I’m writing this column during Colorado’s 2006 Holiday Blizzard: Part 2. And like most sequels it’s not something we asked for, it’s overstayed its welcome, it’s even less fun than the original, and it’s full of way too much fluff.
One benefit of being stuck at home is that I’ve had lots of time to think about the past year. I recently noticed a number of Top 10 lists popping up on the Web: Top 10 Google searches of 2006. Top 10 video games of 2006. Top 10 albums of 2006 (my vote’s for Tom Waits’ Orphans). The one that really made me stop and think was the Top 10 viral videos of 2006. It’s something that almost certainly wasn’t even a list in 2005, as YouTube and its ilk were only a gleam in their creators’ eyes back then.
If you’re not familiar with viral videos, here’s the scoop. Somebody sees a funny/touching/amazing/horrific video, and they proceed to send the link to all of their friends so they can watch too. It’s been happening with email messages for years — which always seem to start like this: “I usually don’t forward things like this, but I just had to pass along blah, blah, blah…”
If you haven’t been a part of a viral video chain yet, I’m going to let you in on one. Kiwi!, found at youtube.com is a short video done by a student as his Master’s thesis. It was the #1 viral video on one of those lists, and as soon as you see it you’ll understand why: It’s amazing, brilliant, and poignant. And I’ll bet some of you will pass it along to your friends. So what does this have to do with youth ministry? I’m suggesting we take a page from this new phenomenon and think about the power of viral youth ministry.
First, the videos that have made the most impact have been the ones that were genuine. It’s not about flash, big budgets, or celebrities…it’s about real stories — moments in time — from real people. Take an honest look at your own ministry, and ask yourself if you’re striving for something you think teenagers want, or if you’re making sure it’s genuine. Teenagers resonate with genuine.
These viral campaigns take advantage of pre-existing social networks. If you’re trying to reinvent the wheel, you’re wasting energy. So find out what teenagers are into, and think creatively about how to use that. This will take time, and commitment to entering into and understanding their world. Don’t force it, though. Remember…genuine.
One of the most interesting aspects of viral marketing is the ability to create “buzz” by using other mediums. Those behind the TV show “Lost” may be the masters of this: Fake commercials that appear real, and air during the program. Real books you can buy at any bookstore, supposedly written by someone on the doomed flight. And Web sites for fictitious companies, which are somehow associated with the goings on. They’ve thought of other avenues to mine…all in an effort to get you interested in their TV show. God’s story isn’t confined to a book — it’s a part of everything, so we should use everything to tell it.
Keep on infecting as many teenagers as you can this next year. And just as with viral campaigns, they’ll want to pass it on to everyone they know.