All Posts By

Tom Kenyon

Digital trends: Targeting British teens through mobile

Earlier this month the OECD released a report that says British young people are the third highest users of digital content in the world. My first thought was: ‘only third?’ The UK is behind Chile (which doesn’t have the broadband penetration of the UK) and Sweden (mono-cultural society with a total population smaller than London).

“One in three British fifteen-year-olds  

spends more than six hours per day online.”

At Latimer we run workshops and research with young people all over the world, exploring youth culture and creativity. Naturally, that conversation always includes digital behaviours, social networking and media consumption and we try to work with creatives and influencers at the leading edge of innovation. Based on nothing but my experience, I would argue that urban British teens are the most sophisticated users of digital media in the world. I had put this down to a variety of things: cultural diversity; the British comfort with e-commerce; increasing levels of creative technical knowledge… But the most persuasive argument now is that they have the most practice.

One in three British fifteen-year-olds spends more than six hours per day online. Six hours per day! By the age of 19 those users have the requisite 10,000 hours to be world-class experts in digital culture. Why does this matter? If you want to understand where digital behaviours around the world are headed, to design new products or release new features, you need to understand what urban British teens are doing right now. This is a demographic that shares a language with America, strong Afro-Caribbean and South Asian influences and a wry European sensibility, but most importantly, they put in the hours. Crack this market. Crack the world. 

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How an influencer campaign increased the youth vote by 600,000

This election has changed the landscape of British politics and one of the clearest messages to come out of the polling booths is that there is a new political power in Britain: the under 25s. Official demographic reports of voter turnout haven’t been released yet, but early reports suggest youth turnout from anywhere between 53% to 72% (3.6m to 4.8m voters). This is up a minimum of 10% from the 2015 turnout. Voter registrations for the 18-24s increased by 600,000 from 2015 numbers.

Young people can no longer be accused of being politically apathetic and in turn, they can no longer complain that their vote doesn’t make any difference. Labour’s campaign crystallised the difference a vote could make to young people’s lives. Their manifesto presented a clear vision for a different kind of country, with the concerns of young people – education, housing, minimum wage jobs – at the heart of their message. Their tagline of ‘for the many not the few’ resonated with a generation who have grown up in the shadow of austerity and a populist rage against the 1%.

Labour recognised that the mainstream media concerns of Brexit negotiations and immigration were not the issues to motivate young people to vote. The fears of Generation Z are not that immigrants are coming for their jobs, but that the very notion of ‘a job’ is becoming extinct. Not that house prices will tumble but that home ownership is forever out of reach. Not that big business is leaving the UK, but that the public services their parents enjoyed are crumbling.

These concerns did not come out of nowhere. They have played out in digital spaces for at least the last two years. Young people weren’t avoiding voting because they were lazy, but because no-one was listening to their concerns. Until, it turned out, someone was.

The sudden emergence of Grime4Corbyn was one of the first hints of how successful Labour’s approach was. In pure marketing terms, this was the kind of influencer campaign any brand team would dream of – purpose-based; creative, diverse voices and a strong call to action: vote. Preferably for Labour, but above all, vote.

The Conservative campaign ignored the youth vote altogether. Their most discussed policy positions were on late-life care and pension locks. More than that, late in the election campaign when there was a huge surge of activity encouraging young people to register to vote and turn out on polling day, the Tories ignored it. The sentiment was not echoed by a single senior member of the Conservative party. They appeared antipathetic to the very idea of young people voting.

The Conservatives now face leading parliament without a clear majority and a lame duck leader. There is likely to be another general election within 18 months.  Tories need to urgently readdress their approach to engaging with young voters if they want to avoid a re-run of this outcome. This doesn’t mean changing their social media strategy, it means changing their message.

To build a bright future for the UK, the Conservatives  must create it in collaboration with the owners of that future. They need to seek out young people’s opinions, listen to their concerns and respond with new policies that are worth fighting for.

The under 25s have tasted political power for the first time in 20 years. They will not let go of it lightly.

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Is social listening still relevant when connecting to Generation Z?

Teenagers and young people spend their lives on social networks, surely it follows that ‘social media listening’ is the best way to find out about their lives, interests and aspirations – unmediated and in their own words.  But this isn’t what we’ve observed.  Social listening can tell you about brand mentions and offer some limited sentiment analysis, but on any subject outside the brand world the insights are severely limited.

Our recent research on the social media lives of young people shows why. Generation Z don’t hold meaningful conversations on public platforms. They will share and like content within their filter bubble, but only in line with their public personas.  You end up listening to a carefully curated point of view – it’s like eavesdropping an interview. Look at the top social networks for Generation Z: Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. Instagram is a stage. It’s for following people and curating a personal brand.  For most of the young people we speak to, this makes it a passive network. Young people are worried to post anything that is ‘off brand’ on their Instagram.

Facebook is still widely used, but it’s for news content and video discovery.  Young people are more comfortable sharing content than originating status updates and comments.  Gen Z know their parents are on Facebook and keep things strictly PG. Twitter is seen, at best, as a real-time news feed and at worst, confusing, insular and cliquey.

“Twitter is seen, at best, as a real-time

news feed and at worst,

confusing, insular and cliquey.”

That means that all the meaningful conversations, questions and recommendations between friends (where the real insight is) happen in private groups. Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger. How do you get the insight that young people share in their private conversations?

Latimer has developed two answers to this problem:

Get young people in the room and (to a certain degree) get out of the way. Creating the space and conditions for young people to talk, create and argue in person is the best way to facilitate real social listening.

Use the structures of social media that young people love and curate dedicated digital communities to discuss and create – but away from their carefully managed social media identities.

In short, social listening projects are often mining for insight in barren land.  The best way to listen to the candid conversations of Gen Z is to cultivate the conditions for them to occur within your earshot.

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