In youth ministry we have one looming elephant in the room that we so often wonder how to use. Facebook. According to Pew about ¾ of teens use Facebook, and most of them every day. The average one has 425 friends and 20% have over 600. We want to help teens experience Christ in their world; Facebook is part of that world.
I already gave 7 secrets for social media in general and some tips for using Twitter (my top social network). Now I want to end this series talking about Facebook. The other social networks all have less than 12% of teens engaged and I don’t know them well so I’ll let someone else explain how to use them. (You can view the details of the Pew survey at MarketingLand.com, at DailyTech.com, and on Pew’s own site. Most people are reporting 94% but that is 94% of those with social network accounts [81%] so the total is about 75%.)
Facebook has 3 main ways to interact: personal accounts, pages, and groups. When you first sign in, you create a personal account from there you can create pages or groups. A page is for something other than a person (a business, product, etc.) or a fan page; a few people, for example Mark Hart, actually manage their own “fan page” and use it as their primary account. Anyone can like a page and then receive the updates it sends out. A group is just that, a set of postings open to everyone on the group (and depending on the type, the whole world) independent of being friends. I currently manage two pages and two groups: pages for my blog and for a camp; and groups for alumni of a youth formation course and older teens from a camp.
Here are my 7 top tips:
1. Give teens different ways to contact with you via Facebook. These two ways also make it easier to hand on your Facebook connections when you move on and someone takes your place.
1a. Make a page for your youth ministry! You want to post invitations to everyone, you want to send everyone the pictures from your retreat, yet you don’t want to get these mixed up with your post of your family at the zoo. Pages are automatically public and anyone can like them and get their content in their newsfeed. This should mainly be stuff you want to communicate both to teens and parents.
1b. It’s often advisable to make groups for your ministry. Sometimes one works, oftentimes several work so one is for adult volunteers and another for teens. This group can be for announcement but is also a great forum to transmit formation and receive feedback from teens. The adult group is great for organizing your next activity. To avoid child protection issues, I would recommend that any group geared to teens is open so parents can see the content if they want (but can’t comment).
2. Set a consistent policy for accepting (or sending) friend requests to teens. My personal policy is that I need to know the teen and I need parental approval. I know others who accept any teen friend requests but never send them. The worst thing that could happen is you accept one teen’s request but not another without a clear reason why – you’ll be seen as playing favorites.
3. Always follow the PAN principle for posts with teens: Public, Appropriate, and Non-sexual. If something requires it be private (a question the teen is embarrassed to ask or something similar), check with parents first but just give them a general description such as, “Johnny asked me some questions about his Catholic faith via e-mail. Can I respond via e-mail?”
4. Engage teens. You need to at least occasionally read the posts of the teens you’re working with to enter their world. Unless you are using Facebook as a semi-celebrity account you need to realize that it’s a 2-way street. Don’t spend hours and hours reading every post.
5. Be yourself! If someone is sending you a friend request they want to know you not some cardboard cut-out of a Catholic youth minister.
6. Decide what type of stuff you will regularly post on your personal account and stick to it. My personal account is almost a professional account. I send out a daily one-line homily (for lack of a better explanation). I only occasionally post stuff that is personal and never what’s most personal. For instance I posted that I was ordained a deacon but not my personal spiritual lights during the preceding spiritual exercises. I also post almost everything public and let people follow me (I call them acquaintances instead of friends).
7. Don’t lose your focus. Facebook is a tool for ministry, it isn’t the most important thing. The most important thng is the sacraments and teen s’ personal encounter with Jesus. Facebook may be one step on the path for many but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. As well, don’t count sharing non-ministry items as ministry – that’s a sophism.
Hopefully these tips help you in your ministry. Do you have any others to share?