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Targeting Generation Z: if Labour can reach young people then you can too

Dan Selinger – 15 June 2017

The Labour party’s command of the youth vote during the recent General Election campaign showed that it is possible to motivate and inspire young people into taking action.

It was timely, therefore, that this week’s PUBlic Relations event – the networking group for PR professionals in Oxford – focused on reaching younger audiences, or ‘Generation Z’ as some people refer to them.

Author and commentator Chloe Combi gave insights into the lives of people in their teens and early twenties, followed by a panel debate (pictured below) involving Tom Jennings of Oxford City Council, and Jo Gregory-Brough, formerly of Oxford University Student Union.

Reaching a group of people who are less and less likely to go out and socialise, shun traditional media, and mistrust brands is a real challenge for many organisations.

And there have been some obvious examples of those who have got it very wrong; Pepsi being the most high-profile casualty.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, and there were some real insights at our event about how to engage positively with Generation Z:

1. Forget about traditional media

According to Chloe Combi, Generation Z’ers ‘ignore all kinds of traditional media’.

They don’t read newspapers or magazines, and they rarely watch TV.

In this new world, brands focusing their advertising and editorial efforts on traditional outlets seems misguided.

This played out during the General Election when young voters seemed not to notice the right-wing press’s anti-Corbynite rhetoric, responding instead to new media activities from Labour and Momentum.

And locally in Oxford too, for Tom Jennings and the City Council, print media is simply not a route to their under-25 audiences. Upskilling employees on how to engage young people through social media has been a real focus over the last year.

2. Social: engage and innovate

Bolstering social media activity is a given, but it’s surprising how many brands still get it wrong.

According to Jo Gregory-Brough many organisations tend to ‘talk at students rather than ask them questions’, but that conversational campaigns are almost always more effective.

Despite this well-rehearsed argument, so many channels aimed at students and young people are still broadcast-only. Labour’s focus on catchy memes during the election campaign was a refreshing change.

Oh, and when it comes to channels, it’s no longer ok just to set up a Facebook page for all audiences. Snapchat, Instagram (and probably others you haven’t heard of yet) specifically focused on youth voices are increasingly the way forward.

3. Collaborate on content

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard about teams avoiding running social campaigns because they don’t have the budget for content.

But when young people respond so positively to their peers and to vloggers of their own age, isn’t it time we handed control over to our audiences; letting them share their voices through user-generated content?

They’re expressing themselves anyway, so why not let them tell the story, rather than creating our own?

4. Invest in influencer outreach (if you have deep pockets)

The power of Youtubers and influential vloggers is staggering.

According to Combi, an endorsement by Kylie Jenner is worth more monetarily than a double page spread in the New York Times.

During the election, Jeremy Corbyn’s engagement with leading UK Youtubers RantsNBants and Copa90 certainly seemed to make an impact.

But working with these influencers can come at a cost.

Corporates looking to team up with vloggers can expect five-figure fees, five-star hotels, and healthy levels of sass if they do go down this route.

5. Be positive

A lot of the panel’s discussion focused on making a positive change – whether that was working closely with charities and community groups, or running drives that make a difference to society.

All the panellists pointed to examples of where campaigns aimed at ‘doing good’ had resonated beyond expectations – which chimes with Combi’s assertion that Generation Z is very ethically minded.

It’s not surprising in this context that the upbeat Labour campaign caught the imagination of younger people over and above the Conservatives’ negative smears.

6. Have a thick skin

While social media is brimming with potential, it’s getting pretty nasty out there.

Every member of the panel pointed to examples of where they had experienced abusive behaviour and trolling online –particular on Twitter.

However, a healthy dose of patience and a good sense of humour can help us through.

According to Gregory-Brough, younger audiences have ‘online’ live and ‘offline’ lives, and if you can make a connection, it’s possible to turn things round and make relationships work for your advantage.

Getting someone ‘witty and with a thick skin’ to run your social channels is a must.

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Engaging with younger audiences is not simple. Channels and trends are ever-changing, and getting it right means unlearning a lot of the PR and marketing knowledge we have long taken for granted.

But if a political party that was written off before the election as an outdated movement harking back to the 1970s can reach a whole new generation, then what is stopping you?

The next PUBlic Relations event will take place in Oxford in September. Join our mailing list to find out more.

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