Social Media for Ministries
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Digital Natives are Not Digital Strategists

Just because someone is a digital native does not make them a digital strategist.

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I’ve trained hundreds of college students who have grown up with Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, and I every year I expect to be humbled by my limited knowledge.

And every year I’m wrong. Most digital natives use social media as a toy rather than a tool.

I do believe that college-aged students drive significant innovation, but leading innovation in a ministry or organization is an entirely different skill-set that is more than having 2,000 friends on Facebook.

The 22 year old that you empower to run a social media effort has preferences that may or may not match the preferences and needs of your organization. They may be influential on Twitter, but see it as the answer to every question or problem. A huge transition that digital natives need to make when applying their abilities to an organization is to move from being evangelical to agnostic towards online platforms and strategies–all are tools that can be combined in different ways to achieve different outcomes. The more passionate someone is about a particular online solution the more distracted they can be from identifying the right tool or strategy for the specific need.

I’ve been in the role of a digital strategist for over two years now. What I thought was most valuable (technological knowledge and extended use of social media) is secondary to my leadership experience in my organization and the ability to look beyond my own preferences when establishing an online communication strategy. Certainly my technological expertise started off as most important, but it’s not most critical to long-term success.

Digital natives bring significant things to an organization:

  • A willingness to experiment with new online tools
  • A fresh perspective on existing strategies
  • Creative uses for online tools

It’s absolutely critical to empower and resource them in these areas. The long-term effectiveness of your online communications will only be successful if you train these digital natives to become digital strategists.

How to help digital natives become digital strategists:

  • Provide them with roles and responsibilities that grow their leadership and their technical capacity.
  • Encourage and hold them accountable to finding a mentor with a marketing or consulting background so they can grow in their ability to apply their technological knowledge appropriately towards your organization.
  • Challenge them to read new blogs and books from thought leaders and experts in both marketing, corporate leadership, and social media.

What is your ministry or non-profit doing to train digital strategists?


  1. Good observation, Brian. I had not thought about it in the social media world, but your observation parallels my experience in the missiology world. Nationals in any country are not necessarily good missions strategists. Things that are intuitively understood are not necessarily intentionally strategized. Helping people separate successful strategies from personal preference requires training, coaching, and development.

    • thanks for adding these thoughts keith–they expand the post beyond social media.

      i re-learned the need to set preferences aside at ministrynet–such a great environment for growing in that.

  2. The college grads you are mentoring in social media are blessed to have you. My personal experience in digital strategy has been largely borne of intuition and seat of the pants experimentation. My network agnosticism has largely come from network fatigue.

    My particular challenge is that advertising is not the same as story telling. In an environment where advertising has been the only communication format used for 30+ years, how does one establish a grand continuing meta-narrative which social media can be used to communicate?

    • i resonate w “network fatigue”–for me it has been an asset these days as there are more people than ever interested in social media.

      the advertising paradigm is a big one for me and CCC–i’ll have to think about the story-telling angle.

      for me it’s not story telling as much as influence that i would like our culture to shift towards. in the days before things could be measured as precisely as they can be w social media, every large event could be seen as a success.

      i also don’t think it’s about just hitting the target audience online–an example being facebook ads which allow for precise filtering. it’s about getting people to take an action that they are not inclined to do on their own but will benefit them in the long run.

      i think (hope) we are getting to a place in the near future where more ideas are generated related to influence than broadcasting or targeting.

  3. Great thoughts Brian. I’d be curious to know your top 5 blogs and books…

    “Challenge them to read new blogs and books from thought leaders and experts in both marketing, corporate leadership, and social media.”

  4. Ah. But do natives need to be strategic in places where they go naturally? While i can agree to the point of wisdom being needed, is digital strategy the area for natives who survive well or immigrants whom are subject to not know how to even manage the seasons?

    As someone who’s about as close to digital native and immigrant as they come, it might be that this article is better toned to an audience that doesn’t understand why their digital strategies fail rather than to those who see little need for strategy in doing what comes natural.

    I’d also remark that trying a bunch of social tools doesn’t make one digitally savvy as much as building and counseling towards tools that explore more than social streams but can and do constantly point to where wisdom was reached.

    • thanks for the comments antoine! really like your thoughts.

      from the training i have done i do believe natives need to be strategic–especially evangelistically.

      in a large non-profit like mine there is a need for digital strategists–the problem is that older leaders think that because they are not native and younger people are, that younger people can provide the strategies they need.

      i see what you are saying in your last paragraph but maintain that the ability to try new tools with little effort is important to ministries, especially larger ones where the majority of staff are non-natives. it’s easy for both natives and non-natives to get fixated on one or two tools, and the willingness to explore and have even a superficial knowledge of a wide range of tools can help when setting strategy.

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