Young people came out and voted in impressive numbers at the general election but, as Crowd consultant Milly Derbyshire reports, engagement and proactivity is finding other forms, too...

The votes are counted, the verdict’s out – the election result that no pollster predicted – an all out Tory majority. But that wasn’t the only surprise on election day. Despite forecasts that young people would yet again be the most politically disengaged, and fail to vote in significant numbers, initial reports have suggested a higher turnout that ever before – as high as 65%, a huge jump from the 40% average in the previous three elections.

So how did they vote?

It looks like they opted for left wing Labour over the right wing Conservatives, were a lot less likely to vote for the immigration and EU focussed UK Independence Party and much more likely to vote for the Green Party. Not surprising considering Labour had pledged to reduce tuition fees and cap private rents, the Greens cater to a more youthful, idealistic commitment to the environment, and young people might not consider immigration and the EU as much of a problem as their parents. But compared to the overall outcome, it’s clear that the increase in youth participation is still a drop in the ocean that holds little sway in affecting the final result. With seemingly little power to affect the election, and despite electing a 20 year old MP, we’re witnessing alternative ways of young people channeling their energies in order make their voices heard and their ideas a reality. Politically, economically, socially, they are restless, hungry and open to new paths to success and change.

Young people are increasingly politically engaged, not only in traditional systems of representation, but also by finding new channels to speak up. George the Poet is a great case in point. BRIT Award nominated and signed to Island Records, George consciously chose rap to communicate socially and politically motivated messages in order to tap into a young audience.

The political realm is not the only space where young people are actively disrupting traditional structures and norms. Our Youth Tribes work uncovered a thriving network of bedroom industries – young people carving out careers without leaving the confines of their room. Jettisoning the elitist world of unpaid internships or the corporate structure of the graduate scheme, young people are re-imagining routes to commercial success. People like the founders of Wavey Garms, an idea that uses the simple technology of Facebook to connect supply to demand in the world of vintage streetwear. Borne of a frustration at eBay, Wavey Garms created a simple alternative that’s found huge success.

Young people are disrupting norms by creating alternatives to institutions in the form of bedroom industries
Young people are disrupting norms by creating alternatives to institutions in the form of bedroom industries

And young people’s approach to education is seeing an overhaul too, unsurprising after the hike in tuition fees. Online, on demand education, like free coding education site Codeacademy, is giving young people the chance to learn in ways that better suits their needs, and budgets.

As the election turnout shows, young people are far from the apathetic group so often painted in the media. Not only did they turn out in higher numbers than ever anticipated on election day, but they are actively seeking ways to redefine how they can be part of, and change, society. How their impact will change in the future will be an interesting one to watch – considering the widely accepted notion that young people tend to stick with their voting preferences into later adult life, it seems likely that young people’s influence is only set to amplify.

Young Voters

Time to vote! But who for? And why? And will it count for much? Crowd DNA's Phoebe Checker explores how young people are responding to the election...

In December 2014 a BBC article claimed that there were three million young votes up for party grabs. The outcome of tapping into this demographic, it claimed? Winning the keys to Downing Street.

Since then, young people and politics has been one of many interesting election subplots. A surge of theories around if and how young people will be voting has seen us go from apathetic to averse, disillusioned to distrusting.

Effort has been spent to ensure engagement – from ‘child friendly’ political apps to policies and even parties aimed at young people. Yet, with the election looming, while the principle of democracy remains strong for young people, alliance to parties feels increasingly weak and frustration with the political system high.

Maybe voting was once simpler? When social economic groups were clearer and the political parties reflected this. Policies were differentiated across parties and discussion – where it happened – was limited to a handful of ‘big issues’. Your party was passed down from the previous generation too; family loyalties were strong and alliances often unchanged.

But the young electorate in 2015 have grown through different times. We’ve experienced the most socially liberal era in modern memory; we live in a multi-racial Britain with gender and sexuality choices openly discussed and expect to see this reflected in government that encourages all voices.

We’ve also had access to information like never before and are subject to the greatest consumer choice currently imaginable. Yet, when joining the political conversation, it’s frustrating to see such expectations are not met.

In a recent article in the Guardian, Matt Morely, CEO of Tickbox gets to the heart of this: “In the age of consumer identity, they [young voters] want to know how it [voting] affects them and their family… and that threatens the party-political way of saying, ‘you can’t just be against Trident, and not for or against anything else’.”

