How to: Leverage Social Media to Connect with Parents

Defining Social Media

What is Social Media?

Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.

Simply put, Social Media is communication. Period. It just happens to be the way we communicate in today’s fast-paced and high tech world. Let’s take a quick look at how Social Media has evolved into the primary force of communication in the early 21st century.

Link to Social Media Video (2011 version)

As you can see everything has changed. Before we dive into the specifics of Social Media, we need to come to an understanding. Social Media is not a fad, but has become the way the world is communicating. We all have a choice. We can become like the ostrich and bury our heads in the sand, or we can dive into Social Media head-first. You really do have that choice. However, to not enter into the Social Media world means to become irrelevant. It means you will not have a voice and in our line or profession, without a voice we have little use.

Over the years I’ve seen different people resist different mediums of Social Media. I know pastors who really resisted Facebook. They just didn’t like it and the idea of everyone knowing their business and such. They saw it as a colossal waste of time. Yeah, it can be all those things, but for many parents, it may be the quickest and most efficient way to communicate with them.

I’ve seen others hate on twitter. They’d say, “I just don’t get it. Why would anyone want to know what I’m doing.” Honestly, that’s the initial reaction for every new user of twitter, but as they push through they begin to see a stream of conversations that connect us to those we minister to as well as immediate access to many of our parents and volunteers.

The same is true of text messaging. The story of resistance to text messaging is a personal story. Five or six years ago I got my first smart phone and finally had email on the go. It was amazing to have that kind of access to everyone from anywhere. However, nothing frustrated me more than when I got a text message. I was paying $40 a month of data, but every time someone sent me a text, it cost me extra money. I resisted text messaging for years. My confession… only 2 years ago did I upgrade my phone plan to 200 messages a month. Four months ago I upgraded to 1000 and three weeks ago I upgraded to an unlimited texting plan. I had to come to terms with the way the world was… and it is a text messaging dominate world.

As communicators, we must become masters at communication, whichever method is most effective. Although none of us will master every form of Social Media, it is pertinent to become familiar with as many as you can, comfortable on several and a master at a handful. Plain and simple, Social Media is communication and if you want to “connect” with parents in the 21st century, Social Media will be a primary method.

The Social Networks/Tools

Social Media isn’t any one website. It’s literally dozens of sites, resources and tools used to communicate. So, which one is best to connect with parents? Well, that’s not the right question to ask because it totally depends on how you’re trying to connect with parents. Each Social Media has a specific niche for communication. So, before we look at how to connect with parents using Social Media, let’s look at the unique strengths and weaknesses of the various networks and tools.

A place for instantaneous, ever flowing information. It answers the question: “What’s happening right now?”

  • Trending topics
  • Historic tweets
  • All-access information

Many have described Twitter to be like a coffee shop. Conversations are fairly causal and people are easily friended and followed.
Twitter can also be described as a river… a free flowing current of constant and endless information of what is happening right now.

A place for self-expression and relationships. Facebook is where you hang your pictures, answer questions about yourself and connect with those you do life with and reconnect everyone you’ve ever known. It answers the question: “Who am I?”

  • Information is gathered relationally
  • information is delivered relationally
  • Everything is designed to be connected relationally

Many have described Facebook to be like your living room. Conversations are usually a little more intimate. Your profile page reveals quite a bit about you and you’re more likely only going to invite a friend in.
Facebook can also be described more like a lake. Each person’s profile is a wealth of information and one can spend quite a bit of time exploring and camping out in one place.

A place to take an idea and expand upon it. Blogs are places where you express thoughts in a more permanent way. Blogs are more passive in nature and usually depend on other social media to deliver your content or lure people to come to your content. It typically answers the question, “What do I think?”

  • Content is king
  • Focused content
  • Reference material

The main idea behind a blog is depth. Most blogs are highly focused and center around one topic or idea. The more time you spend in that blog, the more you learn about a particular topic. If it’s a personal blog, you’ll learn considerably more about that person, it’s like reading a public diary. There is a more-permanent nature to blogs, where rich content is published for easy access and made easily available whenever searched for.

  • YouTube/Vimeo
  • Podcasts

A place to quickly connect with a private group of people. It is highly focused in audience and a communication method that is accessible to nearly everyone at almost any time of day or night. It answers the question: Who do I communicate with most?

  • Private Social Media
  • Highly accessible
  • Nearly immediate

Integrating Social Media

These are some of the most current and most prevalent Social Media tools being used today. Which do you use? Which are you familiar with? Which have you mastered?

Here’s the important thing to know. You do not need to be utilizing every tool. You’ll likely find yourself using two or three on a regular basis as it comes natural. However, your ministry should be actively utilizing every tool available. That means you’ll need help. Maybe you’ll have a volunteer manage your twitter account or moderate the facebook page. Perhaps you’ll have a team of writers publish content regularly on the blog. Just as you develop volunteer teams to lead your student ministry or nursery classrooms, you must look to develop a team to deliver important communication via social networks.

Why? In our day and time, people want information on their terms. People no longer search for news, it comes to them. Advertisers push relevant products to prospective clients. In a similar manner, we must deliver key and relevant content to families… on their terms.

Taking into account what each Social Media tool is designed for, use it to connect with parents in the context of what question that tool answers.

How might you use Twitter to connect with parents?
Twitter answers the question, “what’s happening right now?” One great use of twitter is to broadcast ministry as it is happening. Images from environments, talking points or discussion questions or just describing crazy stuff that’s happening might help parents connect to what their kids are experiencing as it happens, giving them context for conversations they’ll have later.

