I don’t know if you’re like me, but I really don’t like kids’ birthday parties. They tend to be noisy, confusing, a bit chaotic, and everyone seems to be so focused on the safety of their own offspring that having a normal conversation is nearly impossible. The kids on the other hand have a blast. They run around having the time of their lives, making friends, eating cake and walking away with a goodie bag. The kids leave having made new friends and telling their siblings of heroics they displayed in the destruction of some unsuspecting piñata. You, on the other hand, leave hungry and with a headache you didn’t arrive with, realizing you just gave away a few hours of your life that you’ll never have back again.
At this point you may be asking: What does a kid’s birthday party have to do with social media? Actually, it has everything to do with social media. Those who don’t see the potential of social media look at it as I look at birthday parties—noisy, chaotic and confusing. Once you understand the potential for conversation, connection, and collaboration you begin to see social media as a piñata to be conquered.
Common Objections to Kids’ Parties and Twitter
Objection #1: There’s so much noise. It’s very confusing trying to follow what’s going on.
Truth: Hashtags organize the conversation.
Very true! One of the overwhelming things about Twitter is the sheer volume of tweets (what a 140-character message sent from a user of Twiitter is called). As of May 2012 there were over 340 million tweets sent out daily. With that amount of information, how can I possibly find anything useful out there? This is where the beauty of hashtags comes into play. Imagine you are at that same party and hanging from the ceiling were a few signs that read “NFL Football Fans”, “Works at a Hospital”, “Enjoys Crafting,” and “Lives West of the City.” Under each sign are a few people who share those common descriptive traits with each other. In the midst of a loud and somewhat crazy party, these signs serve as a starting point for conversation based on affinity. In very simple terms, that’s the basis for the idea behind hashtags. In their most useful form they are able to shrink the noise of Twitter to a much more manageable conversation.
I remember a few years ago when Twitter was really beginning to take off. I heard about hashtags but never paid that much attention to them, until I was watching the Superbowl. It was during that game that I noticed #superbowl was trending on Twitter. So, I clicked on it and started to follow the commentary. I was blown away. I was sharing a live event with people I had never met, in an interactive way that made the viewing of the Superbowl a community event. I left a few comments and as I continued to read, I noticed that a few of my children’s ministry friends were commenting as well.
John Mullis from Colorado sent out an email to Kenny Conley, Matt McKee, Jonathan Cliff and myself saying we should come up with a hashtag to help bring clarity to the children’s ministry conversation on Twitter. The conversation that ensued over the next few days produced the term “kidmin” and the hashtag #kidmin. The result is a semi-private conversation of kidmin leaders from around the country sharing thoughts, insights, and questions with a broad active community. I have encouraged many kids’ pastors to join Twitter so they can follow the conversation that takes place on Twitter daily. In following the kidmin hashtag you will meet people you would have met no other way. You will discover blogs you would have found no other way. And, you’ll discover resources you would never have come across. Hashtags help Twitter move from a loud, chaotic jumble of thoughts and ideas to an organized conversation that you can follow and watch develop over time.
Objection #2: It seems like people are just so wrapped up in their own world.
Truth: Hashtags help you connect with your niche.
Isn’t Twitter a bunch of vain people sharing what they ate for lunch? Sometimes. Twitter is a tool. It’s how you use it that gives it power. If you want to share what you’re eating, by all means do so. I just don’t think that’s the best use of Twitter. Twitter is like many things—you get out of it what you put into it. One of the powerful ways you can use hashtags is to collect the thoughts, opinions and views of people attending your church or a conference. I have virtually attended many conferences by following a Twitter hashtag of that event. By doing so, I’m able to gain insight and see what statements were most impacting to those at the conference. I’m also able to ask those who are at the conference to give more background and context to the tweets they sent. I’ve asked for notes or gotten links to download notes from breakout presenters. All from following a hashtag!
If you’re putting on a conference, seeing what is tweeted on the hashtag for your conference is very helpful in knowing what you need to fix for next year to help those attending have a more seamless experience. Having a hashtag or Twitter account for your children’s ministry is a great way to get feedback from attenders and volunteers in your ministry. It’s also a great way to build buzz for an event you’re putting on.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are hashtags unique to Twitter?
No, Twitter popularized the method. Evernote, Instagram, and Producteev are a few tools that also use hashtags as a way to organize and tag your thoughts and actions so that you can search them at a later time.
Do I have to register a hashtag?
No, you’re free to use any hashtag you desire.
How do I decide what hashtag to use?
You can use any hashtag you want. Here are some guidelines to help you develop one.
1. Pick one that makes sense to whatever you are using it for.
2. Keep it as short as possible.
3. Look to see if it’s already being used.
The ultimate success of a hashtag is dependent on the uniqueness of the hashtag and the size of the community behind it. So, the bigger the community behind the hashtag, the more general your hashtag can be. The smaller the community, the more unique your hashtag has to be.
What hashtags do I need to follow?
Kidmin – The general children’s ministry hashtag
#kmag – For all things related to K!
Kidmin2012 – Group’s kidmin conference
Orange2012 – The Orange conference
CPC2012 – Children’s Pastor’s Conference
CMLeaders – Children’s Ministry Leaders Conference
Kidshaper – Planetshakers kidmin conference
Stumin – The general student ministry hashtag
Lifewaykids – Lifeway conference
#D6 – The D6 Conference
#fb – Using a Facebook app called “selective Tweets.” Using #fb from any Twitter platform or any device, you can update your Twitter status.
Should I use hashtags if I’m not a big conference or curriculum publisher?
Sure, if you have a blog or want your tweets to reach people who aren’t following your Twitter account. One of the great things about a hashtag is that even though someone isn’t following you yet, they can see your tweets if they follow the hashtag you add to the end of your tweets.
How do I follow a hashtag?
Most Twitter clients like Twitter, Tweetbot, twitter.com, and/or tweetdeck that allow you to search Twitter.
- Go to the screen or link that allows you to search.
- Type in the name of the hashtag (i.e. #kidmin). I like to just use the term minus the hashtag to get every instance and not just the hashtag, because sometimes people forget to add the hashtag.
- Find the button or link that says “save search.” Once you do this, you can revisit your saved hashtag without having to search for it. You can save as many searches as you want. I typically have the kidmin and stumin ones saved all the time. In addition, I temporarily include the one for the conference I’m attending—in person or virtually.
Conversation. Connection. Collaboration. Hashtags have the potential to keep you tied to conversations specific to your interests and passions, to keep you connected to what’s going on in those areas, and to provide relationships where you can work together. Instead of blanketing your life with tweets that don’t seem to have anything to do with what you’re interested in … much like when a piñata breaks and scatters candy everywhere … focus on what matters to you through hashtags. Conquer the piñata!