When someone mentions the word ‘evangelist’ one immediately conjures up an image of hipster biblical chaps, roaming the land in flowing robes, spreading the word of the Gospels to convert others to the Christian Faith – well, I do! Fast forward more than two thousand years and the Department of Health are advertising for a Digital Evangelist with a £100,000 salary attached. So, has anything changed – apart from the salary? I’m pretty sure that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were unpaid evangelists!
Back in the 1960s ‘technology’ was new and exciting and gathering pace, but this also meant that your average person on the street was a bit wary of such innovations. This continued through the 70s and 80s, at which point technology companies like Microsoft and Apple had new products that they needed developers and customers to use or develop for. Steve Jobs was beginning to assemble his A-list team and hired Mike Boich, a Stanford and Harvard graduate. Mike created the Apple software evangelism team for the Macintosh; they were responsible for demonstrating the first Macintosh to software developers and potential customers. The aim was to create a critical mass of support for the product and, through his evangelic approach, Mike Boich was responsible for the Apple-Microsoft relationship, which would have seemed unthinkable a few years earlier.
But isn’t ‘evangelism’ just another word for sales? Whilst there is a strong element of persuasion involved, it is much more than that.
Sales versus Evangelism
The word has its roots in the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (transliterated as euangelion) originally meaning ‘good news’. It evolved to become the preaching of the gospel (the good news), and, more contemporarily, enthusiasm for or support of any cause, which could be, quite rightly, linked to ‘advocacy’.
To lean back on the biblical metaphor, the Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) weren’t on commission – they believed in the ‘good news’ of the stories they told and wanted others to hear and benefit from them. Through their activities, they wanted to influence the decisions of others.
So, what does that mean in large organisations of today? Sure enough, there are managers and Directors who have responsibility for ‘digital’ or IT or marketing. Can’t they just get on and ‘evangelise’ at the same time.
To an extent – yes. But they’re not the only ones who can, and should, be getting involved.
Whilst researching this article I came across a number of roles, from across the globe, with ‘Evangelist’ in the title, which would have been unheard of several years ago. Mind you, so would anything with ‘Digital’ in the title, but that’s for another day. On closer inspection, some of these roles did seem to be Digital (Marketing) Managers or similar but with a sexier, more attention-grabbing title. Such a role was being advertised on LinkedIn. The article read,”… the (Microsoft) Worldwide Retail Channel Marketing team is seeking a creatively driven, strategically minded, digital evangelist…” This sounded amazing. Where do I sign up! Just to make sure, I contacted them and asked as to whether this was a Digital Marketing Manager role under another (I didn’t say ‘sexier’!) name. The response was interesting:
“Technically, yes the question (sic) does have a digital marketing manager core function. However, digital evangelism is absolutely needed, within the confines of the role.”
But it does seem to be the case that organisations are looking for more than management and leadership across their digital channels and investments. They are looking for someone grounded in the art of persuasion and passion to take their organisation’s activities to the next level and engage the collective in that knowledge and success.
Robert Cooper is one of those people.
Robert is the Digital and Information Evangelist at Liaison Technologies, has over 20 years’ experience in the IT industry and has seen it change considerably over the years. Liaison Technologies follow the ‘good to great’ philosophy and have taken strategic steps to move from a reactive to proactive approach for the benefit of the prospect, the customer and the organisation itself.
“Digital experts are generally great at seeing the bigger picture. However, organisations need to change. Universities need to think differently and encourage everyone to think far more strategically within their own expertise, rather than waiting for tasks or issues to come to them. Experts can be advocates for their own skills and knowledge and show the wider value of this by going out and about, knocking on doors, breaking down siloes, and being the person that makes connections across departments. Show the art of the possible, back-up your business case for change with solid data and evidence and proactively proclaim ‘this is what you can do'."
This ‘getting out and about’ approach is backed up by Paul Boag in his blog post around becoming a User Experience Advocate:
“I would encourage you to get out of your chair and speak to colleagues across the organisation.”
Who should be Evangelising?
It is unlikely that a UK higher education institution is going to put out a job advert for a £100K Digital Evangelist role or even mention that word in a different role. And even if they did, you can guarantee that within a short space of time they will be managing people and budgets and spending all their time in committee meetings.
From what I have seen, UK HEIs seem more comfortable with bringing in short-term, external consultants to tell them about the next big thing rather than listening to the expertise within the organisation itself. You can change that. You can be the evangelist.
See it as a ‘calling’ rather than a job title. Neither Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, saw a job advert on www.spreadtheword.com. They were passionate, enthusiastic, saw how something could benefit individuals and the collective, strapped on their sandals (probably) and went out and about sharing what they knew to persuade others. And it worked.
Start small. Use your internal web community to share the value and benefits of digital investment and transformation. Show how what you have done has improved the user journey and experience, and therefore is helping the organisation to reach it goals. Contrary to 2,000 years ago, evidence will help the art of persuasion, so always have hard data and metrics up your sleeve ready to share and wow the audience.
Blog about your successes. Communicate upwards. If you see something new and innovative that could be useful, or is just interesting, share that nugget with your peers and managers and encourage them to do the same. Don’t wait for the external consultant to swoop in and tell your manager something that you already knew. Don’t be scared to put yourself forward as the expert – that is exactly what you are. Hell, make yourself a badge!
Web and digital experts are great at making connections across organisation and operating as internal consultants, even if this isn’t how they see themselves. Take this a step further – strap on your sandals, go out and about, knock on doors, and spread that digital word.
Author: Claire Gibbons, Digital, Marketing, Higher Education and Content Consultant.
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