2012 CSJO Conference Keynote by Jessica Miron
This year’s topic is “Twenty-First Century Concerns: Economic, Environmental, Educational And Then Some”. Once I finally sat down to write my speech, this topic was overwhelming. I consider myself a smart person and I try to keep up to date on current events, but this topic made me feel ignorant. As I started to stress over what I’m going to discuss, I started to focus on what I left the conference thinking about last year and determined that it would fit into the “and then some” part of the topic, “How can we benefit from the internet while not alienating the older members and how to increase participation in the CSJO conference?” During last year’s keynote, the number of secular/non-religious identified people there were in the US was brought up, which lead to a brief debate on how many of those categorized themselves as non-religious truly wanted to be non-affiliated with a religious group and how many wanted to be a part of a secular community that didn’t know about it. Later during the conference in one of the seminars, the idea of social media was part of the topic. Some of the older members were hesitant and not interested in some of the internet activities that we discussed.
Using social media more proactively,considering the state of the non-religious/secular community as a whole in the United States, and finally the percentage of those that would be interested in an organization similar to ours stayed with me. I came to the conclusion that more people would want to be a part of our secular organization if they knew we existed. The Jewish population in the US is small compared to the other religions, so while that limits who we may attract, there still is huge potential to increase our numbers. This is where social media and more effective internet sites come into account.
While we shouldn’t alienate anyone by moving all of our efforts to the internet, not using everything at our disposal doesn’t help us. In order for our community to stay alive, we need to bring in new blood. In addition to the usual postings in the newspapers, magazines, etc, being easily searchable online and having a social media presence is essential. A quick example is an internet search. Using 2 of the biggest search engines, Google and Bing, I searched using 2 terms: “Secular Jew” and “Secular Judaism”. CSJO.org wasn’t listed for Bing on the first page under both terms and it only “Secular Jew” was on the first page for Google. This isn’t good.
In 2001, The Center for Cultural Judaism released a report titled “American Identity Survey”. This report found that nearly half of America’s adult population who identify as Jewish regard themselves as secular or somewhat secular and ½ of the American Jews are completely unaffiliated or do not belong to a Jewish organization or community center. There are roughly 2.7 million people in the US who identify themselves as being Jewish with an almost equal amount who classify themselves as agnostic, atheist, humanist or not affiliated who had a Jewish parent. Based on this data, there is a population that might be interested in joining our organization if they knew about us, those who are not affiliated with an organization and those who don’t identify themselves as Jewish.
Included in the preface of the “American Identity Survey” was the following: “Existing[Jewish] programs are limited intheir reach because they continueto use conventional models and traditional language to reach a non-traditional population that has an array of alternatives to meet their intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs. Unfortunately, many of these alternatives are not connected to Jewish life.” CSJO and the Jewish Children’s Folkshul do not use conventional models, which leads me to I believe that The Center for Cultural Judaism was unaware of our organization at the time of this survey. This is another indicator that we need to make a greater effort to effectively inform others about us.
I grew up in the Jewish Children’s Folkshul of Philadelphia and assisted there after I graduated from the program. My first CSJO conference was when I was 13 and I don’t think I would’ve attended if my Dad and 2 other students in my grade at Folkshul weren’t there. At 13 I was much more awkward and shy and what kept me coming back was playing ultimate Frisbee. The friendships were secondary. I continued to attend through my 11th grade year of high school and returned after I graduated from college. At that point I had not maintained connections with the people I had met. I always had the desire to return and with my dad being active within the community, it was easy to return even feeling disconnected. During my time away, a little website called “Facebook” was created. Had Facebook been around when I initially attended, I guarantee you that I would have retained more of my connections.
Today’s world is online and social media based for the majority of the population. Between facebook, twitter, reddit, instagram, youtube, etc, people are connecting and researching online and we need to have a presence to maximize the chance of people finding out about who we are. How invaluable social media is has been increasingly apparent with the events of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. Using the internet effectively has also launched careers of many including Justin Beiber. For those of you unaware of him, he was found on youtube and signed to a record deal. His highest viewed video, “Baby”, has almost 739 million views. So what does this have to do with CSJO? Just having a website, facebook, and twitter account doesn’t mean much as almost every business/organization has the same. We need to have an active and effective presence to engage and connect with people.
