonableness and harmony" that are already scattered throughout the country. (One way would be to link some of the popular phrases from Jon Carroll's column to pages introducing Unitarian Universalism or to the UUA's Find a Congregation page, as I've just illustrated.)
Why should we be thinking this way? Consider that in the past four days, my website has been visited more than 300 times by people doing web searches for "unitarian jihad." There's also the peculiar fact that a really dizzying number of people have already started talking about organizing themselves into local cells of the Unitarian Jihad. Weirdly touchingly they're finding genuine inspiration in a parody of real Unitarian Universalist beliefs and practices. They're not just cracking jokes and enjoying a good blue-state vibe about the state of American culture, either: Here's a member trying to figure out how to do some diplomatic outreach to the Unitarian Church. Wow. We should find some ways to introduce them to the real thing.
Much of the fervor for Unitarian Jihad is in the LiveJournal universe of blogs, where viral marketing works unusually well. Unlike the UCC's surge into the blogosphere, which tapped into the more media-focused political blogs that use Movable Type, Blogger, and Word Press, the LiveJournal blogs don't publish ads, so it's not possible to attempt any kind of marketing outreach to the venues that have generated the most interest in the concept. But there are hundreds of Unitarian Universalist users of LiveJournal; by all means, UU LiveJournalers, join the Unitarian Jihad community and introduce your local congregations to all the people who are looking for pockets of reasonableness and harmony!
A few caveats: Buzz about a humor column is obviously more fleeting than commentary about a church's rejected ad or news stories about a church's controversial stand on homosexuality. Unlike blog buzz about the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Jihad buzz isn't about our congregations even though it clearly reflects our congregational culture (for good and bad). But it conveys key features of our religious life and vision and introduces half of our name to all sorts of people who didn't know there was a name for such a worldview. I say let's find some ways to tap into that interest.
Who's got some good ideas?
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 12 April 2005 at 11:02 PM