Engaging young people - 8 top tips

Talk to anyone who has been to a community consultation and they will describe a room of people over the age of 55. Where are the younger people? Many believe that switching to a digital-first strategy will solve the problem as young people were born in the digital age. However, this is currently far from the case.

When we’ve spoken with young people about why they are so unlikely to engage, the most common feedback is that they feel like they are just a tick-box exercise. And what’s worse, is that they also feel like they are not being listened to. 


Find out more about our research with younger audiences by speaking to an engagement expert.

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However, it isn’t all bad news. With nearly 2,000 digital engagement projects under our belt, we’ve recognised that there is a formula for success - a way to overcome the barriers that keep younger people from engaging. In this article, we’ve outlined some of our best practice advice to make sure younger people are involved in your conversations:

Engaging young people (1)

Let’s start with the scary stuff. If truth be known, engaging younger people (35 and below) takes hard work and committing resources. Commonplace has been optimised to increase engagement levels but you have to be prepared to:

 

1. Invest for success 


Put aside a specified budget for engaging youth groups, creating champions in the community, advertising specifically to them on social media, and doing some face-to-face events at places the younger members of your society congregate. 


2. Start early

 

The earlier you start, the more you can see youth group engagement as an advisory engagement before you go into the statutory event. This will help you build an audience who are interested in the topic, a key step for encouraging strong engagement down the line. It will also reduce the skew in older opinion as those aged 45 and above statistically make up the majority of comments in more ‘typical’ in-person engagements.  

 

3. Share ownership

Engaging young people

It is important you see younger people as a separate stakeholder group that will need their own resources and approach to communication. The best way to get them on board is to allow them to influence the outcome. The best way to do this is to engage your existing young contacts on how to ask questions that will resonate with their peers. You could even provide an incentive where needed, for example, winning a £50 voucher for sharing your views). 

 

4. Tailor the message

 

In order to be successful, it’s important that you make space for young people for shaping your consultation. For example, giving them an extra tile and tailoring your language accordingly. Corporate identity has been designed with a different purpose in mind, and if you can move away from this, you might have a more successful chance of engaging a younger audience. 

Our data shows that 70% of our respondents are under the age of 45. This is about level with what we would expect when looking at ONS population data. But engaging younger people is notoriously the most challenging - they need to know about the activity and feel driven to get involved. 

It follows that the recipe for success is based on better promotion of information and the clarity/simplicity of that information

 

The key to effectively engaging young people is to view them as a unique target audience with their own needs, values, rules and rewards. 


5. Be careful with language

Let’s face it, a long black-and-white consultation full of jargon isn’t going to inspire a busy 26-year-old to stop and give their opinion. It’s important that you really consider how you are talking to them. Ask yourself, is it the same way you’re trying to engage with other people? Can you tailor the message? Directed content and questions work better. For example, don’t say ‘Have your say’, but instead be direct; ‘18-25 year olds - We Need You!’. You need to make people feel like they are a big part of what will happen and that they see your commitment to making sure their opinion is included. 

The easiest way to do this is to create separate surveys specifically for young people - a separate tile will allow you to craft a message and language that’s specific to them, as well as ask different questions too. Remember, it’s important to educate them without patronising them. 

In terms of the questions you ask, it will help to offer examples to help prompt responses. We find that open-ended questions don’t work as well for younger people as effectively as a prompted survey. When it comes to demographic questions, try to keep these short and explain in the subtext why you are asking these questions, as sometimes they can be a barrier for younger people. 

Important as ever is making sure that you create a feedback loop in your engagement plan - use the tools that Commonplace offer such as the News Feed and email feature to feedback on results. Particularly important to younger generations is giving them concrete proof that their feedback is leading to positive change. We recommend writing a news post at least once a month and signposting people to other places they can get involved whilst they await the results of the consultation can work really well, too. If it’s engaging enough, news can also be further circulated through their own channels as well, like social media or their own website!

