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MGM Defining Thought Leadership

The Thought Leaders of Tomorrow: 4 Ways to Engage Youth Through Social Media

By Joi Sears

As social-media sites and engagement tools explode, pinpointing the right avenue for engaging any demographic remains a moving target. No group is more challenging to reach than youth -- so-called Generation Z. Like every generation that came before, this group chooses communications platforms precisely because the grownups are nowhere to be found. And they aren't afraid to move on if the platform du jour gets infiltrated by olds (I'm looking at you, Facebook!). That makes it hard to sustain interest and engagement.

Nevertheless, activist organizations will continue to chase, as young people are also known for their passion. Catch someone at the right time, and you could gain a lifetime supporter!

Over the last 15 years, Do Something emerged as one of the largest organizations in the world for young people who are interested in social change. With over 5.3 million members in 130 countries, Do Something tackles volunteer campaigns that impact every cause from poverty to discrimination and the environment. Their mission is to make the world suck less. Their approach to meeting young people where they are is a lesson any group can learn from. Here are some great examples of how they keep teens and young people coming back for more.

1. Connect young people to the causes they care about

This mission is accomplished through a series of fun, interactive and engaging campaigns which connect young people to the causes they care about the most. “We work directly with young people to find out what they really care about” said Calvin Stowell, Do Something’s chief growth officer.

“Most people think that young people apathetic, lazy or they don’t care, but they actually care about a lot of things. One person might care about discrimination another one might care about bullying. We make cause spaces accessible to everyone,” Stowell said.

2. Focus on impact

Every Do Something campaign has an action. “We incorporate awareness into every campaign, but our real focus is on impact,” Stowell told TriplePundit. For example, when it came to addressing issues that most affected homeless teens, the Do Something team reached out to shelters to talk to them directly.

Through these conversations they learned that the one thing teens requested most was a pair of jeans. So, the organization launched Teens for Jeans and collected 172,030 pairs of jeans from New York to California, Puerto Rico to Hawaii and everywhere in between.

This was the largest youth led clothing drive in history. “We knew our members cared about homelessness so we married what they cared about to what the homeless youth needed. Bringing these two things together is what makes the biggest impact,” he explained.

“We ask ourselves what is the big issue and then how can we make a significant impact around that issue. How can we get the largest amount of young people to do the most good possible?”

3. Keep the user in mind

“With everything we do, build or market we’re always thinking from the user perspective. What do they want to do? And, how can we remove the barriers to make it easier for them?” Stowell asked. “This is always at the front of our minds when we are creating anything. What’s at the top of their minds? What are their biggest fears and what makes them happiest? This allows us to design the best possible campaign.”

Do Something’s audience of 13- to 25-year-olds fits snuggly between the millennial and Gen Z generations (depending on who is counting). This group are ambitious, goal-oriented and aspirational. They want to make a difference in the world. They want to connect with important causes. By keeping their goals and ambitions in mind, the Do Something team is able to build highly effective campaigns and engagement opportunities.

4. Meet them where they are

When it comes to leveraging social media, Do Something’s number one rule is to meet youth where they are. “If a platform is popular to young people it’s our job to figure out how we can integrate ourselves into it” said Stowell.

“Social media is incredible because it lets people have their own narrative. We see so many young activists create impact around causes. For example, Black Lives Matter is such an important part of this election. Social media gives people who are marginalized the power of their own voice. For us, it’s so important to build out strategies to be in all those places.”

From posting weekly stories on Snapchat to engaging with an audience of over 3 million Facebook and Twitter followers, Do Something is all about meeting users where they are, listening to them and amplifying their voices. “For us, it’s all about how can use social media to go on this journey with them. No other organization does what Do Something does the way that Do Something does it.”

As communication shifts, this forward-looking organization is sure to follow along, keeping engagement at top of mind.

Image credit: Pexels

Joi Sears headshot

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

Read more stories by Joi Sears