So…you use Facebook. Perhaps you have established a Facebook presence for your youth ministry. That’s great! Meet them where they’re at, right? Unfortunately, Facebook isn’t where they’re at anymore. While Facebook activity for those in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s is increasing each day, activity for teens is on the steady decline. So, even though you are using it more and more, even interacting with the youth more and more, they will be on Facebook less and less. So, the answer is to rush out and join the newest, flashiest networks, right? Well, before you go and become the oldest person in the virtual room, know where the trends are shifting. Here are a few up and coming networking alternatives to Facebook to, at the very least, be aware of, as your youth are probably already involved.
Mobile App networking. There are two types of mobile networking apps out there, the main difference being the storage of the media being sent, and we are talking about media. The new trend is micro videos, picture messaging, video chats, less writing and more seeing. This opens the door for passing on media unregulated, meaning without our parents, teachers, and youth ministers watching. The two types of mobile media networking are ones that store the media and ones that “don’t” store the media. The first type is more widely used. Vines, KiK messenger, Tumblr…widely used, loosely regulated. The second type, the type that the media “isn’t” stored, like Snapchat, is on the rise, and provides the perceived security for youth sending pictures they really don’t want seen. Unfortunately, even Snapchat is insecure, with hacks, screen shots, low-tech camera shots of screens…there is far less security than is widely thought. It is important for you to be aware of these networks and apps, know their policies and problems, and relay them to parents. I highly discourage you to engage youth on some of these apps, due to their less-than-upstanding reputations. Be beyond reproach, in that regard.
New Social Networks. Facebook isn’t the only house on the block, and I’m not talking about MySpace, though with their ability to still exist in the face (no pun intended, but appreciated) of Facebook, I wouldn’t be surprised if a re-branding or feature adjustment would bump it’s popularity. There are other networks out there to be aware of. Instagram, owned by Facebook, is a surging online network and it’s success is tied to it’s ease of use on a smartphone. Twitter is still on the rise, though only because of it’s ability to change and adapt to trends. There is also some buzz about an upcoming network called Shots Of Me, backed by, among others, Justin Beiber. Shots Of Me is an iOS-based social network that allows the users to take, post and share pictures.
The trend of social, handheld networking is growing and changing, and Facebook is reeling to keep up. As a youth worker, be sure to do your research, help your teens to use these social apps for good over evil, protect yourself from dubious ideas by not engaging incorrectly, and remember that the moment you have a handle on youth culture, the internet, technology or media, you are probably 6 months behind. Don’t worry, we all are. Take a moment to listen to a cassette tape, watch a VHS on your VCR, write a letter to a friend, take a deep breath, and get back to engaging youth where they are.