6. Be visual

Visual engagement for young people

The power of Commonplace is its ability to tell a highly visual story. We’ve built the tools to allow you to create snackable, digital-first content that can really appeal to a younger audience. These will help you move away from thinking of this as a consultation, but rather as a lively hub for connection and activity. What would make you want to engage? Make it visual, keep it fresh, and use one of our 40 different types of questions to keep content interesting. Don’t worry, we know that’s a lot and we’re here to help you choose the ones that are perfect for your engagement:

  • Could you use an image poll in place of a list of options? 
  • Could you use a ‘comment on an image’ question to prompt feedback on a new road layout? 
  • Would a matrix question help keep your survey short and sweet? 

We recommend no more than 10 questions - less if you want to really engage the younger masses.

Videos are also a fantastic way to engage a younger audience. Up to 70% of all information is consumed via video nowadays, so use this to your advantage! Perhaps you could you get one of your younger stakeholders to record a 30-second video introducing the engagement exercise and bring their peers into the conversation. 

Think about all the other features you can use on Commonplace to make the project as engaging as possible. If it's place-based, our Community Heatmaps consistently have high levels of engagement. Could you include a Voice Capture feature, to allow residents to leave a voice clip rather than answer a free text question? Perhaps you should add a map as a question. Or you could include an option to rank community priorities.

7. Choose your topic


People of different ages are interested in different things. And with younger audiences, it’s important to direct them to the content they care about first to keep their interest. Take Climate Change, it’s something that younger generations have grown up with genuine awareness and passion for, whereas parking and road layout changes might not be so high on the agenda for them. 

In what ways can you bring topics they care about into the conversation that younger people will resonate with more? Think Climate Change, Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy, active travel, public transport accessibility (particularly in rural areas), the Cost of Living crisis, high street regeneration… If you can weave these topics into your consultation, you might attract a wider intrigued younger audience. Another way to think about this is whether you really need to ask them all of the questions - if there is a way to ask only about the topics you think will be relevant to younger people, then keeping your survey short and sweet will work in your favour!

To help you generate these topics, and run your questions we recommend auditing your existing assets in terms of youth activity to see who is already interested and to see points that have already been brought up. Following that, you can target that existing audience more directly while also targeting additional youth councils or parliament/ social media channels to help with content and promotion. If you consult with people of that age, to ask what issues they think their generation would like to be asked about, you can stress test your survey before launching it. It also creates a personal champion in that area that will help to spread the word for them. 

To encourage more young people to engage, doing Peer Interviews is a really great way to make the content of your survey more relatable. For a project with Lendlease in Silvertown, we trained 16-17 year olds on how to survey others to help with relatability and got them involved in the design process too. Taking an approach like this gave real ownership to a younger audience, but it takes a commitment from the start of the project to make this a success. 

8. Add an incentive

 Competition post for Instagram

We find a higher rate of responses from younger people when there is an incentive involved.  It is often a good way to hook them in because it creates a direct correlation that says “My opinion is worth something”. A few vouchers here and there that can be spent in the local economy will incentivize young people, as well as give more of an incentive to provide a more robust answer, too. 

As ever, using one of our social media promotion packages, particularly if used to directly target younger people within your community with messages and quotes that will really resonate with them will help boost your engagement levels within this demographic. Check out this case study with Doncaster City Council to see how a social media promotion helped them reach unprecedented numbers in just 16 days. 

Conclusion

So in summary for a youth engagement campaign, think about your language, keeping it visual, personalising your surveys with relevant topics and incentivising people to take part. Need a refresher after all that? Below are our ten most crucial points that should never be left out of any youth engagement campaign:

Top tips for Engaging Young People on Commonplace

  • Work with your youth council/organizations to help with content and promotion.
  • Create a survey specifically for Young People
  • Make it visual and different
  • Keep your language simple
  • Include 30-second videos
  • Use all the tools available to you
  • Use social media for targeted promotion
  • Engage them on topics they care about
  • Use Heatmaps where you can
  • Create a feedback loop - use Newsfeed and email feature
  • Signposting - use the timeline to show places they can get involved whilst an outcome is being decided. 

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Amy Hazlehurst

Amy Hazlehurst