How to Start Winning the Engagement Game
Just like that, youth pastors became social media and digital content creators and it’s either sink or swim time.
Over the last week, I have seen a lot of youth workers who feel like they are sinking. They are struggling with how to drive engagement with their posts, devotionals and content; especially comments or likes on Instagram.
Here are two ways to immediately up your game and feel like you know what you are doing.
Many have found themselves thrown into a game they have never played before and are trying desperately to get some wins. The problem is that they don’t know what success looks like. They are just copying what others are doing and hoping for the best. So what does “success” look like in youth ministry in a world where kids are sequestered in their homes bored out of their skulls? How can we truly “engage” students in something good, especially when they are a click away from so much bad?
First, a word of caution. A social media and digital content strategy will not replace community or make students feel loved and connected.
With that being said, here are some potential ways for you “win” with your content.
Presence– People need to see marketing close to a dozen times on average before they consider purchasing. Social media is a way to remind students and continue drawing them into deeper content or opportunities to connect that you provide. While you might not get the likes or comments you hope for, the very fact students regularly see you on their feeds helps keep Jesus on their minds.
Encouragement– Social media posts are not the place to deliver heavy content. View it as an opportunity to say or write a quick word, thought or picture that can put a smile on students’ faces and brighten their day.
Challenge– Whether it is a quick thought to chew on, a nudge to love or care for others, or a funny activity to occupy their time, use your posts to call people to action. Think of all the different viral challenges going on right now. How can you use the same principals to impact your students?
One common way I see student ministries accomplishing this are through very short devotionals videos they post every day or every other. Many of them are very simple and have just had a short thought shared by the youth pastor and sometimes even the volunteers to mix it up. Each of these wins can be accomplished through that format.
Another idea could be a simple graphic like this asking for prayer requests to be DMed to your account.
Don’t be afraid to look around and see what other ministries are doing for inspiration.
While we can’t copy them completely, there is something to be learned from YouTube and other content stars and how they became successful. As I think of the different content creators I follow and appreciate, I have noticed patterns of how they became successful at what they do. Some of them are now wildly successful and making millions of dollars from their content.
Consistent– Develop a posting and content strategy and stick with it. Having a regular schedule students know ahead of time helps them know what to expect and when to look for posts. Having a regular format is also helpful. My favorite YouTube channels do the exact same show week after week. The subject varies, but the way they organize it is always the same. This means you don’t have to recreate the wheel every week and can focus on delivery and content.
Concise– Say what you want to say with as few words as possible. Stick to the point, communicate it quickly and be done. If you post a video, three minutes is pushing it. Anything over five probably won’t get opened. Consider the fact that TikTok videos are just 15 seconds long, and kids can’t get enough of them. The best creators always keep people coming back for more.
Collaborate– Almost every content creator I subscribe to I found through someone I already follow. Don’t try and go this alone. Find students or leaders who are good at social media and have them help you. If you have a student leader who everyone follows, create content with them and have them post it on their profiles. Challenge a few key students to drive engagement, or even better, help manage your ministry platforms.
I was talking with a youth pastor on a Facebook group the other day. He had posted about seeing a 300% increase in online youth group attendance over the previous week. When I asked him what he did differently, he said he was just more intentional about texting students throughout the week. Remember, social media is one tool that will help but never replace the connection and pastoral relationship you and your leaders have built with students. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go exactly as planned. This is new territory for the whole nation! Just keep trying and showing them how much you care.
Cameron Pedicord is an experienced youth worker and avid lover of all things food and cooking. He is a leadership coach and consultant to church and nonprofit leaders and regularly blogs at VMI Leadership Solutions. He works to help churches and nonprofits clarify vision and generate momentum to multiply impact. Cameron, his wife Corrina, and soon to be two children live in Northern California.