Web-exclusive: Using media to reach youth

“With more than 1 billion users on Facebook, by population it's the third largest country in the world. So who’s sending missionaries to that country? Who’s planting churches in that country?”
“With more than 1 billion users on Facebook, by population it’s the third largest country in the world. So who’s sending missionaries to that country? Who’s planting churches in that country?”

Q&A with Phil Cooke, co-founder of Cooke Pictures

Chances are, you’ve heard Phil Cooke’s name before.

According to former CNN journalist Paula Zahn, Cooke is rare — a working producer in Hollywood with a Ph.D. in Theology. He’s produced everything from Super Bowl commercials to creating the most successful Christian media programming of the last few decades.

His book, One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do, helps you find the great purpose and calling for your life. Another book by Cooke —Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media — is inspiring the church to change the way it engages today’s culture.

In addition to writing at philcooke.com, he’s also a contributor to The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Forbes and FoxNews.com.

So, it stands to reason that he knows a thing of two about using media to reach youth.

Even before a pre-teen or teenager seeker checks out a church’s website, are there effective ways to make him or her aware of the church’s presence — and relevance to their own lives — via social media?

Absolutely. The power of social media is that it’s exponential. People sharing their story with friends, and then those friends sharing the story. So, chances are, if your youth group is a powerful experience for young people, they’ll be sharing it with their friends already. I would encourage them to do that. Research indicates that people are moved far more by personal recommendations than advertising or marketing. So, get your young people talking on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms.  It’s the best way to get your story out there.

Is it fair to say that pre-teens and teenagers aren’t likely to set foot inside the physical church without first exploring its youth-centric website content and social media profiles first?

First — virtually 100 percent of potential visitors from every age group will check out your website before they actually visit. So, please don’t have a lame web presence. It should be the focal point of all your communications about the church, and it should be easy to navigate, easy to share and look terrific.

Second — as I mentioned before, your social media presence is the first wave of connecting, especially with young people. With more than 1 billion users on Facebook, by population it’s the third largest country in the world. So who’s sending missionaries to that country? Who’s planting churches in that country? Don’t just think about missions in geographical terms; start thinking about missions in digital terms.


What are some common misconceptions church leaders have about engaging youth members via social media — and the realities?
Most leaders are simply afraid because they’re not avid social media users themselves. My first recommendation is to take a dip in the water yourself. Become comfortable using it, and then you’ll feel more comfortable recommending it.

Also, like any strategy, you have to work at social media. People don’t follow you by accident; they follow you because you’re saying things worth listening to. So, make sure your content is what young people are interested in hearing — and sharing with their friends.

Once youth members have discovered a church, how can that church then use social / digital media to keep them engaged?
There are two kinds of social media feeds: the institutional feed and the personal feed. The institutional feed is the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other social media platform for the church, youth group or other outreach. It’s mostly a bullhorn that shares announcements, notices and news. The personal feed is a leader’s voice. It’s more personal, expresses his or her personality, and frankly is more fun to follow. Both are important, but each serves a different purpose.

Are there any common “no-no’s” when it comes to reaching out to youth members (and potential members) on social media?
Although social media is a powerful tool for sharing your story, every church needs to be cautious about it. First of all, it opens doorways for inappropriate contact with teenagers. It’s “social,” but it also can lead to “private” online communications which can get leaders into trouble. You need to be responsible when using it.

Second, remember that your leaders are representing a church, so they need to be careful what they say and how they say it. Never forget that people will associate your staff (even active volunteers) with the church; communicate accordingly.

Third, educate your team about what’s appropriate and what’s not. I have clients who use a “social media policy” with their team. It’s simply a document that reminds them about ground rules, areas of caution and inappropriate messages. Just because social media is easy to use, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t educate your team when it comes to using it effectively.

—   Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh




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