How To: Use Technology to Engage Youth

by Apathy is Boring — November 4, 2011


 
 
Young people have gotten a reputation for being difficult to engage with. But just because youth are hard to reach doesn't mean we aren't interested in your cause—we might just have never heard of it. Technology is a key factor in the communications divide between generations, and young people have come up with whole new ways of engaging with media. You've probably heard that newspapers are out, social media is in, and television has moved online. Now, you might wonder, how do you meet us there?
 
Start with the Basics
 
In terms of speed, convenience, interconnection, and reach, the Internet is usually the best way to catch up with youth. We'll usually judge an organization by its website, so first impressions matter. Your website should be easy to find, easy to navigate, and up-to-date; it's the online equivalent of your office, so treat it that way. Present information in layers so that visitors can either skim the surface or dig deep, depending on what they're looking for. But most importantly, provide content that's meaningful. Think of your website as the foundation from which to spread your message. Video, the centrepiece of any viral campaign, can be hosted publicly and then embedded on your main site. Provide sign-up buttons for newsletters, social media outlets, and email updates. And don't forget to invest in Search Engine Optimization: it’s a long-term commitment (just like your efforts to reach youth) that makes it easier for us to find you—before we find that North York shoe store that shares your initials.
 
Make it a Conversation
 
Democracy is all about dialogue, and the same is true online. Young people are highly active on social networking sites, with well over nine-and-a-half million 13-34-year-old Canadians registered on Facebook. You can get in their sights by creating an official page, a group, or even a cause. Just be sure to maintain your online presence: answer direct messages and comments, post status updates that go beyond pure marketing, and provide links to your website or blog. Also, don't forget to access social networks specifically directed towards youth activism and participation; their members are already engaged and waiting for you!
 
If you're passionate about your cause, prove it by starting and running a blog. Provide an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed so that your audience can easily keep track of new developments, enable trackback links, and submit your blog posts to social bookmarking sites. Also, if your organization isn't already written up in Wikipedia, get on it! It's the go-to site for youth when we need a concise summary of just about anything.

 

Take it Offline
 
How can you translate your virtual campaign into real-world action? The answer is a mix of persistence and cross-promotion. Every sign and sheet of paper you print should promote your online presence, and your online presence should promote offline opportunities for engagement. Are you having a fundraiser? Create a Facebook event for it. Do you have interesting photos or stories to share from a recent event? Post them to your blog.
 
Keep it Real
 
Remember that young people are media-savvy: we can tell right away whether you're sending out an authentic message or a manipulative one. Having an agenda is fine—if you don't hide or misrepresent it. Youth are turned off by intrusive advertising, false information, and cheap ploys for our money. If you're asking us for something, be honest and up-front about it.
 
Reaching youth online doesn't mean jumping on the bandwagon for all the latest fads and #memes. Not every message is suited to 140-character posts. But if you want to reach youth, make sure your message is online and easy to find. Now that you're thinking about making contact, we encourage you to start planning what you'll have to offer us once you've got our attention, how you'll make us feel like sticking around, and always keep in mind why youth engagement is so necessary and beneficial for your organization. Also, click here to learn more about Apathy is Boring's workshops, consultations, and other Youth-Friendly services.

 

 
References:
 
“Canada Facebook Statistics.”  Socialbakers: Heart of Facebook Statistics. Candytech. June 14, 2011. Accessed June 14, 2011. http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/canada.

Delany, Colin. Online Politics 101: The Tools and Tactics of Online Political Advocacy. Epolitics.com, January 2011. Accessed June 9, 2011. http://www.epolitics.com/onlinepolitics101.pdf.

Mansfield, Heather. “10 Common Mistakes Made by Non-Profits on Social Media.” Nonprofit Tech 2.0: A Social Media Guide for Nonprofits, June 8, 2011. Accessed June 14, 2011. http://nonprofitorgs.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/10-common-mistakes-made-by-nonprofits-on-social-media/.

Media & Internet: How Teenagers Consume Media. Morgan Stanley Research, July 10, 2009. Accessed January 30, 2010. http://media.ft.com/cms/c3852b2e-6f9a-11de-bfc5-00144feabdc0.pdf.

 

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