Social media are indispensable nowadays in youth ministry, but what is the best way to use them and what are issues we need to take into consideration? In this new series on Social Media in Youth Ministry we’re going to dive deep into the phenomenon of social netwroks. We’ll have a look at facts and stats, we’ll do some analyzing as to what the future may hold and we’ll definitely discuss best practices. We’ll also look at several media in more detail and see how we could use these in our ministry. But let’s start with a look at social media in general so we’re all on the same page as to what they are exactly.

What are social media?

Let’s start with defining what social media are exactly. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

The term Social Media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue.

Ok then, let’s analyze this definition. Social media:

  • are web-based and/or mobile
  • have communication as their goal
  • should result in interactive dialogue

It’s very important to realize that social networks are meant to be social, meaning they should result in two-way communication, an interactive dialogue. One of the biggest beginner’s mistakes is to initiate one-way communication only and not enter into a dialogue. If you do this, you will quickly lose credibility and people will stop ‘following’ you. If you’re not interested in what others have to say, don’t engage in a conversation.

Having a Facebook Page or Google+ page for your youth ministry for instance will only work if you update it regularly, preferably once a day or more. It’s not a static website with info about the youth ministry, it’s a spot where you want to continue the face-to-face conversations you’ve had with your youth in the social media setting. So ask questions, post pictures, give them a reason to engage and come back.

Types of social media

Kaplan and Heanlein, two researchers, came up with six different types of social media in an article they wrote in 2010:

  1. social networking sites (e.g. Facebook),
  2. blogs and microblogs (e.g. Twitter),
  3. content communities (e.g. Youtube),
  4. collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia),
  5. virtual game worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft)
  6. virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life)

But with more and more networks developing, the edges between these categories start to blur and certain social media can’t be categorized that easy any more. Anyway, when we look at social media in youth ministry, the first two are the most relevant and we’ll discuss the best-known examples in these categories in more detail.

Using social media in youth ministry

Social networks can always be used for two different groups in youth ministry:

to communicate or dialogue with youth

to communicate or dialogue with other youth workers or youth ministry organizations

In this series, I’ll refer to the first as ‘connecting with youth’ and the other as ‘connecting with other youth workers’. If your goal is to do both, you’ll probably end up using several social media as connecting with youth and connecting with other youth workers often require a different type of social medium.

Youth and social media

We’ll get into more detail about youth and their preference for certain social media in the upcoming posts, but for now it’s important to state that youth are very into social media in general. Let’s give a quick overview:

  • Facebook is and remains the most popular social networking site for now and most young people will be on it. However, this may change as more older people are coming to Facebook which may force the youth to go elsewhere.
  • Google+ is doing well amongst specific groups, but youth hasn’t really embraced it yet.
  • Twitter is less popular with youth than Facebook, but it’s growing rapidly, especially in percentage of youth.
  • Other social media sites are also on the rise among youth, like the microblogging platform Tumblr.
  • Blogging is becoming less and less popular among youth, they prefer the microblogging on Tumblr and Twitter (and via their Facebook updates).
  • YouTube is obviously also well known amongst youth and almost everyday some video will go ‘viral’ because the link is spread like crazy.

We’ll be several of these in more detail in upcoming posts and analyze how you could use these in youth ministry.

Youth likes communicating via social networks, so they are an excellent way of communicating with your youth. But…and there’s a really big but here: they can and should never replace face-to-face contact. I know that writing a quick reply on a Facebook update is a lot faster than actually calling a teen who’s in trouble or setting up an appointment, but it doesn’t work that way. Internet relations should complement the ‘real’ relationship you have with your students.

Youth workers and social media

I wasn’t able to find any statistics how youth workers use social media. My guess would be that they are a little more active and in the forefront that non youth workers of the same age group, as youth workers tend to be early adopters. But that’s a bit of guessing on my part and I’d love some cold hard facts if anyone has them! Here are my thoughts:

  • I do know for a fact that the number of youth workers on Twitter is rising, which is logical because the number of users of Twitter as a whole is still growing rapidly. I have ‘met’ a lot of youth workers via Twitter and I love it. To me, Twitter is an excellent way of connecting.
  • Most youth workers will also have a profile on Facebook, though more and more are keeping this private.
  • Google+ is becoming more and more interesting for youth workers, as real conversations and connections are taking place here.
  • I would love to connect with more youth workers on LinkedIn. I have some connections, but it seems this is not really a popular social medium for youth workers to connect yet.
  • Then there are the scores of youth workers who blog, ranging from more than once a day to once a month or even less. I for one am grateful for all the time and effort they put in, I read a whole bunch of them via RSS.

In the upcoming posts, we’ll get into more detail about Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Which social media do you use for youth ministry?