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Innovation key to relevance in new ‘attention economy,’ media experts say

Adventist tech, communication conference highlights need for ‘creation mindset’

Innovation key to relevance in new ‘attention economy,’ media experts say

Author and marketing consultant Martha Gabriel discusses macro and micro tech trends during her keynote at the 2014 Global Adventist Internet Network conference in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, United States last week. [photos: Ansel Oliver]

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Pushing the boundaries is no longer enough. Seventh-day Adventist tech and media professionals at this year’s Global Adventist Internet Network conference were challenged to leave the boundaries in the rearview mirror or risk becoming irrelevant.  

Speaking at morning worship February 13, Pardon Mwansa, a general vice president for the Adventist world church, told hundreds of Web professionals that the “boundary mindset” and the “expansion mindset” are limiting the scope of Adventist mission and ministry. A boundary mindset is throttled by traditions; an expansion mindset is content reimagining those traditions. What’s needed instead, he said, is a “creation mindset.” 

“It’s easier to go where others have already been. But who is it who has improved this world? People who have broken the boundaries,” Mwansa said, citing early explorers, civil rights leaders and tech innovators.

“We will not get anywhere with a boundary mindset,” he told 400 GAiN participants meeting at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, United States. 

Author and marketing consultant Martha Gabriel amplified that idea in her February 14 keynote, describing what she called “simplicity plateaus,” where an organization stagnates at a level of technology they have mastered.

“We can’t stay here. Know the next level you need to conquer,” she said.

And, perhaps more importantly, she added, know your audience. In today’s “attention economy,” messages compete for relevance, Gabriel said. 

“You need to understand what makes your audience’s hearts beat faster. If you are not part of the message they want to hear, you are part of the noise,” she said. 

Organizations that thrive in the attention economy know that the currency of ideas and information is no longer enough to succeed. “Ideas alone are worthless. What we need now are people who make things happen,” Gabriel said.

For Adventist pastor Sam Neves and a development team from the church’s British Union Conference, that meant not waiting for the church to get behind a comic book style trivia game called “Heroes.”

The first game for iPhone and iPad designed by Seventh-day Adventist members, “Heroes” was downloaded 3,000 times in the first 48 hours of its release, tripling the benchmark analysts say a mobile app should meet in its first week to be considered successful. 

On the final day of GAiN, the Adventist world church Youth Ministries department signed a deal to help support the Android release of “Heroes.”

Pardon Mwansa, a general vice president for the Adventist world church, challenges media professionals to chart a new course for Adventist technology.

The game reintroduces players to heroic biblical characters—such as Abraham, David and Esther—while testing their Bible knowledge with quiz questions. Players can compare scores with their friends on Facebook. At GAiN, a demo of the game pitted players from the church’s Trans-European Division with other divisions.

“We realized that to bring a sense of identity to a new generation, we needed to remind them of who their heroes are,” Neves said. “And what better way, than to use a medium they are very familiar with?”

Indeed, said Daryl Gungadoo, distribution and network engineer for Adventist World Radio Europe, “gamification” is the new frontier and successful companies will find ways to engage their audience with games. 

He cited an example from Sweden, where a marketing campaign from Volkswagen turned the oft-loathed speed cameras into a lottery, where people who drive the speed limit are automatically entered into a pool to win the fines paid by motorists who speed.  

Another presenter challenged the popular adage that “content is king” in social media. Sonja Kovacevic, content manager of LIFEconnect in the church’s Trans-European Division, proposed that instead, “the audience is king.”

“[Our audience] prefers to trust someone they know. And they come to know us when we offer useful content. They come to like us when they enjoy our content. And they come to trust us when our content is credible, consistent and free,” Kovacevic said. 

Brazilian businessman and philanthropist Milton Soldani Afonso received this year's NetAward from Adventist Church President Ted N. C. Wilson. Afonso was key in establishing and funding the Adventist Church's use of media outreach in South America. 

“Even more than his money, his vision for the church in communication and technology has been his greatest contribution,” said Williams Costa Jr., Communication director for the Adventist world church.

This year’s GAiN conference also featured a presentation by Antonio Monteiro, who was released last month from a prison in Togo after nearly two years of detainment. Monteiro and four others were imprisoned on charges of conspiracy to commit murder in a case that captured the attention of the Adventist world church.

In December 2012, a social media campaign calling for a day of prayer helped raise awareness of the situation in Togo. Facebook followers interacted with “Pray for Togo” content more than 50,000 times, while the Twitter event hashtag reached more than 7 million users. Later, a petition to release Monteiro reached more than 60,000 signatures.

Monteiro received thousands of Christmas cards during a December 2013 campaign to encourage Adventists in prison on false charges and forced to spend the holidays separated from family.

“I told my wife, ‘We will plaster them onto a wall in our home,’” Monteiro said, thanking his world church family for their support during an ordeal he says both tested and strengthened his faith. 

—additional reporting by Ansel Oliver