Generation Y or Z, ‘millennials’, or simply under 25s? Whatever you call them, too often it seems as though effective communication with this age group is something only to be fantasised about, but never actually achieved. This is usually down to some basic misunderstanding and underestimation. At Crest Advisory we develop communication strategies and approaches to reach all audiences, old and young, urban and rural, switched on and hard to reach. Our experience has exposed four myths about millennials that need to be busted before anyone can communicate effectively with younger audiences about criminal justice. Here are our myth-busters:

1. There’s no such thing as ‘communicating with under 25s’

Don’t fall into the misapprehension that “young people” all communicate in the same way. You wouldn’t use one set of messages to communicate with 40-somethings (not least because most people have different priorities, and need different messages depending on their job, whether they have kids, where they live etc). So don’t fall into the same trap with ‘young people’. The reality is that a 16 year old living in West London communicates in a completely different way to a 24 year old living in West Yorkshire. Many a 26-year old (Niall!) has been laughed at by 16 year olds for still using Facebook. 16-21 year olds have instead taken to Snapchat, YouTube vlogging and Instagram and they’ve been the early adopters of Facebook live. ‘Social media’ is not a strategy in itself, but a range of communication channels that can be used to target different audiences. It’s important to remember that trend gaps between each year are greater for people under the age of 25 than any other group, due to the rapid pace of technological advancement. As a result, more attention to detail needs to be paid to technology and communications trends at each age, instead of lumping them all together. Think about who you’re trying to communicate with and tailor your strategy accordingly.

2. Impatience is good

If you think you’re impatient, imagine growing up in a world where you’ve never had to wait for the last episode of anything because you can find it online immediately. They want to know what is happening NOW. They want to tell everyone what they’re doing NOW. This is generation FOMO (FOMO = the fear of missing out). In the information age, there is nothing worse than not knowing what is going on, not being informed. You haven’t seen the scary clown craze or the new viral charity campaign? Why on earth not?! A new poll by Digital Awareness UK found that 45% of 11-18 year olds check their phones in the middle of the night. The fear is real. This is a great opportunity for communication and should be seized upon. Start discussions about events as they happen (or before) and interact more regularly.

3. Don’t assume they don’t care – they do!

It’s insulting to think this age group can’t or won’t engage with discussions on the criminal justice system. After all, they are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system than any other age group – as both victims and perpetrators. Voxburner’s annual Youth100 survey revealed that 52% of 16-24 year olds share articles or opinions on social media about important causes. While 74% now believe that online activism is as important, if not more important than traditional activism. Young people do want to engage, just not necessarily by traditional means. Sharing is caring in the 21st century. This approach simultaneously allows for greater individuality and mass participation. Think of the Ice Bucket challenge – millions of people took part, many with their own unique twist. 81% of the respondents to the Youth100 survey stated they relate to campaigns better if they use ‘real’ people. Millennials care, and more importantly they care about real people and real stories – something the criminal justice system has in abundance. So if you are having difficulty communicating with young people, it could be you just need to think about the methods and messages you’re using.

4. Young does not equal immature

Young people are maturing faster. Millennials have had access to the internet and by proxy the world, since they could pick up their parents’ phone and tap the screen. Advancing technology allows them to connect with a larger and older generation than ever before. Technological development has driven intellectual and informed discussion out of the newsrooms and offices of older professionals and into the living rooms and coffee shops of a younger, more self-confident generation. The same Voxburner survey shows that 80% of 16-24 year olds want to be seen as knowledgeable. Knowledge is now the key indicator of influence. Share your messages and information in ways and via channels that young people can and want to access.

In 2014, one in four young people were victims of crime, higher than any other age group And don’t forget the offenders the criminal justice system deals with day after day; in March this year 19% of the entire prison population were under 25. Discussions about how the criminal justice system operates, and who it operates for, are as pertinent to them as to any other group, if not more so. This makes it all the more important to think about how you might better engage 16-24 year olds in discussions about the criminal justice system.

No one likes to be patronised. If there is one thing that all young people can agree on, it is disdain for patronising messages delivered in a patronising way. At Crest, we work face to face with people from all areas of the criminal justice system, we know their stories and understand what they care most about. By busting these millennial myths, avoiding basic mistakes and applying a clear communications strategy, the elusive under 25s need be elusive no more. If you are having difficulty engaging younger audiences in conversations about the criminal justice system that matter, Crest has the expertise to help you.

Niall Blake-Knox

Niall Blake-Knox

Communications & Policy Analyst

Niall Blake-Knox is a Communications and Policy Analyst at Crest Advisory. Before joining Crest he completed a Masters Degree in Conflict Resolution and Governance from the University of Amsterdam.

Jo Coles

Jo Coles

Senior Communications Consultant

Jo Coles is a Senior Communications Consultant at Crest Advisory. Jo brings expertise in the political and voluntary sector delivering politically-sensitive campaigns and communications.

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