Ever had that awkward moment when you’re asked if you’re ‘down with the kids’?


You know the one. A campaign to engage ‘the youth’ and your boss’s boss suggests ‘doing Facebook’ or ‘Snapthingy’, or even (and this is a true story) wheeling in a youth (in this case their own son) who kindly shared the ‘news’ that you can actually advertise on Facebook these days. Great, I’ll tell that to the digital team who have been waiting for your wisdom!

Why is it that engaging with young people can feel somewhat – well, like dad dancing?

Firstly, we were all young once (I’m clinging on to being in the Millennial bracket – just), and that is often one of our biggest challenges. Our perception of what our 18-year-old self might be interested in is dated, yet we can be guilty of using it as a reference point.

Secondly, social media plays a very different role in young peoples lives than other groups. Their friendships, identity, entertainment and news is stapled to social and the majority have grown up with it as part of their lives. They also have a far different time allowance for it!

Finally, the pace of change of different platforms, channels and influence in youth marketing and communications can often be seen as ‘far too fast’ or ‘makes them hard to reach’. This is singlehandedly the biggest cop-out you’ll hear about engaging young people.

Like any other audience, identifying the right channels to suit your message is absolutely critical, but here’s where the dad-dancing risk comes into things. Just because a channel is widely used for young people, it doesn’t mean that it also suits your message. It’s like intruding on a conversation and the music stopping at a party – they’ll look at you, but unless the message is right in that situation, they will turn their backs and frankly, you’ll be asked to leave the party. Don’t be that person!

Using the latest trends in youth research – what’s important to them, what they’re spending their time and money on and how they’re integrating digital channels within their lives, can help to inform your campaign, stress-test the channels and help you to shape your message. It can also seriously help you defend your position when asked that awkward question about ‘using Facebook’ simply because it’s a campaign for a younger audience.

Becoming an expert to engage with a particular audience requires you to listen to them too. It always amazes me how many campaigns fail where they could have flown had they simply talked to a sample audience type. They may be young, but if you ask – they’ll tell you the score. Try it!

I’m launching my first piece of youth research in the coming weeks having trawled through reams of research papers, insights projects and data about young people in the UK. It’s an exciting time to be working in marketing and communications with target groups of young people. They’re as diverse as the rest of the population and certainly a ‘one size fits all youth’ will prove to be a big turn off for most young people. Who likes to be a stereotype?

I’m also really excited to be delivering Youth Matters – a workshop with Comms2point0 and my own consultancy, Thread & Fable, on March 20th in Birmingham. We’ll be running through the latest insights, sharing some great examples from different organisations about how they’ve been successfully engaging with young people, and helping to apply this to a communications strategy. You can book now.


Photo by Raychan on Unsplash