Picture is illustrative. Photo by Cristian Dina from Pexels

Almost nine out of ten young people aged 16-24 in the EU are on social media networks. This compares to less than a fifth of those aged 65-74 (Eurostat, 2019). It is, therefore, essential when devising a plan to communicate to and with that target audience (young people) to use the main channels where they are present. 


There are, of course, many debates around social media, including: disinformation, “fake news” (or information disorder, which is considered to be a more accurate term)”, safety of young people online, bullying online, protection of personal data, cybercrime, the power of certain companies when it comes to influencing what we consume online etc.  And indeed, when using social media tools to communicate, some of these concerns should be borne in mind. But, with these caveats, it is nonetheless important that organisations and project teams effectively use social media channels to communicate with their key audiences and, potentially, to market to those audiences. 


What is social media marketing? 

Social media marketing is, put simply, raising awareness – promoting your organisation – through social media channels. This may include:

  • Promoting your events/activities
  • Driving traffic to your website
  • Communicating with your key audiences
  • Fundraising
  • Influencing 

Social media marketing is a strategy used as part of a wider Communications and Marketing Strategy.


Which channel – how to be heard amongst the noise?

There are many social media channels and not all channels are equal! Some have more reach and some are more popular among some age groups, subcultures or some areas. But, as with all kinds of communications channels, there are two important elements to bear in mind: It’s not necessarily how many people you reach, but who you reach that matters. And indeed, before choosing which channel to use for which type of communication, consider the profile of your audience and compare that to the main users of the platform. For example, the average age of Facebook users is older, whilst for Snapchat and TikTok it is younger. However, Facebook Messenger is still being used also by the younger audience, even though they are not engaging in their feeds.


Develop a social media marketing strategy which lays out your goals, who you are aiming to reach and what kind of content you are going to push out when. As with other communications strategies, strong messaging and compelling storytelling are key to success.


Digital Natives? Some tips for social media marketing to digital natives 

Whilst it is essential that most organisations are present on social media, not all of your communications need to go out through all of your social media channels. If, for example, you are organising a small event for a very targeted audience, it would be more appropriate to communicate news of this directly to those people via, for example, email, than blast it out via all of your channels. 


And, whilst certainly, social media has great reach, and allows you to be creative in the content you share and how you communicate, it should not be seen as a replacement for face-to-face communication. This is especially relevant in the youth field, where it is assumed that since young people have grown up with the internet and social media, that they are “digital natives”.  But questions of access remain and this has been thrown into sharp relief by the Covid-19 pandemic which has exposed inequalities in access to computers and digital tools among young people.


How can well planned social media marketing support the values of youth participation?

By its nature social media – once, in its early days, more often referred to as social networking – is a network, it is both where many young people get their news but also how they communicate. Therefore, as a sector, youth work should be engaging with young people on the same channels that they use in their everyday life, but also through channels that are two-way and offer the opportunity for conversations and collaboration.


Tools, such as social media which are, in essence, participatory have the potential to encourage more participatory forms of democracy, inclusion in civic life and activism. Therefore, those in the youth sector can grasp the opportunity they offer, not only as a direct means of communication with key audiences, but as way to engage and galvanise young people.


Photo of Sarah Farndale
Sarah Farndale

Sarah is a communications specialist with 15 years' experience working in-house for a wide range of organisations and institutions, from international NGOs to EU associations and institutions. More recently, she has been advising clients as a freelance communications consultant - based in Brussels - working with organisations on enhancing their communications.