Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
Digital Strategies Intern for the North American Division
People often ask me, “How do I make my content more relevant to young people?” My response is, “Why are you asking me, I’m 35!” If you want to reach young people, involve them, and listen to them.
It stands to reason that young adults would know best how they can be reached and what is the most relevant content for them. I find myself in-between generations. I’m not really a Gen X-er, nor am I a millennial. I grew up in an analog world but became an early adopter of emerging technologies in my 20s. I also learned patience while waiting for the AOL CD to load so I could connect online (Don't understand this reference? Click here while I go check the mirror for wrinkles). I played outside all day without supervision (at that time it was still called childhood, not free-range parenting) and if I wanted to know what my friends were up to, I showed up at their house (nowadays that would be considered rude and/or creepy). Bullies were confined to schools, and informal sex ed was limited to school yard rumors. My micro-generation has now been termed Xennials or, my favorite, The Oregon Trail Generation. Perhaps this is why I feel well suited to act as a bridge between generations. I’ve lived my life there, not really being one or the other. As a digital strategist, this is a unique advantage. I have learned to work with both, and find value in either.
Millennials want to hear the wisdom of the older generation, and they can be eager to learn. They also need respect and understanding of their unique circumstances. The issues I faced as a teenager in the ‘90s are nothing like what they are dealing with now. I can’t imagine or relate. So what would make me think I know what content is most relevant to them? No, my role is different. I have knowledge regarding strategy, communications, advertising, planning, etc. They speak the right language and understand the culture; they simply need guidance. Spiritually, they need wisdom from the older, more experienced generations. But they know best how to translate it to reach their own.
You’re not going to like this, but it’s not about you. It can’t all come from us. It’s about them and what they need. It’s about the language they speak and issues they face. Now, there’s a lot of knowledge that can be passed onto them. They need guidance to achieve goals while maintaining the freedom to be creative and relevant in ways that make sense to them. It’s my job to equip and train young people to implement a comprehensive digital strategy: empowering them to become life-long digital evangelists, while challenging them to think differently. This means letting go of complete control, letting them do what they think is best. But before you cringe, let’s remember that the Seventh-day Adventist church was founded by teenagers. They are capable. Society tends to infantize them, instead of recognize them as young adults with passion, energy, and drive. They may want to do things differently, and that’s okay. If it goes badly, we can help guide them out of a predicament, but
We can’t both reach them while simultaneously excluding them.
The family unit was meant to be more than just a mother, father, and children. Traditionally, a family unit consisted of multiple generations working together as one for shared goals, survival, support, and spiritual understanding. We don’t have this structure in North America anymore. Some “smart” social scientists convinced society to separate children and people by age. Over time, this broke down the family unit of society. Not only did we accept this model in our schools, but in our churches. We now have an us-versus-them mentality when it comes to people outside our age bracket. What I’m advocating for is bringing back that cross-generational model for evangelism. Let the generations not only coexist, but co-function in our churches and community.
So my answer to you is: ask a young person…Now for a word from our current resident millennial, Jacklyn Ruth:
Jackie talking now...
To me, it seems obvious that figuring out how to reach my generation means actually asking one of us. It would be like me trying to reach my grandparents’ generation and not asking them for help. I don’t fully understand them or the values they grew up with.
Now, I’m not saying that I know everything, but I have interacted with people my age for a while. When deciding on what to say or what to post to reach my generation, it’s mostly just me talking to myself. How would I want to hear this? What topics do I want to hear about? I’ve also heard what some of my peers have to say, so I know some of the topics millennials would like to hear more about.
I think my generation is the greatest untapped resource. We are consistently condemned by older adults for being full of ourselves or glued to our phones. You say you want to keep us in the church? Then let us help you. Reaching people online is not about becoming internet famous, so if you let us help, I’m sure we could make a real positive difference for Christ.
You want to reach us. You want to be relevant, but don’t know how. Listen. Give us the space to share our insights and listen to our ideas. Then, let us do it. We have the understanding, you have the know-how. Show us how to do it, and we can do it.
There is no one better to reach my generation than my generation.
Don’t believe me (Jamie Jean Schneider speaking now), here are some real-life examples…
To help with #Gorgeous2God, a blog aimed at teen girls, we brought in a young female intern to help with social media and to hopefully increase relevance. Guess what? Our target audience liked her posts better than mine on social media. Of course they did; she’s closer to their age and speaks the same language. That’s not a failing on my part. I can’t do everything, nor am I all knowing. My job is to teach, guide, and mentor. Also, #iBelieveBible has now reached over 65,000 followers on Facebook. Why is it successful? The #iBelieveBible project is built upon content created by young adults for young adults. Young people are choosing, directing, and creating the content with strategic guidance and input from the older generation. See the pattern?
Practically, what you should do is include young people on your creative team. If you produce videos, involve them. Oh, and actually include their input. They will figure out quickly if you’re disregarding everything they say. It’s okay to have the older generation in videos too, but it should be a dialogue between the generations.
Agree? Disagree? Have a different opinion? Share your thoughts with #DigitalEvangelism.