“Kids these days.”

That’s usually the sentiment I hear from adults over the age of 35 whenever social media platforms like Snapchat come up in conversation. However, it’s important for us as church communicators to ask the question, “How are teens using social media?” If we don’t know how the next generation is using social media, how are we supposed to reach them?

Before I get too much further into this investigation, I just want to give you an idea of who I am. I’m a 27-year-old male living in Chicago. I still spend time with teens on a weekly basis, so I can hopefully give you a better look into how youth from ages 13-19 are using social media. While all of these findings may not apply to teens everywhere, hopefully you’re able to glean something that will help you to reach the next generation through social media as I explain how teens are using each platform.

Facebook

It seems like there are rumors every other week that Facebook is dying because teens have stopped using it. The truth is, many groups of teens have stopped using it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an account. Facebook for teens is like their social ID card. If they don’t have an account, it’s almost like they don’t exist in the eyes of their peers. It’s an interesting dynamic.

And while there are many groups of teens that don’t use Facebook often, there is still a large contingency that uses the platform, but mainly for the Groups functionality. Especially in city contexts, many teens use Facebook Groups to gather together. They use Groups to keep up with what is going on with all the different social groups at school. But teens don?t use Facebook for much else.

What does this mean for you as a church communicator?

Facebook is still going to be your main platform to connect with adults, but don’t expect to reach too many people under the age of 20 with the platform.[quote]Facebook is still going to be your main platform to connect with adults…[/quote]

Instagram

Instagram is where much of the gossip happens for teens. “I can’t believe she said this.” Or “He did what?!” For female teens, it’s also a self-esteem platform. For example, I knew that selfies were a big thing among teen girls, but I didn’t realize how deep it actually went until I listened to the first few minutes of this This American Life episode when Ira Glass interviews some teen girls about how they use Instagram. It’s definitely worth a listen. Instagram and Snapchat are where teens spend the majority of their time.

What does this mean for you as a church communicator?

As a church, if you want to connect with teens, Instagram is a good place to start. It’s not as complex as Snapchat, and it has a single purpose: pictures and video. Just remember, you need to use it differently than Facebook. For instance, use it as a platform to share what’s happening behind the scenes of your church.[quote]As a church, if you want to connect with teens, Instagram is a good place to start.[/quote]

Snapchat

Snapchat is probably the fastest growing social media platform among teens. While your perception of this platform may have negative and inappropriate connotations, Snapchat has matured into a great way to connect with friends. In fact, less than 1% of people on Snapchat are actually using it for inappropriate purposes. So while we must be cautious when we approach any new social media platform, I think this is actually a viable platform for churches.

Snapchat basically consists of everything that teens don’t want to post on Facebook or Instagram. The concept of Snapchat is temporaneous (posts disappear after 24 hours in your Story or disappear after 10 seconds or less if they?re sent directly to someone) so teens are willing to post those pictures or videos that they don’t deem good enough for the more permanent platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Snapchat acts as a behind-the-scenes of their lives. In fact, I think it’s probably the most genuine social media platform available right now.

What does this mean for you as a church communicator?

I’m not going to tell you that your church needs to be on Snapchat. But I would highly recommend that your church’s youth pastor be aware of what your teens are using, and if Snapchat is on that list, then by all means, your youth pastor or youth ministry should be on Snapchat. It can be a great way to share behind-the-scenes pictures or videos of your church. At the very least, create an account for yourself personally and go follow @crosspoint_tv to get an idea of how your church could use Snapchat.

Twitter

You’ll notice that I left Twitter for last, because I’m not sure how relevant it is among teens. Again, it’s going to vary based on context, but largely it seems like Twitter is becoming a platform for adults to keep up with news, etc. Although I will say for the teens who do use Twitter, they’re using it similarly to Snapchat. It’s acting as somewhat of a behind-the-scenes of their lives. And since they’re limited to 140 characters, they tend to tweet things that are happening to them throughout the day. What also distinguishes Twitter is that it’s a fast-moving timeline, and the lifespan of a tweet is usually only about 18 minutes before it’s probably not going to be seen by many more people. That’s why teens feel so comfortable tweeting multiple times per day about what they’re thinking or doing. It’s like a stream of consciousness for their lives.

What does this mean for you as a church communicator?

Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about reaching teens on Twitter. It’s mainly going to be a platform for reaching young adults, so you need to be present there. But I wouldn’t think too much about reaching teens there. With that said, don’t be afraid of tweeting too much. If you have enough time to commit to it, I usually recommend tweeting about 4 times per day. In fact, on Sundays at my former church, I live-tweeted services and would send around 15-20 tweets on Sundays and that was our highest-trafficked day on Twitter. So just try it and see what works for your church.[quote]If you have enough time to commit to it, I usually recommend tweeting about 4 times per day.[/quote]

Now What?

With all of this knowledge, now you need to decide where you’re going to commit your time and effort. I think we can all agree that it’s important to reach the next generation on social media, and the Church needs to be able to adapt to new platforms. So how will you adapt? Are you running scared from new platforms because they’re complicated or are afraid of the negatives that are associated with them? Or are you able to approach these platforms with an open mind and exploration?

With that said, it’s important to only do what you have capacity to do. Don’t start using a new platform just for the sake of being the hip, cool kid on the block. You must have a strategy when you approach social media. Be aware of what your teens are using, how they’re using it, and if your church should or should not be present there.

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One reply on “How Teenagers Are Using Social Media”

Hello Josh,

Thanks for the article. Can you expound on what the “negatives” are on the new platforms?

“Are you running scared from new platforms because they?re complicated or are afraid of the negatives that are associated with them?

Thanks!

Kip

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