Chiara Wegener, External Affairs Manager for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, shares tips and tricks for fostering youth engagement online.
How do you engage young people in a digital campaign and move them to action? The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is supporting a number of amazing youth groups around New England that are working to promote student voice and effect change in their communities and school systems. We’ve been working with a fabulous digital advocacy group, PowerLabs, who has helped us think through some key ways to engage young people as social ambassadors.
Want to reach teenagers? Try texting.
The average teenager texts 60 times a day. So, if you’re trying to recruit young people to join your organization or get involved in a cause, an email campaign may not be the way to go (only 6% of teens exchange email daily). There are a number of text message platforms out there with free or discounted plans for nonprofits (cel.ly, TextMarks, EZTexting) that allow you to create mass-text lists.
The immigration reform group, Reform Immigration America, utilized a text messaging campaign to organize a nationwide conference call of 60,000 supporters at 1,000 house parties. Students for the National Equality March used mass texting to collaborate with the NoH8 (No Hate) Campaign to organize a “flash protest” against the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Texting is also one of the most effective ways of driving people to action—it’s simple, but virtually ubiquitous across demographic groups.
Don’t try everything at once.
Social media can be overwhelming. New social networks are coming out every day. Ever heard of Peach, Wanelo, or Bebo? If you’re an organizing group or small nonprofit organization, you shouldn’t worry about being on every social platform out there. Sure, you want to monitor what communication channels your audiences are using, but don’t feel like you have to jump on everything. It’s much better to do one or two things really well than to do 10 things half-heartedly.
Make it fun.
If you’re trying to engage youth, your ways of communicating need to be interesting and fun. Be creative in how you communicate with young people. Forward Together used Buzzfeed quizzes to bring teenagers into their campaign around comprehensive sex education reform in California.
If you’re just getting started with digital advocacy, take time to follow other youth organizers who are effectively using digital communications for change. Student Voice and Advocates for Youth are great groups to follow on social media.
Test. And test again.
Analytics should be your best friend. Don’t be afraid to try something new—just make sure you’re learning from the experience. Try running a boosted Facebook post for $5, or hosting a live Instagram stream at an event. All in all, just be sure to take time to reflect about what worked about the experience, and what didn’t.