Political scandal and economic insecurity brought about (we’re told) by bad decision–making, greed and short-sightedness only further undermine an already faltering faith in the ‘system’ that stunts personal choice and opportunities for smaller parties through a disproportionate voting system. One of our UK Tribes members summed that up for us…

“I spoke to my MP in the street the other day when he was out campaigning and I was not encouraged. He is the embodiment of everything I hate about politics. He’s a safe-seat – Eton-bred – doesn’t-listen-to-the-people – turns-up-late-to-community-events-and-then-leaves-early – goes-to-a-school-and-just-talks-about-his-book – good-for-nothing charlatan. And he is my only representation. How is this democracy? How did my opinion mean anything? I will be voting in this election – not that it matters who I vote for.” Will, 23

Vote Swapping websites are becoming increasingly popular with those wanting to make their vote count – the website pairs people with residents of a constituency where their preferred party has a higher chance of victory. This is a step on from tactical voting, put in place to overcome the problem of wasted votes due to the UK’s first-past-the-post-system.

But the requirement of such a website, begs the question: in a modern, democratic society, why are we having to cheat the political system in order to have our voices heard?

For young people, as pioneers of their own democracy and latecomers to this political conversation it is easy to see why with just one day to go, the decision is still unclear.

Exploring relevancy and cultural context as Aurelie Jamard, our associate director of innovation, shares a few notes from last week's 'young and disengaged' breakfast panel session...

The topic of last week’s event at RKCR/Y&R was focused on young people and their disengagement from politics, but also from brands and, let’s put it out there, from older people, too. Three inspirational speakers shared some reasons as to why young people might feel disenfranchised, but also some tips to engage meaningfully with them.

Chris Preddie is the youngest man to receive an OBE at the age of 25. What did it mean at his age? He initially thought that he got into trouble with the law but quickly realised that it meant he’d done better than David Beckham. He reminded us all that communication was key to engage with young people and that politicians and brands should go and talk to their youth audiences, as the only way to get truly honest feedback from them but also to show that they care. Otherwise, how are these young people supposed to engage with politics or brands when their first priority is to “survive”?

Mimi Turner was next to tell us how the LADBible managed to engage so successfully with young lads online or, how she describes them, “good men”. The LADBible’s content is participatory, it comes from the community and it is uplifting (whereas older, more cynical generations might be thinking that bad news sells, people have always wanted to be happy through the ages).

Rajiv Nathwani concluded the session by giving pointers on how to engage with young people online across social media channels, even if your brand’s core audience is composed of an older demographic. His one take away was to put audiences first and think in terms of what they want, instead of what we think we know they want. In his words: “the user rules.”

My take away (and what we all live and breathe everyday working at Crowd DNA) was nicely summarised by all three of our speakers: “I can talk to young people because I understand their culture,” said Chris, “We know what lads want when it comes to politics – they want #CoolEdMiliband,” added Mimi, and “If content is king, then context is god,” concluded Rajiv by quoting entrepreneur and investor Gary Vaynerchuk. In a nutshell, it’s fully understanding and harnessing the cultural context to any insight or innovation that will make you relevant in your audience’s eyes. If you don’t know where to start, have a look at how we go about visiting and talking to young people all over the UK: watch our Tribes Road Trip video. We promise, they don’t bite.

Generation Alpha

There’s Gens X, Y and Z - but who’s next? That will be Generation Alpha - those who’ll live into the 22nd Century and who, very likely, will form their identities in very different ways to what we’re used to, explains Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell...

I recently got to do a talk at TEDx Vilnius on the subject of Generation Alpha – which, while hardly set in stone, is gaining some traction as the term to use for the generation after Z. Here’s a few notes on the subject…

These are those born – shudder – from 2010 onwards. The word of the year that year was ‘app’. It was the year the iPad came out; the year of WikiLeaks. This, it’s fair to say, is the first truly 21st Century generation. More head spinning still, this is a generation that will survive, in significant numbers, deep into the 22nd Century. 

And what a time of change no doubt lies in store for them. Futurist Ray Kurzweil talks about human history’s Law Of Accelerating Returns. In a nutshell, this means that change – social change, cultural change, technological change, all kinds of change – and the rate at which it happens can only do one thing, and that thing is to get faster and faster and faster. And based on this principle, he believes, staggeringly, that the 21st century will witness 1,000 times the progress of the 20th century. This means that if we were to travel forwards through time, say, 40 years, we’d be about equally as astonished as someone from the 1700s would be visiting our world today. Now that is pace.

