Guest Blogger : Raff Marioni
Coronavirus messages are not reaching people under 30. At 23 years old, I’ve obviously had a lot less experience than a Whitehall spin doctor; but I can say with total confidence that the government isn’t speaking young people’s language and they are not finding me or my friends online.
Looking at my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feed – the most important gauges of what my friends are talking about – Covid-19 is still considered only a danger to old people and there’s minimal government-led messaging on important details we should know.
The Media Coach asked me to share my thoughts on this problem. I am 23, in my first year of working for a PR firm. Before that, I was president of Newcastle University Students Union. I was introduced to the world of messaging and media management when – while at Newcastle Uni – I was trained by the Media Coach’s Jon Bennett. Jon, who is a Newcastle Uni alumni and a trustee of the SU, recently asked me if I thought young people were ‘getting the message about COVID’ and my answer was an emphatic no.
Coronavirus Messages Generation Gap
What is clear to me is that for my generation there’s a gap: coronavirus messages are not cutting through. Under thirties are not changing behavior. And I blame that on old fashioned comms that are completely unsuited to a digital world.
It’s as if the government dusted off a pre-internet pandemic media strategy from the 80s and put it into action, focusing on adverts in papers, TV news interviews and marathon daily briefings. That might be what you need to reach the over-40s, but it’s totally outmoded for my generation.
For me and my friends, the idea of buying a newspaper is about as foreign as the idea of ever owning our own home. We also don’t tend to have allegiances to traditional outlets either; there’s rarely such a thing as a Guardian or a Mail reader. My mates are much more likely to self-identify as a Twitter or a Facebook user.
So if you want to talk to us, you need to go to where we are – and young people consume their media almost exclusively digitally. And they want something fresh and authentic.
A really notable example of where old media jumped the divide into new media was Emily Maitlis’ opening monologue on Newsnight on 9th April, it went viral across UK social media because it departed from the usual safe bi-partisan format.
Social Media Timelines Keep Us Informed
It’s not that my generation never watches TV or cares about news, in fact, I’d argue the appetite for information is huge. It’s just that – because we have social media timelines, live updates from news apps and friends sharing links in group chats – by the time the evening news comes around we already know what’s happened throughout the day.
It means we also want something more than just an old-fashioned bulletin. We want news and views and I think broadcasters are starting to realise that.
Aside from getting the traditional headlines pinged to us on our phones, we’ll actively search Google or Twitter for what we want to know. A scan of the first few results on each usually provides us with the nuggets we need. We’ll only click for more detail if our interest is particularly spiked.
Another key source of information is the shared or sponsored articles on Facebook or Twitter timelines. To illustrate how times have changed, LadBible – a source of news, viral videos and funny stories – has 37 million Facebook followers, while The Sun has 3.3 million.
If the government wants to talk to us, they’ll find us online. But it’s a noisy space and in an age of relentless scrolling, we need something that will make us stop and listen.
If someone asked my advice – I would suggest designing a targeted campaign that outlines that young people are still dying from Covid-19, combined with stark, sponsored ads explaining how ignoring the lockdown means we could kill our loved ones. It shouldn’t take losing a grandparent (or a job) to have grasped the severity of this pandemic, but for many young people, it has.
My Generation Grew Up on Spin
I am from a generation attuned to, and drained by, spin. We’re massively cynical about government soundbites because we grew up with Blair and Iraq, the tuition fee fiasco and the Brexit bus farrago.
It’s why we’ll listen to Chris Whitty, but when Johnson or Hancock muscle their way into frame, we return to scrolling.
Ultimately, young people are used to looking ahead, but we’ve suddenly lost momentum in our lives. Tell us what the future can look like if we all get this right. Just do it clearly, concisely and in our language. Oh, and don’t expect us to spare you an hour.
Photo: Image © Acabashi CC-BY-SA 4.0
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