Same Message, New Opportunities
One recent afternoon, members of the Alliance Defending Freedom team took a rare pause from their myriad responsibilities to celebrate, for a few minutes, an unusual—and unprecedented—accomplishment: a record 400,000 people had “friended” the ministry on Facebook.
In the exponentially expanding world of social media, a “record number” changes fast. It also carries considerable significance—not only as a measure of people’s enthusiasm for the work of Alliance Defending Freedom, but as a way of gauging that interest against their engagement with the ministry’s most substantial legal opponents. On the day the ministry reached that Facebook milestone, for instance, the American Civil Liberties Union recorded 182,000 “friends”; Planned Parenthood logged 454,000. (Alliance Defending Freedom has since surpassed both, with more than 650,000.)
That’s not the only number the ministry is tracking. Other figures indicate that, beyond affiliating themselves with Alliance Defending Freedom, thousands are regularly talking online about the organization and its issues. Those conversations are crucial to getting the ADF message out to new audiences and faithful Ministry Friends across the country and around the world.
"The landscape of communications has radically, seismically changed in the last 10 years."
“Every ministry would like to find a way to communicate to a broad constituency—in our case, to let people know what’s happening in the legal landscape,” says Anita Silmser, chief marketing officer. That growing need to reach changing audiences, she says, is spurring the organization to cultivate a variety of new media forums for its messaging.
“The landscape of communications has radically, seismically changed in the last 10 years, with the migration from traditional to electronic media,” Silmser says. “In the first few years, that shift reflected a mostly younger demographic. Now, even those 55 and older are increasingly engaged with all forms of social media.
“Obviously, people will continue to depend on radio and TV,” she says, “but the electronic media will increasingly be where people consume the most news and information.”
With that in mind, the ministry is working on relaunching its own website, culminating months of effort to reassess the site’s purpose and greatly improve its functionality for both devoted friends of the ministry and casual visitors curious about the organization.
The new site “will mark a big philosophy shift from what we have been doing,” says Legal Advocacy Communications Director Josh Tijerina, who is leading the reboot. “It will be more robust in teaching who we are, what we do, why we do it, and what we stand for.” The new site will also be easier to navigate, Tijerina says. “It will put the most important things we’re doing front and center for those who visit the site—giving them the information they need, when they need it. We’re really focusing on the issues our Allied Ministry Friends and visitors care about.” What’s more, he says, “we’re figuring out ways to explain complicated legal procedures in terms understandable to a public that is interested in knowing what’s happening.
“We are not only showing visitors the legal work we’re doing,” he says, “we’re showing them what the broader alliance of like-minded legal groups and ministries is doing, and how that is shaping the culture. Visitors are getting the most complete picture of the worldwide battle for religious freedom.”
Even amid the flurry of online activity, though, the ministry is finding new ways to communicate its message through more traditional media. Beginning last fall, for instance, stories of the ministry’s clients and cases have been featured regularly on The Garlow Perspective, a 60-second daily radio program featuring Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, California.
"Visitors [to the website] are getting the most complete picture of the worldwide battle for religious freedom."
Garlow drew national attention as a leader in defending California’s Proposition 8 (the voter initiative defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman), where he worked closely with Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys. In the wake of that effort, he has been prominently featured in national media; his radio commentary now airs in markets coast to coast.
“We’ve been fortunate over the years to have our attorneys speak on national and regional radio programs across the U.S.,” Silmser says, “but we’ve not had a consistent, daily presence. Because of our long relationship with Jim, we felt it would be mutually advantageous for us to partner together. One, it makes economic sense; two, it’s a third party talking about our values; and three, it’s a good fit with our ‘alliance’ model.”
With religious freedom threatened more than ever before, she says, “it’s vital to communicate to Americans of every age and background the importance of standing for their God-given, constitutionally protected rights.” The rapid, strategic expansion of Alliance Defending Freedom into every form of social and electronic communication is multiplying the ability of the ministry and its supporters’ ability to reach and impact these increasingly diverse audiences.