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As we all know, young people tend to be the most avid users of social media, and they also tend to adopt what’s new and cutting edge. In fact, 89% of internet users ages 18-29 use social media (1). As a young person myself, I use social media daily and enjoy adopting new platforms and new technology. If your target audience happens to include youth and young adults this means that not only do you need to be using social media pretty regularly, but that you have to constantly shift which platforms you’re using – and how you’re using them – in order to keep up with young people. Sound difficult? It is! But don’t worry, at the end of the blog I have a list of tips and tricks for engaging with young people on social media.Smartphone

 “The nature of teens’ internet use has transformed dramatically — from stationary connections tied to shared desktops in the home to always-on connections that move with them throughout the day,” said Mary Madden, Senior Researcher for the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and co-author of the report, Teens and Technology 2013. “In many ways, teens represent the leading edge of mobile connectivity, and the patterns of their technology use often signal future changes in the adult population.”

The most important thing to remember when it comes to social media is that it doesn’t exist in some separate online world. Social media is just a tool that enhances what we young people already do on a regular basis – connect. Research has shown that there are lots of positive benefits to using social media because it helps us to connect more with the people we care about in our offline lives. The primary reason people use social networking sites such as Facebook is to stay in touch with family and close friends (2). As an example, the Facebook friends of internet users ages 12-17 largely mirror their offline networks; young people are connecting with friends from school, friends who go to other schools, and extended family on social media (3).

The reason it’s important to remember that social media mirrors our offline lives is because this helps us to understand that social media is a part of youth culture. It’s not just a channel for youth outreach and engagement, it’s an essential part of how young people connect and live their daily lives! I personally love social media because of its ability to be used as a tool for community organization and transformation. We have lots of examples of young people across the world using social media to foment social change:

Social media needs to be a central aspect of any youth outreach and engagement efforts, not just because it’s an effective tool to spread messages to young people, but because it’s a part of how young people interact with their world. But be warned, using social media for youth engagement requires authentic, individualized, current, and entertaining content. For tips on how to find and create interesting content to post on social media I suggest you check out this resource from the Social Media Examiner: 26 Ways to Create Engaging Content.

The Landscape of Social Media UsersLast but not least, keeping in mind that social media is a part of youth culture will allow you to make some reasonable guesses as to what platforms young people are using. For example, what do you see most young people doing with their cell phones these days? Taking pictures! This means that platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr are most likely gaining in popularity because they are focused solely on sharing pictures and other media. The research shows that these three platforms are in fact used primarily by young people, and that Facebook is waning in popularity (4).

However, if you don’t feel like becoming a social scientist and guessing what young people are up to on social media, I would recommend partnering up with a young person – they’ll be able to pretty quickly let you know what platforms are ‘in.’ The other option is to follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook Page! I’ll keep you up to date. 😉


Tips and tricks to successfully engage with a young adult audience:

#1 Be Mobile

Remember that most young adults are accessing the internet on mobile devices. One in four teens are “cell-mostly” internet users — far more than the 15% of adults who are cell-mostly. Among teen smartphone owners, half are cell-mostly. (5) This is a part of why using social media as a medium make so much sense, it’s already mobile! But don’t forget to make your websites and online resources mobile as well. My favorite way to make all my resources mobile is to use Slideshare, and Dudamobile is an easy and inexpensive way to mobile-optimize your website. Check out my website on your smartphone, it’s a good example of a mobile-optimized site.

#2 Be authentic

Authenticity is as good as gold on social media. Because we are all flooded with so many messages and so much information every hour of every day, the way to stand out is to be authentic. This means showing what’s going on behind the curtains of your organization or business. Be real and share real stories.

#3 Be Creative

There’s an adage on social media that goes, “Publish or perish.” Organizations need to shift into the role of creating authentic and engaging content that helps people to solve the problems they face on a daily basis. As a knitter, one of my favorite examples of this is a yarn company that provides tips on how to knit. The company is selling yarn, but rather than just talking all the time about their amazing yarn that they have for sale, they have a blog that helps me solve my knitting problems. Then, when I want to go buy yarn I think of the brand that’s always there helping me solve my problems.

#4 Ask for Engagement

People like to be told what to do, and this is true on social media. The most effective way to get engagement from young people is to ask for it! The more specific you can be, the simpler the ask, the better. But be careful, if you ask for engagement you have to be ready to respond and encourage the behavior consistently. One of the best types of engagement to ask for is recommendations. Young people in particular trust their peers so if youth and young adults can get the message that your organization is awesome through a peer, they’re much more likely to want to engage with you.

#5 Be Consistent

We all like organizations and brands that we can trust. Because most of us are creatures of habit, one of the best ways to build trust is to be consistent. For example, if you have an email newsletter that goes out once a month, try and send it on the same day at the same time. By doing this people see that you deliver on your promises, even if it’s only a small promise like an email newsletter.

#6 Be Responsive

A lot of bigger organizations are turning to social media as a medium for customer service. This makes sense because Americans spend a lot of time online, and they spend a fair of amount of that time on social media. A new study has revealed that for every hour online, Americans spend 16 minutes on social networks (6). In addition, when one person asks a public question on social media, your response is also public and other people get to see the answer. Odds are there were several folks out there who had the same question and you just answered it form them as well. Just like consistency, responsiveness is a great way to build trust.

#7 Focus on Media

Everyone loves photos and videos! As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 46% of internet users post photos and videos they’ve created themselves, and 41% curate photos and videos they find elsewhere on the internet (7). That’s a lot of people out there posting and sharing photos! What’s also wonderful about photos and videos is that they’re great to share across platforms. For example, a photo posted on Facebook can be shared to Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest. So find ways to express yourself through media.

#8 Facilitate Offline Inter/action

A part of the point of social media is to enhance offline relationships, so make what you post online focused on some type of action or interaction people can take offline. It’s wonderful to encourage people to like, share, comment, etc. on social media but at the end of the day the goal is to get people to engage with you by using your services or buying your product. The good news is that there’s research out there that shows that when people interact with organizations and brands online they are more likely to interact offline with that organization and brand (8).

“Facebook fans are much more likely to purchase, consider, and recommend brands. For
all four brands — Best Buy, Coca-Cola, BlackBerry, and Walmart — a Facebook fan has a significantly higher probability of making all of these brand interactions. Smartphone owners who are Facebook fans of BlackBerry, for example, are 5.6 times more likely to have made a purchase from BlackBerry in the past 12 months than non-fans, with everything else held equal.

And Facebook fans of Best Buy are about twice as likely to purchase from and recommend Best Buy. In the case of Coca-Cola, even though 71% of online Americans purchase the product, Facebook fans have a probability of 95% of doing so.”  — The Facebook Factor