Unethical and unregulated advertising in digital and social spaces is creating new headlines and legislation about advertising aimed at teens and kids. Notwithstanding, as big search and social companies continue to come under fire for unregulated youth-based advertising, Facebook announced recently its decision to limit targeted advertising to users under 18.
The change comes on the heels of similar regulation by Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to try to limit the influence brands have on young people based solely on their interests. As new data about teens and social media emerges from places like The Wall Street Journal, the question of teen mental health and advertising rises to the forefront.
Yet, as brands continue to make headlines, lawmakers in the United States and abroad are looking for accountability and preventative measures by social and digital media companies to halt unethical and unregulated advertising practices. In other countries, like Australia, these new laws are setting global standards for youth-based advertising by limiting reach on advertising platforms like Facebook Business Manager.
Recently, Australian lawmakers adopted new legislation for advertisers on Instagram, Facebook and Messenger to prevent alcohol distributors from marketing content toward minors based on their interests.
With U.S. lawmakers continuing to seek guidelines for online advertising regulations, some companies are already making headlines for unethical advertising practices that elevate the conversation around content aimed at teens and kids. For communicators, the impending new regulations will create a challenge for strategic targeting of youth groups through SEO and on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.
As the dust settles with legislation and with the limited appetite for unethical youth-based advertising by brands on major social and search organizations, communications teams operating in an ethical sphere will have to revert back to other forms of audience reach to produce positive reach.
Many of these communicators will begin to realize the need for a shift from paid media to shared media, and from advertising to organic engagement. Returning to the principles of organic reach, in particular, reaching youth groups, will require more cutting-edge and engaging content that draws in a younger audience.
Here are some ideas to reach a youth audience organically:
• Reinvest your ad budget.
Organic campaigns, by nature, are free and rely on the value of the content as a mechanism of reach. The better the content, the greater the reach. But going organic doesn’t mean just posting to your owned channels. Brands can reinvest money previously spent on advertising in organic engagement campaigns. Brands can instead use those allocated dollars to amplify their content in organic ways.
• Use gamification.
Consider a gamified approach to your posts by asking your audience to subscribe to your channel, like your post, use a particular hashtag, leave a comment or upload a photo for a chance to win. [Insert exciting new gadget, concert tickets, gift cards, etc.] By participating in the post, the user’s audience will also see their activity. Considering many youth followers tend to cluster, the gamified approach will organically be amplified to a larger target audience.
• Utilize share campaigns.
Share campaigns encourage your target audience to do the reaching for you. By creating a youth-based share campaign, you create an opportunity for audiences to engage with your message by saying, doing or sharing. Think Ice Bucket Challenge but for kids, with a catchy, unique hashtag.
• Do more telling and less selling.
The bread and butter of organic reach means participating in the conversation and showing a presence. Brands who want to reach an under-18 market should consider befriending other brands that already reach this audience and posting there regularly. Inject your message organically in the comments and try to have your content shared among that account.
• Consider a youth spinoff account.
Content centered around youth may look different than the majority of a brand’s communication. Youth campaigns rely heavily on trendy content that may not resonate with an older audience. Organizations that rely on a youth audience as a subset of their reach may want to consider a Facebook page or Instagram account dedicated to people under 18.
• Embrace influencer relations.
Influencer spending in 2021 has already surpassed the $1 billion mark and continues to climb. As organizations continue to embrace the market share and power of influence, communicators trying to reach a younger audience should lean into these opportunities. While not all influencer relationships are the same, some require a monetary incentive, free “merch” to unpack and demo and outright costs related to clicks.
Joshua J. Smith, M.S., is a full-time faculty member of mass communications and public relations with the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.[Photo credit: carballo]