The goal of Catholic Youth Ministry is to help teens know and experience Christ. To do this we need to reach teens. But where are teens? Today many are on social media. Yet social media can seem daunting to those of us just a few years older. I figured I could offer some things that helped me reach teens on social media.
I don’t think of myself as a social-media expert. However, somehow I’ve supposedly become the most influential person online in Catholic Youth Ministry – I have a Klout of 66, and Mark Hart (#2) has 64 – I should have something to say. I guess I’ll try to say what I know. I hope it helps.
I only joined Twitter in November 2012 and Facebook in December of 2012 – yes, you read that right, I held out till last December to join Facebook. Somehow, I must have figured something out. I’m not 100% sure what but I try to share the little I have figured out here.
I wanted to write one big blog post but it began getting too long so I posting secrets for all types now and I’ll post specific secrets for Facebook and Twitter later.
Before getting into the secrets, I think we need to make a clear distinction among Catholic youth ministry online. There are those whose primary, if not exclusive, concern is this parish youth group or a single high school, and then there are those of us who want to spread ourselves wider. For simplicity I’ll call these groups parishes and freelancers. The groups aren’t airtight – almost every freelancer also does parish work – but they help distinguish approaches. The parish wants to connect with the 50-100 kids in the youth group and maybe a few hundred friends, parents, and other people in the community. The freelancer is regional or nation-wide and says: “the more people I connect with, the merrier.”
The first thing we need to realize is that social media is not some special foreign place. It’s the modern town square. Don’t be scared. Most of all, BE YOURSELF! If you know how to help teens in the real world, do the same in social media. Freelancers can have a special tendency to try to make themselves into someone they are not.
In social media, self-promotion is not the sin of pride. If you start a new blog, only your mom and wife will read it until somebody sees it on Twitter or Facebook. If you have a great event coming up, tell everyone.
They are following or friends so that they hear about it. Don’t take this to the other extreme of being annoying and reposting your article so many times people are fed up. It’s just like the real world, we like to know when our favorite team is playing but if our buddy tells us 16 times, we get annoyed.
Be ready to invest a bit of time into social media if you want to have success. Simply posting your events on Facebook does nothing if people don’t read it. Posting a single event on Facebook is like posting a banner on a wall that stretches from Chicago to Detroit. Unless the people you want to read it know to stop there, it will be lost in the blur of 100 other posters. The whole value of social media is connections – active connections to be precise. Once someone connects with you, your content appears right outside their front door. However, with the exception of Twitter, this will slowly move further away unless you keep having points of contact. If Joe likes your page on Facebook, he’ll likely see one or two updates but unless he comments on, shares, or likes those, Facebook will move your page to the bottom.
Cultivate your connections. If people start responding to what you’re saying, show them you appreciate it. Just like we show attention when someone is talking to us in real life, we need to express our appreciation and attention to others who are talking to us on social media. If you post something, and a person responds “Amen,” “Nice reflection,” etc. then you should respond with a like / favorite / +1 to that comment. This is the same as nodding your head if they said this in real life. It is also nice to give likes, favorites, and +1’s to other posts but its meaning is different. I like over 80% of the comments to my posts on Facebook but only about 10%-15% of the updates I read. Parishes should read what some of the youth group members are posting, and like or comment as needed. If you connect with them, they will connect with you; social media is inherently a 2-way street.
It’s recommended to separate your personal and youth group account. This applies especially to parishes and less so to freelancers. You likely aren’t going to be youth minister at parish X for 20 years so you want a way to separate once you’re done. Plus, most of the youth group kids don’t want to see your family vacation photos while your adult friends do. On the other hand, your cousin 1000 miles away doesn’t need 5 reminders of your youth group events. I admit that I didn’t start out this way on twitter and now I’m looking for a way to do it well.
It’s very difficult to over-communicate on social media. (On twitter, it’s close to impossible.) Therefore, don’t just post one thing but repeat and amplify what you have to say. You shouldn’t repeat the exact same thing but if you have an activity coming up and you post 4 different reminders the week before, that’s completely acceptable. To get your message amplified by others, make it easy to share. If your note is complicated, few will share it but if it’s simple and catchy, teens will share it among themselves (and some of them may be more credible to their peers than any of us).
You knew we had to talk about child protection norms. What can and can’t we do with teens online? My basic rule: the same as real life. If you would not say something to a teen at youth group, don’t say it to him online. Period. The difference here is that usually the norms require parental permission for private communication via texting or online. Responding to public posts or public tweets don’t count. Usually private messaging and accepting friend requests require parental permission. If you’re a parish, you have it easy, just add permission to talk to teen via social networks to the permission form. For us freelancers, I’d say that on twitter it’s easy to say no DMs (5% of twitter bios say this so you won’t stand out). On Facebook, do a page where everything is public, and don’t accept friend requests from teens you don’t know (let them follow your public posts – more on this later).
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for specific secrets relating to Facebook and Twitter. To make sure you don’t miss them, please go to the right hand side, (1) follow me on twitter, (2) like this page, and (3) subscribe by e-mail. As I said, it’s hard to over-communicate.