This is Part 3 of our series on “Digital Discipleship”.  We’re talking about the ways to empower students to safely and effectively reach their peers and classmates through online technologies. 

Now that we’ve established how students are using social media (and some best practices for using social media), it’s time to dive into the actual networks that students are using.  By seeing what students are doing (and how they’re best utilizing content) on social media we can develop a plan that meets students where they are.

Facebook: The Ever Present

It’s impossible to hide from Facebook – no matter how hard some people try.  It’s the grand-daddy of all social media, and (while opinions are polarized on its usefulness), more people use Facebook in the US than any other social network.  In case you’re not in the know, Facebook is more than just posting status updates.  Here are some of the best ways people utilize Facebook:

Friends On Facebook

Facebook is a very personal network.  According to Nielsen Research, 82% of people add a friend on Facebook because they know them in real life (conversely, only 41% of people only go through the hassle of removing friends they don’t know well).  To get someone’s friend acceptance on Facebook usually means they know you, trust you, and want to keep you on their mind.  Since there’s no effective way to organize friends and followers into groups, the “fire hose” of information is something that is skimmed.  We’ll come back to this in a bit.

Facebook Messages

Facebook Messenger remains a great medium to contact students.  While some students may not post to Facebook often, they use the messenger to have conversations where cell signal is bad (but WiFi is plentiful).  Facebook also offers native group messaging, making it easy to disseminate information quickly to a large group (I used to have our youth Worship team on a message – it was used frequently when students couldn’t make it to find someone to cover them in the band).

Facebook Groups

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 3.04.06 PMPrivate groups for students are an effective (and cheap) way to organize your student groups (drama team, worship, etc).  Have the students turn on notifications so they can get pinged when you post a new message (the default notifications will show pings from friends, so even if you and a student aren’t friends they will still get notifications).

Facebook Pages

It goes without saying that your youth group needs a Facebook page – it’s a way that your students can get information delivered straight to their timelines quickly and easily (even more so if you teach them about the notifications mentioned above). But, if your entire youth ministry revolves around your Facebook page (and you’d be surprised how many ministries actually do this), you may end up for a rude awakening.

First off, having your entire social media strategy based on one network isn’t smart anyway – if that network vanishes tomorrow, you lose everything.  Most experts conclude (and I agree with them) that having a “central hub” for your communication is essential.  For most that will be a church website, but if you’re finding that doesn’t satisfy, a WordPress blog is quick, easy, and cheap to set up.

On Facebook & Privacy

Many students, however, are jumping from Facebook in favor of other mediums.  Simply put: they feel their privacy settings are too complex.  And let’s face it: as a teenager it’s very tempting to silo your followers (family, friends) and keep certain information out of certain groups.  Facebook’s privacy controls, unless you have a small amount of friends, just doesn’t work for everyday use.

So, where are they going?  We’ll cover this more in future blog posts, but they are going to where they can explicitly control who gets the information (SnapChat, WhatsApp, and other similar services).  They are, in essence, creating these private networks themselves.  For now, a good number of students do still use the platform, and it remains a viable place to connect with them – even if they’re jumping ship.

Photo by marcopako 