Sacrificing Friends for Followers

Published: May 23, 2014
Sacrificing Friends for Followers
I still cringe at an unsettling conviction I had a couple months ago: I care more about my “followers” than my friends.

I still cringe at an unsettling conviction I had a couple months ago: Oh, no – I care more about my “followers” than my friends. I check Facebook 10 times more often than I check on my friend who just had her first baby.

I’d come to care more about “friends” than friendships.

I’d come to care more about engagement than relationship.

I’d come to care more about making followers than disciples.

Ugh: I’d even care more about that ‘p’ word (platform).

To be clear: I genuinely care about the people who connect with me on social media. Truly – I see it as a privilege. I marvel at how God can use social media to support, teach, encourage and empower people in their purposes and passions.

We have as much responsibility to steward social media well, as any other vehicle of ministry & discipleship.

But my “friends” aren’t my friends. I don’t take lightly that relative strangers let me into their lives through their Facebook and Twitter feeds. I don’t take for granted that they care (at all) to see snapshots of my life on Instagram.

I just don’t like that I’ve lost sight of the difference in significance; I don’t like that I’ve obsessed more about my platform than I’ve obeyed my purpose.

As much as I cherish my social-media communities, I haven’t cried on any of my followers’ shoulders. And none of them have pep-talked me through break-ups, or laughed with me over fro-yo and fond memories spanning ten years. 

I’m also not opposed to social media – in fact, I’m grateful for what it’s made possible for me, since self-publishing my first book as a no-name new author. I’m just convicted about how I’ve put “platform building” on a pedestal.

In case you’re not familiar, platform – in the blogosphere and publishing world (including the Christian ones) – is essentially the quantification of your impact. It’s a quick way to take the pulse of a writer’s, ministry’s or business’ marketability.

For example, it helps a publisher gauge the profitability of partnering with an aspiring author – based on the number of likely customers within your immediate social-media audiences.

It’s become so normalized that it’s a standard part of almost every vetting process I now go through: from book-proposal templates, to business- or ministry-partner development. Platform has become an aggressive and unapologetic way of appraising the value of someone’s ministry and message.

Is that really a bad thing?

After all, ministries aren’t exempt from making smart business decisions, too – not if they want to thrive! It makes sense to make decisions that – for the same degree of effort, they will create a higher return on an investment of time and talent. I get it – as a Christian businesswoman, I even do it!

But, as much as I may understand the need to “build my platform,” and for as much as I may invest in doing just that – part of me still resents this method of valuation. Why? Because I don’t like how platform’s been known to trump message.

Consider, for example, the number of celebrities with large platforms – but not the most-edifying messages or modeling. They reach thousands or millions of people, but the message they offer isn’t necessarily a beneficial one to spread.

It’s not just in secular celebrity, though:

It’s disheartening that it can be more important – even within the Church – for following to be something I build, instead of something I get to do by the grace of God!

I’m not sure where the balance is, yet, but I plan to continue wrestling with it. I intend to keep learning how to cultivate community through social media. And yes, I will even consider ways I can share hope, inspiration, and information with more people.

I just don’t want to care more about being noticed by people, than being used by God. I don’t want to confuse building a platform for building relationships. I’m tired of this idea that an audience of as-many-as-possible is more valuable than the Audience of One.

So I pray for the purification of my motives. I pray for renewed gratitude for my friends. And I pray for the humbling of my spirit – and for the submission of my heart to the Lord’s delight – not the world’s approval.

Rebecca Halton is a writer, author, entrepreneur, and yes, a social-media enthusiast. Her favorite ways to get away from Facebook and Twitter include coffee with friends, hiking or sports, and finding the nearest sources of French macarons.