Note: this week, we’re running the first Online Youth Participation & Engagement (Un)Conference in Melbourne. You can follow the tweets on #oypec13, or check back to the blog for the report. 

So you have a presence or a particular campaign that targets young people?

The first thing you need to be aware of is that the attention span of young people is a delightfully of a double-edged sword. Yes, the rumours are indeed true that many young people have attention spans that can be measured in nano-seconds. They have grown up in a world of instant gratification, where Foxtel programming exists on demand, and replacing the flat battery in the remote represents a major time investment. However, the advantage is that once they are sold on an idea, it takes a great deal to “un-sell” them. In this regard, young people can quickly become your most passionate advocates. Earning them is the real challenge.

The first thing you need to be aware of is that young people are incredibly wary of instruction. They have been bombarded with direction from a young age, and I’m not talking about the type they receive from a mentor or parent. Media content of all shapes and sizes has bombarded them with insistent “buy us because we’re totes the best” style commercials for decades. They have trained themselves to switch off. It’s not enough to simply be up in their grills. With so many well-constructed promises, cynicism has become a reflex.

This said, neither do they particularly want to talk to you (unless you have their respect, but we will get to that in a moment), surveys need to have an element of gravity behind them, moreover, their purpose needs to be transparent. Being a lab rat is worse than taking instructions.

Seek instead to approach them as equals. Respect their intelligence, but don’t tell them that openly because it screams of patronisation.

The first step on the road to respect is by differentiating yourself from the masses. The “how” of that is naturally going to change with your organisations context. My personal favourite example; the Old Spice Guy found success, partially through contrast; it became self aware in an industry that took itself far too seriously.  Take a look at your sector as a whole, how can you distinguish yourself? Don’t copy someone else’s voice. Build your own.

Secondly, ask not what young people can do for you! Instead have a think about what value your presence can provide them. On this subject I’ll give you a hint: It’s not news. The best value will spring from the tools afforded to you by the platform you have chosen. In the case of Social Media, this ALWAYS means engagement cycles. Something is given, something related is returned, the exchanges continues.

Content does not need to cost thousands of dollars to produce. Blockbuster production value is not half as important ensuring that what you say takes into consideration the values and desires of your audience. If young people feel like they are legitimately cared about, they are more likely to care about you and what you have to say.

All of these factors are important when you are engaging with just about any audience. The difference is that with young people, there is far less of a tolerance for error.