Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Facebook message

"Why is this person (calling/emailing/texting/chatting/facebook messaging/etc.) me!?!"

Have you ever said something like the above? Here are two possible reasons for the exasperation:

1. You don't want the person to contact you that is trying to contact you, regardless of medium
2. You want the person to contact you, but don't like the communication channel the person has chosen

Let's focus on the second reason.

During my time on staff, I've gotten pretty good at handling email and using it for ministry communication both with students and staff. But over my last couple years on campus, I found that my emails to students were taking longer and longer to get a response. Often, a student would tell me they hadn't heard about some meeting, event, or other key piece of information. "Did you get my email?" I'd ask. A typical answer: "When did you send it? If it was this week, probably not."

"These irresponsible students! Not checking their email every day! Do I need to train them in how the world works?"

Interestingly, at about the same time I started to get more text and facebook messages. My response? Try to push people that contacted me this way towards email, then get frustrated when they wouldn't respond. 

Fortunately, a day came where I had an epiphany: email wasn't the best way to reach college students and perhaps I should start embracing some of these annoying new communication channels. So I did. I started texting reminders or to set up appointments. I started responding to and even initiating Facebook messages to individuals and groups. Students would get back to me within hours, minutes, and sometimes seconds. Soon, Facebook messages almost completely replaced email in my communication with students. And then one day it hit me: there are good reasons young people are using these technologies. For many communication needs they are far superior to email. And the problem wasn't irresponsible students, it was the email medium that previously I was stubbornly embracing.

More and more I've seen the value and capability that Facebook brings to campus ministry. It's not only effective, but is used universally by college students. Shouldn't we be experts in speaking their language? And shouldn't we use this language as strategically as possible? In upcoming posts, I want to share some thoughts about how our strategy and tactics can move beyond messages and writing on walls, but also look more broadly at being wise in how we engage with new ideas/technology.

For any potential commenters out there: Have you been challenged by the rate of change in today's communication mediums? Do you see anything taking the place of facebook in the near future?

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