Is there still anyone who hasn’t noticed? Those of us who start using Facebook frantically, almost compulsively, have reached an age where our children are the ones giving us lessons… and they don’t use Facebook!
I still remember the day a colleague from the North American Division (NAD) invited me to open a Facebook account to contact other Adventist communicators around the world. It was 2005, when I started my doctoral studies in communication and wanted to share experiences with other colleagues around the world who understood me.
With Facebook in full emergency and the blogosphere in all its splendor, I started and managed up to 12 simultaneous blogs that nourished my social network content in addition to other personal content.
The key to the success of those days was novelty, getting in touch with people we hadn’t seen for a long time, sometimes even several decades, as well as reaching an audience with external content (blogs or websites) directly that could better select what they wanted to see or read on the Internet thanks to the “recommendations” of friends.
As the years went by, the Facebook Pages began to appear, as well as groups and the notes that some people used with great generosity disappeared. In other words, once the blue and white platform began to stabilize its growth, the market niches began to define more and more, and with them, the professionalization of that great mass of consumers, you and me.
What began as a game has turned into a relentless and bloody war, by getting a click, an “I like” and even more by the famous “conversions” (in the marketing world, they are “sales”, in the religious they are “baptisms”).
Advertising and brand pages began to flood and dilute the timeline of our favorite social network. It was in those moments when I recovered my abandoned Twitter account, and by the way, I still use it today much more than Facebook. To clarify, LinkedIn has gained a lot of ground and takes up almost as much time on my small screen as Twitter.
What is the result of seeing so much “fish” in such a small lake as Facebook? That everyone wants to take advantage of. I remember that I practically had to force my children to open a Facebook account, accounts that today are full of spider webs, and of which they do not want to remember the password nor regain access.
Why am I telling all this? To show that everything that a human being touches, like a Midas king, we want to turn into gold, and humanity spoils it. My children are interested in “influencers” but, above all, in personal contact with their friends and in meeting new “reference” people. My daughter loves photography, she is looking for recognition, learning with others who have similar hobbies, publishing her photographs on platforms, and so on. I could also tell quite the same about my son with writing and oriental culture.
If we objectively analyze the behavior of the “Z generation” (those born between 1994 and 2010) or post-millennials or centennials (if all this still serves any purpose), they are looking for in other social media what Facebook has lost, the personal touch. My children find in WhatsApp and Instagram what we saw in Facebook 13 years ago, how time passes! The massification and, especially, the commercialization of classic social media has frightened the Z generation.
Only social media that guarantee minimal automation and marketing invasion attract the attention of these young people. The minimal automation, as it manages to keep almost intact Instagram, and messaging like WhatsApp, assure us that the interlocutor is at that moment behind, or at least we know at what exact moment he has personally published content (without scheduling with tools such as Hootsuite, for example, or the social media automation media built-in services).
Whatsapp’s double check is very important for young people today. Knowing that the other person IS there, that he/she has read to you, that he/she is writing to you, that he/she responds to you in real time. This is what we once called “human warmth”, but digitized.
In short, today’s young people are looking for a human experience, and not having to make an obstacles race avoiding advertising and content that, by the mere fact of belonging to a company, already smells of suspicion.
Some think that audiences are looking for novelty, new options and tools within social Apps. But in reality, if you look at it, what the public is looking for is AUTHENTICITY. The Stories (started with Snapchat, replicated by Instagram, transferred to WhatsApp and then on Facebook) are nothing more or less than a window to publish something that otherwise I would not dare to leave a permanent record, so it makes that content more intimate, genuine and authentic. THAT’s what new generations are looking for.
I remember when X Generation complained about the archaic way in which our leaders ran the Church. Now it is us who manage most levels of Church administration. Are we repeating the same mistake as our predecessors? Is our favorite tool still Facebook? Will we be able to adapt ourselves to modern times?
Social media came to stay, as did radio and TV. But today many people already call “YouTube” to “television” and “podcast” (or Spotify, etc.) to radio. Just because social media is here to stay, doesn’t mean it doesn’t evolve and change.
My prediction for 10 years, that the same thing will happen to Facebook that just happened to Google Plus. The disuse has turned it into a niche of exclusively professional or branded pages. Will we have to be there? No doubt about it. The Church has to be there, each one of us pushing the institutional brand. But if we really want to keep making disciples, which is what the very existence of the Church is all about, we have to keep looking for the personal touch, as Z Generation does, to convince and convert hearts, instead of selling truths and doctrines (which will undoubtedly come with true conversion by the Holy Spirit).
In the meantime, I force myself to download new applications every so often, to create new initiatives and to experiment endlessly. Sometimes moments of great sacrifice come, because publishing routines can’t absorb all my work and ministry time, and I have to decide where I stop publishing. Snapchat, I went in and out twice. I don’t come back anymore, knowing that it’s also in decline. But what convinced me most to take that step was to see my own children leave the platform of the yellow ghost.
What am I experimenting with now? The same thing my kids play with. At the moment, I focus a lot on Instagram and YouTube, followed by WhatsApp although to a less extent. If you want to see a model of a “human” approach to people who are NOT Adventists, and maybe not even believers in God, but to those who, with more or less success I am reaching, take a look at my Instagram accounts @minutinas @minutations and @minutales (in Spanish, English and French), or in YouTube.
I think it’s time to make a move, start trying new content less “classic”, shorter (the minutations are only 59.8 seconds long) but genuine and that speaks to the heart of the one I have “in front of me” (at the other side of the screen). Let’s stop talking to crowds and start using more personal means. Another day we can talk about how to work these new media.
Pedro Torres, Director of Communications of the Adventist Union of France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Download this article as a PDF file here.