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March 30, 2016

Social Media in Youth Ministry: Finding Your Voice

The average attention span of a human being is…… oh, look! squirrel!

Thanks to a big study last year by Microsoft, we can now officially brag that the average screen-scrolling human’s attention span has fallen from a thoughtful 12 seconds in 2000 (when mobile tech was starting to bloom,) down to eight seconds by 2013. Bummer, right? Just to get some perspective, goldfish are thought to have an attention span of nine seconds. Yup, seriously.

This makes our job as Marketing & Social Media gurus crazy challenging. Every word, image, and video you post has to be perfectly worded, photographed, and captivating enough for your audience to care. Now add the teenage-life drama of our students, distractions, and millions of other sources into the equation. We’ll do just about anything to not get scrolled away!

Be known for posting quality.

Make it a well-known fact that YOUR youth group’s social feed is THE place to be.

From my experience…..

Students don’t care about

  • Text-only posts. – No more than 1 of these every 10 posts.
  • sharing the event poster graphic – Try a pic of your youth pastor holding the poster instead!
  • QR codes.  – Uhhh. What’s that?
  • Churchy vocabulary  (Fun, Friends, & Fellowship)
  • Long reads / long videos  (remember the whole attention span thing?)
  • They judge us when we use poor grammar & spelling.

Students really care about

  • The weirdness of their youth pastors, interns, and friends
  • Poking fun references at current viral trends (Note: once the moms start saying it, it’s no longer cool!)
  • random or clever use of emojis, even if it doesn’t make sense
  • Seeing themselves and their friends on the page
  • Throwbacks from their childhood (yes, something from 2005 is a throwback!)
  • Funny, surprising, or awe-inspiring short videos

Here’s a killer example.

Q: Why is BuzzFeed so successful?
A: Because everybody wants to see the 15 Reasons Bacon Is Better Than Love.
… Why? Because it’s different and stands out from the noise.

The main goal of your social media presence should be to catch people off guard. All these big sources talk very “corporate” and “plain.” Note how all the “cool” youth-targeted pages like BuzzFeed, DudePerfect, even Wendy’s restaurants talk like… wait for it… REAL human beings.  Why does this work? Well, this generation truly values authenticity. Don’t fake it.

Pro Tips from the Church Social Media Managers Group to sound REAL:

    • PLEASE spell everything right. Be concise and clear. (Acronyms are sooooo 2008. TTYL.)
    • Use Emojis! I don’t care if you don’t like them. They make it easy to get the word across with fewer words, and that’s good!
    • Avoid cheesy stock photos (especially the stolen ones with watermarks!)
    • Use funky-fresh words. Stop saying “Join us”!
  • Reference the local community! If the local football team won, there’s nothing wrong with a non-church-related shoutout. It’s called reaching out to the community.
  • Write like you’d actually speak it. Be yourself. If you’re running for a larger group, consider signing your name on comments!
  • Real photos of youth group life. Even solid iPhone photos! (I jacked a fake plant from the church offices and made #FakePlantFriday a thing. Try it sometime!)

And finally,

Don’t be afraid to push scripture!!!

I see a lot of youth groups posting only about the raging foosball tournament or the friend-bringing taco night, or the whole “come because it’s FUN” thing. Know that your students need spiritual encouragement too, and with some coaching are totally willing to share The Word. Try sharing some cool, retweet-able scripture graphics. I really like the daily ones from YouVersion and the occasional posts from TheWorshipProject. Even better, pull the actual sermon notes after Wednesday night, and whip up your own using Canva or Adobe Post!

THE TAKEAWAY:

Be real. Be human. Students are smart, and absolutely know when you’re faking it. Be known for posting quality, entertaining, and relevant content, and that following will come. Bless up!

Jeremy Poland is the Multimedia & Marketing Manager at 4640 Student Center, a youth group in Grand Junction, CO. Jeremy creates web & live visuals, runs multiple church social media accounts, and strongly promotes a sober, Christ-centered lifestyle to Middle & High School students. Outside of the church, Jeremy is pursuing freelance Portrait Photography and Design work for regional and statewide clients.

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