5 Ways That I Win With Students on Social Media

Kristin Hemingway
March 18th, 2019

Navigating the world of Social Media is an interesting adventure that many of us are on. You never know if what you’re saying might be taken out of context. You don’t know if you’re going to finally go viral (maybe for something that you would never want to go viral for). Sometimes you don’t know who is paying attention or if anyone is paying attention. You don’t always know if you’re sharing too much or not enough and how what you’re sharing is being perceived by those on the other end. It can be a daily struggle of what to share and how to share when dealing with our personal lives. When you add the layer of deciding on how to use social media to connect with students that we serve in ministry, it becomes an entirely different ball game. As a person serving in ministry for almost 14 years, I’ve learned a few best practices about creating genuine connection online and helping that translate to the real world! 

Celebrate Publicly. When students share about their wins on their social media, congratulate them on their post and, if you can, find ways to highlight them in your ministry context. Whether that is creating a post to shout them out from your ministry page or giving them a moment to shine at your next gathering, find ways to show them that you care about what they’re doing outside of your ministry and that you’re proud of their efforts. 

Correct Privately. When students feel comfortable enough to let you into their real world, you’ve been given a unique gift. Many of our young people live out loud online in a way that they would never do face to face. As a result, when let in, we become privy to more of their real life and not just their ministry persona. As a result, we sometimes learn things about them that they wouldn’t normally disclose in a ministry setting or conversation. We need to make sure that we use this privilege of access wisely. When we come across something that may need to be addressed or corrected, we want to make sure that we do it privately. We are guaranteed to lose our access if we embarrass them on their social media pages. We also may lose our influence in their real life. In a perfect world, you will be able to address your concerns in person, but for things that maybe can’t wait until an in-person meeting, a phone call is far better than a comment or DM. It can help you get a better understanding of what they’re trying to say, It will also help you to be determine how you need to move forward. 

Be Authentic On Your Social Media. I have some students that aren’t comfortable enough to let me follow them yet, but they are willing to follow me. I take that opportunity to show them that I’m human. Sometimes students put us on this Christian pedestal that makes it harder for them to connect with us. Seeing us live out our REAL, authentic lives on social media, both the ups and the downs, creates a pathway for conversations that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I remember sharing about my depression on my social media and there were several students that came and talked to me about their own challenges with depression afterwards. The amazing thing was that this was a topic that they had never previously brought up. These were students that weren’t previously drawn to me, but that now felt a connection because I was willing to be authentic.

Turn an Online Post Into a Real-World Conversation. I make it a point to chat with students about the minor things that they share on social media. If you mention a test, a trip, a performance, a date, a book, or whatever, I am following up the next time that I see you. These are easy conversation starters that help build a real connection with the young people in your ministry. It also creates an easier entry into the more challenging conversations that may pop up. It creates a pattern of engagement that students can trust moving forward because you’re consistently speaking with them about the various things that they’re choosing to post.

Personal over Branded. While some kids were completely fine with being followed by the ministry branded page, many of them shy away from it. However, these same students were absolutely comfortable with following and being followed by my personal page. I respect that and follow them from my personal page. This creates a more genuine connection and helps them feel like I am honestly trying to build an authentic relationship with them versus trying to keep tabs on their activities and looking for opportunities to correct them. 

The truth of the matter is that none of this is easy. Engaging with students online and in person present unique challenges. We must determine how to navigate in our efforts to build authentic community with students. So, while none of us have all the answers, I do know that these five tips have helped me build deep, authentic relationships that extend beyond our ministry and help deepen our true Christian community! And that is a community that can change lives! 

Kristin Hemingway

Kristin D. Hemingway is a 16-year youth advocate and ministry veteran that hails from Detroit, MI. She currently resides in Atlanta, GA where she is a nonprofit professional, youth leader, and highly sought after curriculum developer, trainer, and speaker.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.