Pre-plan tweets with questions to ask throughout the week to keep parents connected two what kids are learning or focused on. Pre-plan tweets announcing upcoming events or just revealing what’s going to happen this upcoming Sunday or Wednesday night. Remember, Twitter is a constant stream and your followers won’t see everything you tweet, so mix up your message and tweet it multiple times a day.

Where Twitter works really well is when kids/students are away at a camp or mission trip. Parents desperately want to connect with what their kids are doing. They want to know that they are having a great time and that their lives are being impacted. Twitter ends up being a powerful connection tool for families to join the experience, staying connected every step of the way.

How might you use Facebook to connect with parents?
Facebook answers the question, “Who am I?” It’s the place where people can come and learn all about you in the context of relationships. Not only should you be on facebook connecting with families, but your ministry should have a facebook page where people can come and learn about your ministry. Use it as a place to upload ministry photos and videos.

Five years ago, you felt the need to have a ministry website as a place to host content about your ministry. Although a website is still necessary, a ministry page on Facebook is just as important. What makes your ministry page on facebook so much better than just a static website is the social aspect. When you update your website, no one notices. It’s not that people don’t care (which they probably don’t), it’s that it isn’t on their radar so they don’t even know to care. When you make an update on your ministry page, load new photos or video, your changes are broadcast to everyone connected to that page.

Encourage your parents to “like” your ministry page. Explain that it is a place for them to know more about your ministry as well as a place to stay connected with what is going on. Include your facebook page in all of your communication, both print and electronic. Now it is up to you to both keep content current and interact with those who “like” your page. Post links. Ask questions. Invite conversations.

How might you use a blog to connect with parents?
Blogs answer the question, “What do I think?” Blogs are more passive in nature, but stand as a more permanent place for information, information with more depth. Where twitter limits you to 140 characters and where what you say on Facebook today becomes yesterday’s old news in a busy news feed, your blog provides detailed content that stays in the forefront for as long as you would like and is easily available whenever it is needed.

Many Social Media tools integrate well together and blogs seem to work best when content is delivered to parents via Twitter or Facebook. Blogs are ideal for anything that needs to be said in more than a few sentences. Blog posts replace newsletters and a bulk of emails. After publishing posts, you simply point people to the content. For instance, you might need to communicate a policy change in your Children’s Ministry. Post it on your blog. Then message your volunteers pointing to the post and explaining the change and how they are to enforce it and follow it. Message your parents pointing to the same post and explain how the change might affect them and how they can be prepared when they visit. Message your boss pointing to the same post again letting him or her know of the changes in case he/she is questioned. The content doesn’t get forgotten in an email or live in people’s inboxes, but lives in a public venue for all to see.

Blogs are also flexible. You ministry blog may be the actual website for your ministry. If so, it may contain page after page of static content for parents to learn about your ministry in addition to your feed of regularly updating posts. Today, blogs have become more like full featured websites. However, your blog may also just be the broadcast feed of your ministry website.

  • How might you use YouTube/Vime to connect with parents?
  • How might you use Podcasting to connect with parents?

How might you use GroupMe to connect with parents?

Of Social Media tools, GroupMe is one of the more personal tools. It’s specific, narrow and more private in nature. It’s an ongoing conversation of a shared group, not the broadcast of one person. Remember, it answers the question, “Who do I communicate with most?”

It is fairly unlikely that you will set up a ministry wide GroupMe where every parent will join. However, GroupMe is a great idea for a parent counsel. These would be parents who are heavily invested in your ministry and you want to keep an ongoing conversation with them about different aspects of ministry.

Perhaps you would use GroupMe with some parenting small group initiatives, where parents are wanting to connect with other parents about intentional parenting. It would be an ongoing conversation with a dozen or so parents where they’d offer idea, encourage each other and ask for help when needed. Because GroupMe is mobile and instant, it’s a way you’d connect with parents as they’re doing life, not whenever each party gets to it as the kids are in bed and they sit down in front of the computer.

Social Media in Ministry Examples

Explain how Kenny used Social Media to communicate with parents at Gateway

  • Blog
  • Constant Contact
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Explain how Kenny used Social Media to connect with parents while kids were at camp

  • Blog
  • Facebook
  • Twitter (Every counselor updating)

Breakout Slideshow for reference

All of the above notes are mixed between Kenny Conley and myself and was a breakout that we did at the Orange Conference in April of 2011.  Please give credit to both of us if you use any of the information in these notes.  Thanks.

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3 Responses to How to: Leverage Social Media to Connect with Parents

  1. Matt, you guys had a great breakout in this session. You may not know this, but I really like social networking and think it’s way under-valued by a lot of kid’s ministries. ; ) This session would let anyone understand what’s out there and how it would benefit them. What really stuck with me, that I will share with every kidmin that I speak into will be this quote:
    “Just as you develop volunteer teams to lead your student ministry or nursery classrooms, you must look to develop a team to deliver important communication via social networks.”
    That was a whole new thought line for me to give to others who may not be as “enthusiastic” as I am for social networking. Great, great point. Thanks for that. And, btw, this line:
    “Although none of us will master every form of Social Media”
    may have become my personal challenge. : )

    Blessings, my friend. Thanks for all the tech help!

  2. My pleasure. Glad I could help.

  3. Claire Rogers at #

    These are also great insights for teachers, youth pastors and anyone else who works with students!

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