Zoe Amar: Lessons for charities from the Instagram election

Young people showed they can have influence on politics, so how should the sector approach communication with them?

Zoe Amar
Zoe Amar

One of the many surprises from last week’s election was the high youth turnout. The online polling comp[any YouGov reported that 59 per cent of 20 to 24-year-olds voted. With 61.5 per cent of the under-40s voting for Labour, I want to explore which campaign techniques could help charities reach young supporters.

Whereas the Conservatives used targeted Facebook adverts to attack Jeremy Corbyn, Labour majored on positive, policy-focused content, bringing 2.4 times more traffic to Labour’s site than the Conservatives brought to theirs over the last 28 days of the campaign. Young people are hard to reach on social media because they are sophisticated consumers. So which tactics did Labour use?

Targeting influencers

Grime artists such as Jme and Stormzy endorsed Corbyn, leading to the #Grime4Corbyn hashtag. Ben Leach, a young voter who works for a digital agency in Nottingham, says this appealed to him: "I think a lot of this played on the principle of viral marketing. The unexpected and shocking aspect of seeing Jme and Jeremy Corbyn being friends with each other made people laugh and share the content. Jeremy Corbyn almost became cool."

Your charity can build relationships with young people by targeting influencers and co-creating content that challenges preconceptions of your brand.

Making content resonate with young people

Rachel Egan, another young voter who works in communications for a mental health charity, says that the sponsored #VoteLabour hashtag on election morning "created a buzz and a sense of excitement: we saw our peers using it online, so we wanted to as well".

She also cites the drawings, photos and graphics created by Labour supporters, which the party shared through its Instagram account. As well as appealing to young people, this differentiated the campaign from that of the Conservatives, who favoured a more traditional top-down approach.

Charities need to encourage young people to create their own content and share it with their peers. Caveat: this is only possible if young people see that your brand is relevant to them.

Grass-roots activism

Momentum, the 20,000 strong network of Corbyn campaigners, created slick video content that was viewed by almost 10 million Facebook users in the UK. One hard-hitting video featured a father telling his daughter that she doesn’t get free school meals because he voted for Theresa May: it achieved 5.4 million views in just two days.

Look to the young campaigners who support your charity’s cause and work with them to plan campaigns. Dr Richard Piper, a charity sector leader and volunteer youth worker who coined the term "Instagram election", counsels charities that "the answer is pretty simple: go to them, listen to them, share with them. In other words, ask not what young people can do for you, but what you can do for them."

Be upbeat

Steve Armstrong, head of digital at Marie Curie, points out that whereas Labour had the advantage of organic content created by supporters, "the Conservatives took a predominantly paid-for approach to social media and their messaging was negative. Millennials have a positive mindset and crave authenticity – the Tory approach simply didn’t connect with this."

Emotive, positive content, true to how your charity makes a difference, will bring young people to your organisation.

In this election young people have seen how influential their voices are. What could charities do with that awakening?

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