Generation Alpha is likely to experience a lot then; more than our 20th Century minds can imagine. But one thing that we question whether they will experience is the teen experience of the kind embarked on by previous generations  – something distinct, with a sense of difference over what comes before and what comes afterwards in life, and that plays a major role in identity formation. The teenage experience, the one embedded in our society for almost a hundred years, is most likely coming to an end. 

It’s hotly debated but there’s reasonable support for the notion that the teenage experience, teen culture as opposed to just being aged between 13 and 19, first materialised in the early 20th Century, when a period of education became compulsory and/or was lengthened in many countries. This meant teens were spending a greater time almost exclusively in the company of other teens and therefore creating their own set of codes and behaviours. So what was established as a way to encourage formal learning also encouraged all those pesky sub cultural things about youth that the establishment ultimately came to treat with apprehension and fear.

The teenage experience really got on a roll by the time of the boomer generation. Thereafter followed an ever increasing fragmentation of the experience – new tribes, new codes. Now there’s myriad tribes – from sea punks to ghetto goths, townies to blingers – you make your choice, or blend a few together if you prefer. There’s pick and mix adventuring through near endless tribal options.

From the 1990s onwards the teen experience, youth culture, has been firmly in the sights of brands – it’s become something to leverage and make money from. Brands both took ideas from youth culture and sold the dream of youth culture. The teen experience had gravitated from something to be treated with suspicion to something to be sold and sold hard.

For Gen Z, our youngest cohort this side of generation Alpha, there is now FOMO and FOBO – the fear of missing out and its close friend the fear of being offline. Both of them referring to the absolute essential nature of always being in the loop, culturally and socially super-connected

It’s been a pretty eventful journey for the teen, then. But Generation Alpha – how will it work for them?

2023 is the year that the first of that generation will become teenagers. Will they notice this, though? Of course they will notice being 13, but will they notice the teen experience too? Will it be distinct from what went before and what comes afterwards. Quite likely not and here’s a few reasons why…

Unless a dramatic change in societal norms take place this is a generation that will gain more access to more culture at a younger age than ever before. Exposure to digital means young people are starting to carve individual tastes and create different identities at ever younger ages, way before their teens. And when the devices are wearable or the access to information is embedded in new, currently undreamt of ways, culture, sub-culture, will connect with us sooner still.

The changes are physical, too. Youth will be becoming teens earlier – evidence states puberty in 1920 started at 14.6 years – today it’s 10.5 years. Children are exposed to marketing concepts earlier than ever before. And just as compulsory education was one of the instigators of the teenage experience in the first place, it’s likely education will play a role in the demise of the distinct experience, too. Increases in online learning and mixed age learning models will mean less time spent specifically with those of the same age as you – less time creating those codes. 

Each of these considerations will weaken the sense of the teen experience as a distinct, identity forming experience just that little bit more. But if first becoming a teen is less of a specific event – then becoming an adult, at the other end of one’s teen years, is even less of an event too. Adults, as you may well have noticed, are already finding it hard to leave behind the cultural factors, the trappings of the teen experience – witness so called middle youth; witness everyone clinging on to a little bit or possibly quite a lot, of youth culture.

Traditional indicators of adulthood – moving out, marriage, buying the first home, they’re all becoming more distorted, less uniform. And so the lines become more blurred still. Where the teenage experience starts and where it ends will most likely be near impossible to pinpoint. But what does it mean if the teen experience is no longer seen, as presently defined by psychologists, as a critical period of identity formation, in which we overcome uncertainty, and becoming more self-aware of our strengths and weaknesses.

Does it actually matter? It does matter, because what is indisputable is that our identities will still have to come from somewhere. We will need identity!

By the time of Generation Alpha the mode will, quite likely, be one of perpetual beta. Rather than thinking in terms of the finished adult, emerging good-to-go, ready for the next stage of life at the end of our teenage years, perpetual beta will see a greater understanding that identity cannot be formed overnight – nor even in seven teenage years

Now it would be convenient to be able to proclaim this change irrefutably as a good news or bad news story. But we cannot – the best we can probably do is say it will be exciting, challenging and, most of all, very different. This will no doubt be considerable pressures to contend with – not least the necessity to protect childhood. something it seems we are yet to form a collective view on. But, more positively, there may also be less of a perceived rush to form ourselves.

