How to Engage Youth in Conservation
This blog post was guest authored by World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council member Ee Jenn Lee from Malaysia.
20 April 2020 | By Ee Jenn Lee
How to engage youth in conservation action?
With the flood of information that saturates digital spaces, it can be hard for organizations to make themselves heard. Low engagement and high attrition rates are almost inevitable.
As an organization planning an event for World Ocean Day, how do you tackle this? From my experience organizing and marketing climate action events to youth (and as a teen myself) there are a few actions you can take to increase youth outreach and participation.
- Create interesting, eye-catching promotional materials
In the social media era, what makes posts stand out? Probably how aesthetically pleasing, attention-grabbing and easily comprehensible they are. Use powerful titles with a large font size (an interesting one from 350.org I saw recently was ‘How do we postpone the end of the world?’) and don’t cram too much content onto a single page. If your content is digestible and aesthetic, the likelihood that youth will reshare your content also increases.
Something else I’ve learnt is the importance of maximizing impact at every stage, even if that impact isn’t the end goal you were striving for. Try to design your posts so that those viewers that don’t attend your event or even click any further are left a bit more curious, informed or empowered. Whether it is featuring a thought-provoking question or highlighting the urgency of a facet of marine conservation next to the date and time of your event, even a promotional poster can have a positive impact.
- Leverage your personal networks and the platforms of other organizations
People are more likely to sign up for something that is being promoted by someone they know and trust. If you are hosting speakers, you can tap into their networks and give them promotional material to share. Besides graphics, this can also include a concise message with the relevant information and an interesting ‘hook’ that can be easily forwarded around on messaging platforms.
You can also form symbiotic relationships with other youth organizations in your field of work – I’ve asked magazines, NGOs, clubs and more to spread the word about events internally, as well as repost/retweet promotional material on their social media platforms. In return, you can give them a boost when they need it.
This is especially beneficial because their audiences are already invested in ocean conservation (or whatever cause your event advocates for!), which leads me to the next point…
- Use targeted advertising and marketing [at your discretion!]
The best way to efficiently boost your event is by advertising directly to youth who are likely to be interested. This can be in forums on ocean conservation on platforms like Reddit and Facebook, newsletters like the Rising Blue Network Newsletter, university faculties in related subjects etc.
And if you have the budget, using digital advertising (e.g. ‘boosting’ posts on Instagram) can help you reach a much larger audience, tailored to specific locations and demographics. If you are struggling to have a geographically diverse audience, targeted advertising can focus on certain regions that you would like to have more participants from.
However, be wary of overusing this! The purpose of outreach is to enlighten as many youth as possible, not just those who are already educated. So shift your focus at your discretion – for instance, a beginner introduction to climate change should probably be targeted at the wider public, versus a more technical and specialized workshop targeted at those who already have foundational knowledge.
- Put thought into crafting your event
To increase participation you may explore gamification methods, prizes, marketing your activity as fulfilling community service hours etc., but while outreach is undoubtedly important, remember not to get caught up in the numbers. The lessons you leave participants with – which, granted, aren’t as tangible or measurable – are far more significant in enabling youth to make transformative impacts. Instead of gaining more clicks, perhaps resources could be better directed into curating the activities you’re hosting or figuring out how to retain participant focus throughout the event.
As for which issues to cover, turtles and plastic waste are among the most prominent in the youth consciousness, but ocean conservation encompasses much more than that. Don’t feel pressured to center your event around popular issues – youth generally want to learn more instead of being told similar things, so explore whatever niches you specialize in and connect to larger campaigns such as the 30×30 initiative.
Finally, this varies from region to region, but Instagram is often the main platform that most youth use and great for outreach due to its friendly interface, hence why most advocacy groups flock there. Tiktok is currently popular with teens but is comparatively harder to use and less suitable for organizations so be wary of investing significant resources there.
Now is the perfect time to tap into a proliferating, vibrant internet culture of awareness and activism. Use a combination of strategies to help your message cut through, and best of luck with your event!