It’s almost a truism to say that teens love social media. However, each of us only has a limited amount of time to spend interacting with them on social media. As a youth minister (or leader of some other Catholic group) you probably want to maximize your social media outreach while minimizing the time it takes you. I’ve seen a lot of other posts with lots of strategies for how to use social media, and a few questioning if we even should, but instead I want to focus on which forms of social media are best to use for your youth group. Being on Reddit and on Instagram are two radically different things. I want to cover the main forms of social media and list the pros and cons for a youth group. It goes without saying that you want to be on the types of social media your teens are on: in some neighborhoods, Twitter predominates; while in other neighborhoods, it is absent from teens’ lives.
The mother of all social media. You need to be on Facebook whether you like it or not. In many places, the teens will have moved on to other forms, but Facebook is still a great way for communicating with parents.
Facebook gives you the option to create a page for your youth group that is separate from your personal account and the parish’s account, which I would recommend. I think it is important to separate from your own for several reasons: you probably won’t be youth minister in this parish forever and this will make it easy to transition. If you have a personal account, you need to be very cautious with privacy settings and accepting teens’ friendships because of current child protection standards. On a page that is separate from your personal account, everything is public and you can’t control who likes it, so you can be protected in regards to any potential allegations. You also have the option of having multiple people manage a page, which would create a web of relationships rather than just a relationship with you. Your youth group page should be separate from your parish’s page because of Facebook’s algorithms for showing content: if a teen or parent is involved in the youth group and likes the youth group stuff, Facebook will generally show them more of it. You can still have a relationship with the parish’s page where you share each other’s content at certain times.
As far as Catholics on Twitter, I’m pretty high up. However, if no teens or parents in your area are on Twitter, don’t bother. Twitter requires you to learn the art of concision as you have a very limited post length. The other factor is that your content needs to entice others to want to share it, as a large percent of your reach on Twitter is by other people sharing it at a later time. Twitter lists tweets chronologically without using a fancy algorithm; so, I think you could share a twitter account with the parish if they so desire, and you can post events a few times. Twitter tends to be much more public than Facebook: by analogy, I consider Facebook sitting in a café with some friends and twitter spouting off stuff in the town square.
If you want to succeed using Instagram, make sure your photos have decent graphic design/photo editing. Instagram is all about beauty: beautiful pictures, beautiful fashions, and beautiful food. On other social media, you can just post the date and time of your activity, but on Instagram, nobody will notice it unless it is in a graphical format. Instagram is growing among teens, so you may be required to use it. (One of the people here on ProjectYM also started Parish Designer which can do this graphic design for you if you are no good at it.) Instagram also uses a chronological ordering so you need to post things when teens and parents will see them.
In my experience, Tumblr tends to attract a lot of different forms of weird. If however, by chance it is the most popular form of social media for your teens, you’ll have to get to learn to use it. Tumblr is kind of a hybrid between a blog and social media. Each time you post, you choose what kind of post it is, although it seems that simple text posts like Twitter or Facebook and picture posts like Instagram are the most popular. Tumblr tends to be more anonymous than other social media as a large portion of the users simply have names like aminelover or beautifulwildlife. I have a tumbler account but it simply auto-posts from other social media to protect my name. I have not found much use for it.
In theory, Google+ is almost the same as Facebook. In practice, Google+ has a much lower number of engaged users – many simply join so Google will unite various other Google services or to make YouTube comments. Despite the low activity, those who are active, generally give more thoughtful replies: Three or four times I have commented on my blog simply linking back to Google+ comments while I have never done that with Facebook comments.
In the rare chance this is popular, make your own subreddit for the youth group and ask the mods at /r/Catholicism if you don’t know how to do it.
This is the same as texting; just free for long distance.
I’m sorry, but I find it hard that someone running a Catholic ministry can use this effectively. The fact that it was created for sexting and that you have nothing to back you up if some kid accuses you of somethign even remotely inappropriate. I recommend against using this even if it is the most popular among the teens in your youth group: we are held to a higher standard than them and there is no way for us to prove we upheld that standard using Snapchat. (Some people may say only priests are held that high but a lay youth minister, especially on staff, should be as well.)
To me, Pinterest seems along the lines of Instagram and Tumblr but the gender division skews highly female while other platforms are mixed. I can definitely see a youth leader using this if it happens to be popular where you are. The main difference is that each person creates different boards with types of pins so you can create a board with “youth group events” and another board with “inspirational quotes.”
On odd chat site that seems moderately popular with teens. It gives no way to connect in general other than just one-on-one or in a small group. I only looked at it briefly, and to me it seemed awkward and not really functional, but maybe you can make it work.
Unless you are the youth minister at an elite prep school, this will not be common among your teens. However, I’d recommend that you get on it simply to build your resume. I know you love the parish you’re in, but that could change in five years and you may not want to be in youth ministry. LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to say that you actually know youth ministry, theology, and Catholic parishes, etc.
There are a few dozen other types of social media but none of them have a large presence in the United States or Canada. If one of them happens to be popular in your local area, you’ll have to investigate yourself as I don’t know it that well. Another I’ve looked at and haven’t mentioned is Flickr with only 32 million users (the ones I recommended using generally have over 300 million).
2 Final Notes:
1. I waited to post this till “Laudato Si” wasn’t overwhelming in online Catholic circles.
2. This post on a separate website for YM inspired me to write this.