Not-for-profit organizations are arguably one of the biggest champions of "change that we seek," so we asked a selection of them how they were using digital to inspire teens. We found that there is a considerably more positive image emerging than that of Bauerlein, and that digital media is being used in a variety of very effective ways to reach and inspire kids to make a difference, whilst giving them the tools to spread the word.
Comic Relief faced such a challenge earlier this year when it was looking to generate awareness for Red Nose Day 2009, one of the United Kingdom's biggest charity events, in a difficult economic climate and crowded media space. Reaching out to kids online played a major role, collaborating with the likes of b-box, Bebo's flagship weekly magazine show aimed at a teen audience. Chris Ward, creative communications cirector, said, "For the first time in '09, we ran a six-week 'digital' campaign leading up to Red Nose Day. This helped us enormously in engaging fully with the younger market."
In our review, we also saw a consistent pattern of increased focus on digital media to genuinely engage this audience, contradicting the fashionable view of stereotypical kids with short attention spans. The British Heart Foundation, which has kids as a major target given that heart-related health problems often start in the early years, has tackled this by turning kids' passion to have fun online to its advantage through the likes of its award-winning Yoobot game. David Barker, head of communications, said, "We want to talk in a style that our audience will understand -- entertainment first, education second."
An opportunity recognized by all organizations we reviewed was to turn their followers into advocates, and to use digital to share enthusiasm for a cause or message. We Are What We Do, author of Teach your Granny to Text, a book written by kids with 30 simple actions to change the world, created an environment on its site for people to inspire each other by sharing their positive actions. Eugenie Harvey, co-founder of We Are What We Do, "The primary application of digital in our work with kids is through our on-line action tracking facility which enables them to share their experiences with their friends and tell us their stories."
Far from creating a "dumb generation," it is therefore clear that, used in the right way, digital media can be immensely powerful ways of reaching, engaging and inspiring kids to act in a positive way. Moreover, it appears that not-for-profit organizations, despite tight budgets and challenges posed by delivering sometimes educational "boring" messages, are achieving a level of innovation and effectiveness many commercial brand owners can learn from.
It has been fashionable in recent years for charities to draw ideas and inspiration from the commercial world. Maybe now the boot should be on the other foot, with the commercial world learning from the not-for-profit sector.