This past week I had the privilege of going to Orlando, Florida to participate in the All Staff Conference for Younglife. This conference happens once every four years. All of the staff from around the globe descend on Orlando to gather for encouragement, vision, and fun.

At the conference I was asked to be a part of a panel on social media. I had about eight minutes to summarize trends with teens and how they use social media. I could have talked about this for an hour so I had to be selective. In fact, I’ve decided to start a regular installment on social media and tech on Tuesday as part of the Stash offering.

Here are some points I conveyed.

What’s hot right now with teens in social media

(in no certain order.)

Twitter – In 2009 when twitter went mainstream it was assumed that teenagers would lead the way. That didn’t happen at first as students were still engaged with Facebook and texting to communicate. This past year teens began to integrate twitter into their social media routine as an online “hideout.” Facebook growth has slowed down a bit more, likely due to the fact that there are only so many people in the world. As a result of everyone being on Facebook, teens are turning to twitter for anonymity that they no longer have on Facebook. With mom, dad, coach, neighbors, and even grandma on Facebook it’s no longer “fun” to be on Facebook. Teens tired of getting in trouble for posts, and weary of questions about blocked profiles, pictures, and comments have discovered that you can create your own twitter name using any email you want and become invisible to mom and dad. Twitter is harder to trace if your profile is locked. You can be exclusive with those you let in as a teen. Hash tags, following famous people, and direct messaging in locked profiles keep parents and accountability at bay.

Tumblr – Tumblr is a micro-blogging platform where teens can share images, music, thoughts, and links with their followers and friends. Although this platform is more open and easily accessible to adults it’s community does not play well with adult behaviors and social media needs. The platform itself gives young people instant validation and affirmation fueled by re-blogs, “heart”-ing, chat, and follower-ship. Creative teens can share content of their own or follow veins of users who share the same passions. Tumblr as a hangout for teens is helping Tumblr drive page views and content publishing.

Tinychat – Video chat rooms can be created here and connect teens online with their friends. Video chatting lets teens be seen and heard with their friends online and conversations can continue in person or digitally face to face even when they are home. The fact that the conversation can go unrecorded and unfound makes it even more inaccessible to mom and dad. Video chat rooms are both hideouts and hangouts for teens.

Youtube – Every second an hour of content is uploaded to Youtube. Teens can create content centered on their interests or gain audience with a million people for a span of two or three moths to be noticed or heard. Amazing.

* Texting is still the preferred mode of communication with teens and probably will hold the lead for a long time to come but if you’re a teen constantly getting in trouble for your digital reputation you’re looking for other ways to stay under the accountability radar.

What’s emerging for teens in social media?

The conference breakout was predominately populated with Millennials. I took the time to unpack the difference between Millennial behavior online and those of Generation Z or emerging Digital Natives.

Millennials – Probably remember having a Myspace account and were either teens or students when Facebook emerged. The mass movement to Facebook and the adoption of smart phones placed Millenials in the pathway of discovery. Millennials were excited to add apps left and right, buy the latest and greatest technology, and take advantage of every new innovation. They have ridden the waves of social media opportunities consuming every outlet available for the sheer experience of seeing how much faster, and efficient they could become with content creation and connectivity.

A shift in culture occurred for Generation Z (born after 1990 to the present.) The shift is microscopic but profound.

Today, when a toddler or elementary child at a dinner table is crying or on the verge of boredom, a parent may well hand them an ipad or their own smartphone rather than a toy to entertain them. I have watched three year olds navigate locked screens, drop down menus, and buttons to access apps and create content. It’s remarkable when you think about it. Teens today and especially pre-teens are digital natives.

Generation Z – Digital Natives are not in the process of discovery with social media or the hardware that delivers it. They’re probably more interested in wanting to know when they can have their own smartphone, facebook, or website today than they are interested in knowing when they will be allowed to ride their bike to school by themselves. The world is extremely, extremely, small for digital natives. In the past there were six degrees of separation, You could find a connection with an absolute stranger anywhere in the world through tracing their relationship ladder. A recent study shows that the ladder has decreased to four or five because of social media. A digital native’s friend in China may be connected to another individual who is friends with another person that a digital native knows. We use to say information overload as Millenials in ways that were a reflection of over-saturated content but it pales in comparison to the amount of links, stories, and viral-ity of content that is in front of teens everyday. As a result they are truly aware of world issues. Terrorism, human rights, disasters, and environmental issues are some of their top concerns, and they care about these issues.


Dissolved Connection Needs – They are not interested in liking your fanpage or receiving information. Brands in the past disseminate information, “Here is our product, flavors, and benefits.” Today, brands have to create compelling content that appeals to digital natives who hunger for causes and hacks. With a MULTITUDE of choices bombarding digital natives they look for brands who help them connect to story and felt needs. Brands are more likely to ask digital natives to create content abou their brand, sponsor a flashmob, or even produce a series of covert and elaborate youtube videos in order to spread product virally. You must connect to story and context more than content. App makers create apps and find themselves quickly adopting changes in order to capitalize on hacks digital natives use them for.

*Hacks – Digital Natives tweak hardware, online tools, and apps to suit their tribe’s need. They tear a platform down or build on top of it to create the results they want as opposed to the results the app was intended for. Example If This Then That. Everything is expected to be free. “Why should we pay for music? Movies? or content?” If you want digital natives to pay, like, join, or something else… what’s in it for them? Chances are, they will just create themselves. This is also why the SOPA outrage and efforts flourished.

In Their Hands – Generation Z can create content, publish video, music, and connect with a smartphone. Apps are the future website. You may still have a website in the coming years, a fanpage, and a twitter account for your ministry but it won’t be long before you are contracting an app builder or even using the do-it-yourself app builders out there to create an app for your exclusive group. The ability to use push notifications and pinpoint content consumption and distribution to the palm of a hand will be the next arena you will be forced to address.

It Is Personal – The good news is that teens still crave face to face interaction but make no mistake social media is indeed a human interaction to teens. Whether we like it or not students believe that a text, post, or online expression is as much of an overflow of their being as a conversation is to you and I face to face. Although, discipleship will remain life on life demanding presence, social media is where they are at and a part of their world that we must think differently about as we approach “their world.”

*Again, I had 8-10 minutes ; )

What trends do you see?


As well as the overflow of constant research I routinely consume…

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  1. kolby January 30, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    Thanks Chad,

    Great insights. I do think that this year will be the year where twitter becomes huge in the teen world. I also see a huge part of that being tablets. Also, I can’t believe how many teens are already microblogging with tumbler.

  2. chadswanzy January 30, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    gracias… you’re blog is great… everyone should check it out!

  3. Wilson January 31, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Our teens are going crazy for twitter because their parents aren’t on it and the think it’s private.

  4. Drew Hill January 31, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Chad, This is awesome! Wish I could’ve been there with you at ASC. Thanks for sharing this. I’ll pass it along on The Young Life Leader Blog. Drew

  5. chadswanzy January 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    gracias bro.

  6. Ken February 1, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    dude, really great stuff here. really appreciate your hard work. Love the website.

  7. chadswanzy February 1, 2012 at 9:18 am #


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