19.03.2013 How to design campaigns to appeal to tech savvy teens

Updating a Facebook status, tweeting or posting a photo on Instagram is as normal as pulling on a pair of socks and enjoying a cup of tea to many of us.

As social media becomes increasingly integrated into our daily routines, it is unsurprising that the time we spend online is steadily creeping upwards.

One group in particular is becoming more and more active online; a recent study shows that 95% of teens now use social media sites.

With a huge selection of mobile devices on the market, teenagers are finding it easier to connect to social media channels on the go. Furthermore, many phone companies are offering unlimited internet deals, making a smart phone a popular necessity among young people wanting easy access to social networking sites.

A study conducted in 2009 showed that teenagers spend an average of 31 hours per week online, which includes watching videos on YouTube and communicating with friends on instant messenger platforms. Compared to an average of six hours spent per week reading books, it is clear that the internet is rapidly overtaking traditional hobbies.

Despite debates among parents and teachers who are concerned about cyber-bullying and other issues relating to this digital use, schools have acknowledged that online communication is an effective way to connect with teenagers.

For example, Matt Britland, head of ICT at Kingston Grammar School, has written a guide showing how educational institutions can benefit from social media channels. Facebook and Twitter, he says, can be used as ‘broadcast accounts’ or in other words, information portals from the school to parents. He adds that as a popular virtual pin board, Pinterest is ‘great for sharing web resources that students will find interesting or relevant’. 

Matt’s theory is simple. As many teenagers already know how to use channels such as Twitter and Facebook, they are more likely to connect to the resources and learn using these platforms. Safety procedures can be implemented so risks of online dangers can be reduced and teachers can feel connected to their pupils outside of the classroom, and provide them with any support they may need.

Just as the rise of social media and the internet is changing attitudes to education and learning, marketing and public relations professionals have had to radically shift the way they think and design campaigns aimed at young people. 

An effective PR or social marketing campaign should create meaningful connections with people. Just like a memorable lesson or teacher, a successful campaign will educate and leave a lasting impression on your target market.

When conducting research for a campaign on teenage pregnancy, NHS Leicester discovered that traditional PR methods such as creating leaflets and posters failed to have a significant effect on teenagers. Instead, the results showed that young people respond to ‘shocking and memorable media’.

From this, they devised the “Hey-Babe” viral campaign showing a girl delivering a baby. The video was shot as if it had been filmed on a mobile phone in order to appeal directly to youngster’s media use patterns.  

Interestingly, the video was removed from YouTube due to its ‘violent’ nature, however the Trust justified its decision to shoot the film by saying that they wanted to create something that would have a big impact on young people.

 As online platforms become more popular, big campaigns have also used a similar formula to attract teens. 

Vodafone’s successful ‘Cut-It-Out’ campaign, created to reduce mobile phone bullying among 13-17 year old girls, comprised of a competition to submit storyboard ideas for a video on bullying, with the winning entry being made into a short film.

The shortlisted storyboards were posted onto Bliss, YouTube and Vodafone websites, with consumers voting for the winning video to be broadcast at Vue cinemas. The film was seen by 400,000 teenagers across 62 Vue cinemas, and was downloaded onto 300,000 mobile phones.

Understanding the growing use of the internet among younger people cannot be ignored when devising PR strategies. However, as the ‘Hey-Babe’ example highlights, innovative ideas that align with a clear understanding of the audience will always generate the best results.

Top tips for making campaigns appeal to teenagers:

Whether it is creating a Facebook page for a school or creating a national video campaign, social media channels are evolving rapidly.

Taking a pioneering approach will ensure that your campaign will appeal to our shape shifting teens.  

1. Research: A good social marketing strategy should start with in-depth research. Hosting a focus group or conducting market research will give you a good idea of what will appeal to your audience. This strategy worked for The South Wales Fire Service who initiated the innovative ‘Phoenix Project’ initiative, aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of arson among 11-25 year olds. Market research revealed that involving young people in community activities would engage them more than traditional poster campaigns, and be more likely to achieve the desired outcomes.

2. Plan: Planning how to use infographics, video and other media material is fundamental to your campaign. Make sure that your planned content suits the platforms you will use, to maximise their effectiveness. 

3. Audience Building: Ensure that your strategy builds an audience. For example, if planning a social media campaign, make your content shareable in order to drive users to your page. This can be achieved through devising a competition, a game or a bespoke app for your site. 

4.Wow factor: As research has shown, young people respond to memorable and shocking media. The Metropolitan Police created the ‘Choose a Different Ending’ video campaign to involve their teenage audience, enabling them to make choices and see the consequences of their actions. Placed on YouTube as an unbranded, interactive film, with 21 different endings, the video showed jail as a consequence for murdering somebody through knife crime. The campaign drew an immediate response with nearly 3 million viewers, and forum members compared the choices that they made and the consequences that followed. These strong results show that young people were captivated by the campaign.

5. Evaluation: Build in measurable objectives at the outset in order to create meaningful outcomes. Evaluating your campaign on an ongoing basis means that you will be able to assess what has worked and tweak ideas as necessary; the beauty of the internet means that changing tack is quick and easy.