Online Personality: By Design or by Default?

The online personality of any individual or church will either be by design or by default. In other words, you will have an online personality regardless of whether you strategically design one or not and, as with most things, we all have tendencies to default to what is easiest and comfortable as opposed to what is most effective or healthy!

An online personality that forms by default can become unattractive and unhelpful in the common pursuit of building (and growing) platforms that influence others. Common mistakes include tones of waffling, anger, ignorance, carelessness and irrelevance.

Therefore, using tone tables will help your team to define and maintain its online personality with consistency, especially in designing how your written content/style is to affect your audience. As a team, it’s vital that as you agree on your rationale for what will inevitably become a multifaceted tone and that you keep your audience firmly in mind so that you’re serving their interests first rather than your own preferences.

It is possible to do this while remaining true to your overall mission and calling.

An Exercise in Tone:

online personality online tone


  • Referring to the above diagram, think about compiling sets of individual words and phrases that, as a team, you want to be associated with and that will serve your overall mission statement and the spear-head of your marketing/PR activity. This is a vital part of your brand.
  • Also make decisions about phrases and words that you don’t want to be associated with. Asking yourselves why/why not for these decisions will also be helpful for your overall strategic development for all things digital!
  • For example, do you want to have a tone that leans towards playful/informal or one that is more conservative/formal? Find examples of other online presences that you feel inspired by and comfortable with and that would be appropriate for your core mission. Then add your own, unique flavour.
  • It’s vital to remember that you need to project your own unique personality so don’t lose who you really are through binary transmission. Also, if your own tone tables don’t reflect the reality of your organisational culture, it will create digital disharmony and the public will feel that.

What Is Your Social Proposition?

Your online personality or tone like this will be closely related to your social proposition. Let me explain:

In the business world, a profitable company will make their social proposition both very clear and very consistent – the unique value or product that they provide a customer. Think of Nike, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, L’Oréal, the Star Wars brand McDonalds or KFC – it doesn’t matter – without a clear, genuine value proposition, no company would have a place in the market and, ultimately, wouldn’t be profitable for very long…if ever! Imagine if Coca-Cola were boring or aggressive or didn’t use language very well or if McDonalds never listened to their customers and changed with the times.

Similarly for building our churches in the 21st Century, we need to be savvy in firstly interpreting the needs of the communities in which we’re set and called to and, secondly, have a marketing strategy that will effectively and fruitfully serve our communication of the gospel to them.

Online Personality and Church Marketing

A core part of our church “marketing strategies” (call them what you like) must be to consider what our unique social proposition is and how it designs our online presences. Of course, your ultimate social proposition is the gospel; but how this is out-worked will be dictated by your calling, your community, your gifting and resources as well as your senior leadership and staff team.

For example, here in Edinburgh, UK, there are more than 300 churches in this one city alone – this is staggering! With these numbers is a huge range in digital presence, ranging from non-existent to very strong. Some ‘churches’ are not faithfully communicating the Bible or the gospel at all whereas others are harnessing the power of digital technology in amazing ways to project their heart for God and for people to a watching world.

I commend these areas of digital tone and marketing to you as deserving of your time, money and best energy in making brave decisions to better serve your communities. We need more churches who are compelled by the love of God, the gospel of Christ and who do their very best to let as many people know about these realities in the best way they can.

For further reading and a deeper study of building church culture, I recommend Kevin Gerald’s book By Design or by Default.

Nick Franks is a freelance digital leader living in resplendent Edinburgh, Scotland. Learning to love as he should, Nick is engrossed in living a contagious lifestyle of worship and prayer. He sweats under his eyes when he eats too much cheese, adores Liverpool FC and has a strong preference for Earl Grey leaf tea. Nick is married to the beautiful Mairi. Consider contacting Nick at for any of your media-related projects in photography, writing and film. 

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Author: CMM Staff