For years now, strategists in democracies around the world have branded their youngest eligible voters apathetic and unlikely to show up to the polls on Election Day. As a result, they were deemed not worth investing resources in.
The 2018 cycle turned that narrative on its head. During the midterms, 18-to-29-year-old voter turnout rose to 36 percent — up from 20 percent in 2014. This is a 79 percent increase and was the largest percentage point shift of any age group.
Some of the biggest gains within this demographic are happening on campuses around the country. According to Bloomberg’s Balance of Power: African-American women are the most active voters on campus. LatinX women saw the largest gains in voter turnout of any demographic. Women’s colleges had the highest rates of campus turnout.
This trend in political engagement wasn’t just a one-off in 2018. Since then GenZers and Millennials have been triggering “youthquakes” in democracies around the world.
Just last month in the UK, the day with the largest jump in registered voters happened to be on the exact same day Snapchat reminded all of its users via direct message to register to vote by clicking through to the electoral commission’s website.
Looking forward, this trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down in the United States, where a recent report indicated 80 percent of college students intend to vote in 2020. That’s up from 48.3 percent in 2016.
Needless to say, young voters see the world differently from older generations. They prefer to hear about things from a peer or online influencer than directly from an entity itself. They are also more likely to trust a younger company like Amazon to an older one like Bank of America.
When pressed on these preferences a key theme arises: they perceive influencers and younger entities to be more trustworthy. Two of the most common words used to describe the younger entities were transparent and authentic.
What does that mean for campaigns and groups? Positioning for authenticity and transparency means engaging young voters on their level and getting cozy where they’re spending a lot of their time. That means embracing the ephemeral storification of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.
Young voters perceive stories as a truer representation of individuals than the easier-to-fake Newsfeed. Stories are short, unscripted, and to the point, which is why young voters watch them every day, many times a day.
Stories are not the only form of vertical video, though. Instagram TV (IGTV) and Snapchat Discover both house more high-quality, longer-form content. For public figures, IGTV is particularly advantageous, as it houses videos directly on an Instagram account, and allows for the sharing of the first minute of the video directly on to the Newsfeed.
The Storification of social media means constructing a strategy specific to these platforms and optimizing all of their feature sets.
- Yes, you need to be taking questions from your followers on Instagram Live.
- No, your YouTube video or TV ad is not a Snapchat Story;
- Definitely get more “sweat” out of your high-quality video content by repurposing some of it (and its b-roll) into properly produced video for IGTV segments;
- Absolutely draw inspiration from daily news shows like NBC’s Stay Tuned on Snapchat, which averages around 30 million viewers each month.
Vertical video allows for more regular and, for lack of a better word, real engagement with your audience. Stories speak with your audience rather than at them. They are, by design, lower production value and add authenticity to your narrative.
Beyond organic stories, each channels' paid options are inexpensive and effective. You only need to look at the aforementioned UK voter registrations to see direct response in action.
Today, candidates are already winning with these strategies:
- AOC regularly does Live Stories on Instagram, providing her 4.1 million followers unfiltered background and updates — just for them.
- Beto used features like chat to listen and respond to real questions from his youngest fans during both his campaigns.
- Donald Trump shares his own narratives directly to IGTV, each generally garnering more than 1 million organic views.
If your campaign or group doesn’t yet have a dedicated strategy for stories, you may not survive another 2020 “youthquake.”
Will Stewart is an advisor in social media’s transition from traditional Newsfeed to Stories-first ecosystems. He works with brands and public figures on digital campaign strategies, which have been recognized for excellence globally. A version of this piece first appeared on his website: willstew.me