If you’ve dabbled in the world of social media, you’ve probably been warned about the daunting task of engaging the dreaded ‘youth audience’. Young people are supposed to be sceptical towards what they hear online and idealistic, equipped with a spot-on BS filter that’s hard to break through. Winning their trust is a challenge for brands.
I feel the struggle too. I’m 23 and I’ve been creating social content for various brands since 17, but connecting with a disillusioned youth audience is still a struggle. Even in my current job as a staff writer at Vice Magazine in Denmark, it took me a while to understand the secret recipe for getting young people to listen online. What I’ve learned is marketers often alienate this audience by treating young people like a different species.
Authenticity and an eye for quality content are the key, with young people, as with really every demographic. For those of you who need a little more help, though, keep these three points in mind:
1. Seriously, Just Be Yourself
Before drafting that witty Facebook post or clever Tweet, consider a dinner parties. You know that for the most part, dinner parties are great—until you get stuck next to a guest who’s a try-hard. Whether they’re quoting an exhausted meme or going on and on about hot topics without substance to back up the conversation, these people may be nice and all but unfortunately, they’re annoying because they cannot be themselves.
See, the same rule applies for social media: if you’re forcing it, writing about what you think your audience considers cool in a tone you think your audience prefers, you’ll lose them instantly. And the only reason you assume that’s the content your audience wants is because you’ve already seen the Internet overflowing with it anyway. So it’s not only contrived, but unoriginal.
Instead, feel confident expressing your own sense of humour and individual perspective on topics you’re interested in, are relevant to your business offering, and your audience might find intriguing, too. Even if some of your posts are duds, you’ll build up a persona that’s genuine and most importantly avoids the try-hard syndrome. With the youth audience, a try-hard is the biggest social media turnoff of all—and trust me, as soon as they spot one, it’s game over.
2. Cut to the Chase
I know, I know: as a writer, little feels more satisfying that conjuring a clever zinger to impress your audience. However, be warned that flexing your word-muscles can easily backfire. But with social media, never forget that brevity is beautiful. Facebook posts should be a few sentences long; Instagram captions should be tight and snappy; and Tweets—well, you already know they’re 140 characters. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Limited post length forces you to be concise and impactful with your copy: you’ll learn to express yourself more effectively, reach your audience faster—and become a better marketer in the long run.
One cliché we always hear about millennials is that they have short attention spans. Well, that one is true! (Not just of young people, but of any social-media-savvy modern content consumer with a smartphone in his or her pocket.) So always ask yourself: can you make the sentence shorter, even if it means cutting your favourite words? Your youth audience is already tired from taking in the amount of stuff thrown at them; you’ve got a split second to grab their attention. Focus on writing things that are quick to take in. Wit and wordplay are great, but first be sure to make your offering clear.
3. Don’t Underestimate Your Audience
Like all journalists, I’ve had moments I’m proud of and some I regret (but that I’ve learned from). Some of those regretted moments had me terrified of a fast-approaching deadline. I’d frantically nix any noble intentions for my article and write click-bait so I’d make the deadline and keep my job. But every time I did that, the same thing happened. Maybe the article got a lot of traffic and social shares, but if it also got a ton of negative feedback from a youth audience, I’d consider it a failure. I hate hearing from younger readers who are angry I’d assumed they’re stupider than they are and wasted their time.
The short-term effect of writing a provocative hot-take is immediate traction, but a click-bait piece lacking substance will ultimately result in a disillusioned audience and loss of loyalty. Although I learned this lesson through blunders in journalism, it can easily be applied to social media copywriting. Whether they’re reading a blog post or a Tweet, young people are your toughest critics. They don’t put up with brands wasting their time, so be as tough on yourself as your audience will be on you: don’t publish content until you’re confident you’ve done your best.