This is the fourth post in a series on Social Media in Youth Ministry. Be sure to check out the other posts!

It seems Twitter has people on the edge: either they love it or they hate it. I’m in the first category, so let me see if I can spread some of my Twitter love.

A very short introduction to Twitter

First off, for those who aren’t familiar with Twitter: Twitter is a social medium where people share what they are doing, thinking or what they find interesting enough to share in 140 characters or less. You then ‘follow’ people who seem interesting to you and you can read their messages, known as tweets. If you like a tweet enough, you duplicate it and resend it to your followers, which is known as a retweet. People use hashtags (eg #youthministry) to define their tweets with keywords or to add a little humor (#gottagetmesomecoffee). You can also tweet pictures and links to anything including blogs or YouTube videos.

You can use Twitter via the Twitter website, but there are also specific apps for this, like Tweetdeck (which I’m using) and Hootsuite. These have some added benefits, like being able to schedule tweets and view tweets in columns.

Twitter is time consuming, like many other social media. The more people you follow, the more time you’ll need if you actually want to read their tweets. Also, you’ll need to do several tweets yourself a day. All in all, I’d say I spent about an hour a day on Twitter. But people do get by with a lot less I hear, they’re probably more selective in what they choose to read.

Youth and Twitter

Youth is not big on Twitter, or that’s the general opinion. In June 2009 only 16% of the Twitter users were under 25 (see here). 90% of the users of Tweetdeck, on of the most popular programs to use Twitter, is over 25.That is remarkable, since most social media get their popularity from being embraced by youth.

That may change however. Reports show that more and more youth are finding Twitter. In December 2008 the 18- to 24-year-old age group accounted for 19% of Twitter users. In September 2009 that figure has leapt to 37%. The 12-17 group is also growing at a rapid speed. It’s a complete reverse trend than we see on Facebook, where the average age is growing instead of declining.

Using Twitter to connect with youth

While it may not be the primary social medium for youth, you can most certainly use Twitter to connect with your young people. There are two ways in which to do this: with a personal account or with a special account for your youth ministry.

The first one is obvious, you start following any youth you know with your own Twitter account. You see their tweets, they see yours and you interact along the way.

You could also open a separate (protected) Twitter account for your youth ministry if you’d want. If your students then sign up as well and opt for the possibility to get updates to their cell phone as a (free) text, it’s a great and cheap way of informing them of upcoming events. Be well aware however that if you just do this, it’s not actually entering into a dialogue, it’s one-way communication!

I’d strongly advise you to take some time to come up with other stuff you can tweet, for instance:

  • Pictures of events, services and stuff
  • Bible verses or even a daily Bible reading plan
  • Follow up questions from studies you’ve done in the small groups
  • Links to news that may interest them
  • Links to YouTube movies of Christian artists
  • Funny pictures, movies or quotes
  • Prayer requests
  • General church news
  • ‘Did you know…’s

Like with any other social medium, a sleeping Twitter account won’t do you any good so take some time to prepare content before you jump in. Should you decide to open a separate account for your youth ministry, you may be interested in learning that for instance Tweetdeck will allow you to manager several accounts. I’ve done it and it works like a charm.

Do keep in mind that while it’s not commonly known, Twitter also has a minimum age (13, like Facebook), so don’t encourage younger teens to open a profile. Like all social media, Twitter is not without risks for young users. If your youth is opening a Twitter account, advise them it may be wise to make it a protected account, meaning they have to give people permission to follow them.

Using Twitter to connect with youth workers

There are many youth workers on Twitter, you only have to find them. Here are a few ways I use:

  • Search on youth ministry related hashtags like #youthministry, #youthwork, #ymin, #stumin and start following people who use these
  • Search on youth ministry related keywords, people will often have youth leader, youth worker, youth pastor or something like that in their profile
  • Search for specific names like Doug Fields (@dougfields)
  • Look at the Who to follow suggestions, if you follow a bunch of youth workers Twitter will find more for you to follow
  • Look at who other youth workers follow, chances are you’ll find a whole lot more coworkers in their list

Maybe you’re growing tired of hearing (reading) it, but always remember that Twitter is a social medium, meant to engage in a dialogue with others. How you do that? I’m glad you asked:

  • Create a real profile including a picture or logo. Give some relevant info about yourself so that others can decide whether or not you’re interesting to them. I get followed daily by people who have nothing in their profile except a name. I won’t follow you back unless I can see who you are and what you’re about!
  • Reply to tweets from others, for instance when they share joy (‘three students came to Christ last youth night’), struggle (‘had a tough meeting with the deacons yesterday’), stress (‘168 mails in my inbox, no way I can read them all’), etc. Respond with kindness, take every opportunity to encourage others. We’re the Body of Christ!
  • Don’t be surprised when people reply to your tweets. Others are actually reading what you tweet! (well, maybe not everything, but still). If someone replies, engage in a conversation or at least acknowledge their reply. Unless you have 10,000 followers in which case you’re excused from replying to everyone.
  • Retweet tweets that touched you, spoke to you, were informative or in other ways enriched. Be generous in retweeting.
  • Ask questions, ask for people’s experiences or opinions.
  • Don’t just tweet links to your website, your blog posts or anything of yourself. People will unfollow you real fast.

I love Twitter. I have ‘met’ many youth workers from across the globe, sitting behind my desk in the south of Germany. I’ve shared joy, pain, struggles and victories. I’ve seen unity among youth workers who never even met. It surely is a sight to see…so join the conversation!

Are you on Twitter? If so, what do you take away from using it? Do you have a certain strategy? If not, what’s your reason for not using it?