Snap out of it! The key to engaging young people on social media

teenager using smartphone

Snap out of it! The key to engaging young people on social media

Thomas spent a week doing work experience with nfpSynergy and wrote this blog on his experience of social media and how charities could use it better.
Thomas Byrne

Thomas spent a week doing work experience with nfpSynergy. Seeing as he thought we were all old for using Twitter and Facebook, we decided to ask him to write a report and a blog on his experience of social media and how charities can use it to engaging with young people.

As a 15-year-old and a digital native I use social media every day. To be more precise, within the last week I have spent around 17.5 hours on social media (which is less than the average of 27 hours[1]). My time on social media is spent either on Snapchat or Instagram, two of the most popular and fastest growing platforms on smartphones today. With all the time my peers and I spend on social media, we are exposed to hundreds of advertisements for various companies and their products; however, from what I can remember, not once has one of these ads been from a charity. This raises the question - are charities making the most out of social media and its opportunities to reach out to younger audiences?

Charities are all over Facebook and Twitter, but I believe that these platforms are in decline. Facebook and Twitter are somewhat similar, and have both been around for over ten years. I can say from personal experience that neither are as widely used as Snapchat and Instagram within my age group. There are simply more modern and interesting ways to connect with your friends. Snapchat has over 300 million users and was growing at a ridiculous rate of around 15 million new users every day in 2016[2]. Ask any young person which platform they spend most time on, and I will put money on them saying Snapchat. I believe that charities are simply not doing enough to gain the awareness and support of the younger generation. We are the ones who will grow up and be relied upon to keep the charities afloat with our money, and in some cases, our work. Charities must make the most of their advertising opportunities, and grab the attention of the young early on; otherwise when the time comes, we simply will not have the knowledge, experience or awareness needed to keep the thousands of charities in the world running.

Snapchat holds many opportunities for a charity to get their point across. After having spent three years on Snapchat and having searched the internet for hours, I have only come across one charity that saw its potential and seemed to master it; the Danish branch of the WWF. Back in 2014, WWF Denmark launched their ‘#lastselfie’ campaign, aimed at raising awareness of the threat of extinction that many beloved animals are facing among teenagers. The campaign featured five different pictures of five different endangered animals, each captioned ‘don’t let this be my #lastselfie’. The picture encouraged you to share it with friends. These images went viral and within three days WWF had raised its target donations for the whole month. This perfectly showcases the massive potential snapchat has for charity advertisement; it just boils down to whether specific charities are able to adapt and consider the idea that their current social media campaigns may be perceived as dated by my age group.[3]

Teenagers are moving from platforms like Facebook to Snapchat, and have been doing so since Snapchat was launched in 2011. There is a great lack of charity awareness amongst youths; this is evident from a recent nfpSynergy research that revealed that 21% of those between 11 and 16 could not name a single charity[4]. This is not down to the young being less engaged and observant nowadays, as some many claim; I believe that it is more likely to be down to charities failing to wise up to modern social media trends quickly enough. Teenagers nowadays spend their time on Snapchat - if charities want to catch the attention and interest of the young, then they must first migrate to the relevant platforms.

To find out more on how you can take your campaign to snapchat go to:

[4] nfpSynergy Charity Awareness Monitor, 2017

What are your thoughts on Thomas's blog? Are charities really failing to use social media effectively to raise awareness amongst young people? Share your thoughts in the comments below:

Submitted by P Wilson (not verified) on 19 Jul 2017


Thank you Thomas, I found this really illuminating. We clearly need to up our game in the charity sector.

Submitted by Debbi (not verified) on 19 Jul 2017


Thank you, Thomas. Talk about stating the obvious (except it wasn't for me) but of course people forget about who needs to be 'targeted' next - it's all about the here and now when you're fundraising. The example you gave of a successful campaign was brilliant and so thought-provoking! Now I just have to get rid of my 'old head' and find a new one. This was so useful so thank you again Thomas and thank you nfp!

Submitted by Valentine Morby (not verified) on 19 Jul 2017


Great article Thomas and another useful insight from nfpsynergy. It's no surprise that young people are active on other social media platforms to their parents but charities should have a strong presence on places like Snapchat and Instagram if we are to capture the imagination and engagement of young people at the earliest possible stage. It's patronising to think otherwise. Smart businesses recruit young people to join insight groups to help guide their business strategies. A few charities have tried the same but not to such great effect. Thomas - it was a short report but I certainly think you will get people in the sector to think a bit harder about how they exploit social media platforms - not just the one's current donors frequent.

Submitted by Elliot James (not verified) on 19 Jul 2017


Thanks for this Thomas it will actually be useful to people like me within the sector trying to gather evidence and create a case for change. I couldn't agree more that many 3rd organisations will be adamant that F.B. at Twitter are all that's needed to reach'young people' which if you've every talked to anyone under the age of 25 is clearly not the case.
However in my role I wear two hats and have been thinking about the implications on safeguarding policy and how as organisations can keep young people safe on line. I am of course just speculating but some of the reluctance to use other social media platforms might be down to a fear of the unknown and a perception that it might be uncontrollable.I understand that your talking more about direct marketing as apposed to other forms of interaction, but I would be interested to know how young people themselves understand the risks of certain platforms, what they feel makes them safe or indeed if they perceive any threat to their safety (including aspects of online bullying).

Submitted by Adrian Salmon (not verified) on 20 Jul 2017


Great post Thomas! I think the most important thing is in your last sentence - '..if charities want to catch the attention and interest of the young'. Thing is, Facebook and Twitter are declining rapidly in usage among the young - but not in the core charitable giving demographic of people aged 50+. Gen X, Boomers and Matures, to use one typology, give £3.7B of charitable income compared to Gen Y who give £0.6B according to Blackbaud's 'Next Generation of Giving' report. And it's the first 3 groups who now dominate Facebook and Twitter usage, which is shown in the predominance of referrals to JustGiving from Facebook, and why a charity like the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand is raising hundreds of thousands of Australian dollars from very disciplined Facebook fundraising...

Submitted by Rachael (not verified) on 20 Jul 2017


Great blog Thomas, really useful insight and the mix of your views backed up by research is really valuable and I will use it to improve the way we think about attracting volunteers at Save the Children. Thank you !

Submitted by Josephine (not verified) on 28 Jul 2017


This is very accurate. Being a teen myself, I agree that we do spend the majority of our time on Snapchat-- we get our news and information from this app which helps us really form an opinion about the world around us. I think if Charities were really to invest their time into Snapchat or Instagram it would be especially beneficial as it's a quick way for younger people to get their information and become aware about issues as efficiently as possible.

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