Twitter is a social media medium that is based on 140 character updates. One of features that makes it an amazing tool, is how you connect with people. You don’t just post and read tweets; you can have conversations/debatesusing hashtags, the number symbol, search key words and develop relationships with other organizations. Last year I took part in a discussion on twitter hosted by Greg Epstein, a NY Times bestselling author and Humanist Chaplain at Harvard. This is something that CSJO could’ve participated in and in doing so interacted with hundreds of people. Currently, our twitter page has about 10 tweets going back to 2009 and hasn’t posted since June of last year.
With the shareability of social media, memes can spread like wildfire and become viral. Meme is an image, video, etc. that is passed electronically from one Internet user to another. Viral is an image, video, advertisement, etc. that is circulated rapidly on the Internet. I don’t expect to CSJO to produce a meme that goes viral, but we can create media that our members will want to share. Create a video at the conference or encourage affiliates to submit media to post. This will allow members to share, which leads back to CSJO and expands our reach. This also works with posting media generated by others. For this to work, the facebook group needs to be expanded to all of the local groups, not just for the people who attend the conference and kept active. Active means posting media, asking questions and replying and a fairly regular basis. After the group has been active for a couple of months, hopefully it will remain active on its own. When people looking into CSJO and see an active group and can scroll through the information presented, they will have more of an understanding about us. If they post something, they’ll know they’ll get a response.
Searchabilityis an important concept, but what does it mean and whydo I put so much emphasis on it? You want our websites and social media accounts found easily. If someone is searching for a Secular Jewish organization, you want CSJO or an affiliate to be on the top of the search results. Depending on the wording they use, it’s not. To fix this problem, you can use SEO or Search Engine Optimization, which is the process of improving the visibility of a website in search engines. SEO understands how the results in the search engine are compiled, the website’s target audience and keywords that are wanted to be directed to the website. SEO is something that companies spend millions of dollar. There are free resources available online and companies who specialize to help non-profits expand their internet footprint and improve search results.
Beyond focusing on bringing in new families, family retention is important. The drop off after bar/bat mitzvahs is too great. To retain the families, we need to increase the connection they feel to our community. If the student’s parents aren’t involved, then their friendship with other students becomes more important. Two years ago, after sitting in on the meeting discussing the status of each local group, I had the idea to partner a couple local groups. By having students interact with one another from different groups, you can potentially build a friendship. For students who have never attended CSJO, pairing them with someone may increase interest. If this is too much, planning a youth night and inviting groups if they are close enough, might have a similar effect.
Holding joint events with similar secular and humanistic organizations, including ones that may not be Jewish, as well with connecting over social media is a great way to increase our online presence and our name recognition. Joint events could include a few discussions over the year or bringing in a speaker that both groups would benefit from at the local group level. The Secular Student Alliance, which is on 350 college campuses, ispartnered with numerous organizations including SHJ and encourages cooperation with other organizations. With their ever growing student population and their willingness to work with other organizations, they would be an ideal fit to present joint events. There are numerous other organizations, including Institute for Humanist Studies and Secular Coalition for America, that would most likely be willing to work together as well. An added benefit to working with college students is that when they graduate and/or start a family, they might look for an organization to join. With them already being familiar who we are, we already have our foot in the door.
There is a reason why CSJO has been around for more than 40 years and why so many of us give up our time and money for this organization. We are connected and think this is worth it. With an efficient online campaign and effective social media, we have the potential to expand our community ensuring the continuing presence and purpose of CSJO. It’s time to start embracing the tools that others have created that’s at our disposal. http://www.secularstudents.org/partners
• Understand what the community wants, especially for parents and older students/siblings
Table 75. Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990, 2001, and 2008 http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0075.pdf