Less stock held in the idea of anything akin to the finished adult product ever emerging – which, seeing as that’s an idea which has proven itself pretty dismally flawed thus far can be no bad thing. If, as seems likely, we will all be living that little bit longer, then it makes sense for Generation Alpha to lock down the details just that little bit less quickly.

It’s apt then, after the Xs, the Ys and the Zs, to think of Generation Alpha as a true re-set of youth. So though it would be easy to revel in nostalgia for a golden vision of the teen experience, the one played out for decades in films and music, while those experiences has served us well for close to 100 years, it may well be time to move on. 

When there’s 1,000 times the change on the horizon, the cultural codes are certain to change, too. For Generation Alpha, a whole lot of code making and code breaking doubtless lies ahead.

Playing political games

There's a slew of interactive tools and quizzes emerging, aimed at those in need of a little election guidance, notes Crowd DNA insight exec Charu Agarwal, with young voters a particular target...

With April comes plenty of sunshine, the Apple Watch and the lively onslaught of political campaigns as the UK general election nears.

Those wishing to avoid the inevitable “Who’re you voting for?” might struggle while manifesto madness is in full swing, padding out news feeds and social media. I’ve certainly enjoyed the swell of Farage memes appearing alongside the usual food-stagrams and festival chatter.

But speaking as a millennial, while it’s fun to joke, rest assured we’re still very serious about our vote…  

At Crowd DNA, we know well that the young voters’ disillusionment with current government isn’t apathy towards politics as a whole. This past year has seen the rise of the Activist youth tribe and online arenas such as Facebook and Twitter expanding as places for expression and discussion.

The wider internet has in turn reacted with new offerings. A number of interactive tools and quizzes have been rearing their heads, aimed at those in need of a little guidance. Here’s a run-down of some of the emerging players… 

Verto

Verto is a tool designed with young people in mind. You’re shown three policy statements per topic (eg education). It’s Tinder-esque format lets you swipe left to agree and right to disagree – the more swipes you do, the bigger a picture it builds about the parties that relate best to your values. It also uses your location to compare results with nearby users and the national average.

The brains behind Verto is democratic movement, Bite The Ballot, whose aim is to get more young people voting. They’re taking steps in the right direction by condensing policies into easily digestible, bitesize sentences. However, when it comes to building an accurate picture of someone’s political makeup, the ‘less is more’ approach may limit how insightful, and ultimately useful, it actually is.

PositionDial

Another site, PositionDial, gives a more colourful analysis of where your views lie on the political spectrum. You’re shown a series of statements – eg I support the Human Rights Act UK – and asked to rate them on a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Beyond calculating which party you sit in, it also intends to educate its users by personalising the feed with news based on your attitudes as well as opposing views.

Voteforpolicies

The website’s tagline of ‘Vote for policies, not personalities…’ sums up how it functions. You simply pick the topics you’re interested in, it anonymously lists all the policies and you pick your favourites.

It’s one of the more recognised options, having been around in the 2010 election. This time around, they’ve embellished it with lots of interactive tickboxes and visuals. While three or four topics is more than enough to get your head spinning circles, it seems like the best tool for genuinely helping users compare parties and make an informed decision about their vote.

The conclusion? Gamified tools like these seem to be taking steps in the right direction. Potential for shareability is high, especially among young people with limited knowledge but a desire to be heard. They’re clearly making politics more accessible. So while the future of online democracy is yet to be fully determined, let’s give it a vote of confidence for now.

UK Tribes 2015!

Get set for the 2015 UK Tribes refresh...

Exciting times as the latest re-rub of UK Tribes, our on-going study of youth culture for Channel 4, gets ready to roll. The fieldwork is wrapped and a host of new tribes and trends have been identified.

Channel 4 will be sharing more info in due course. But, for now, here’s a little taster vid of some of the road trip adventures of the UK Tribes team at Crowd.

Whoop, happy birthday The Breakfast Club! Er, why the whooping, you might be asking...

At Crowd DNA, we’re fairly obsessed with cultural tribes, and particularly in terms of how they shape attitudes and behaviours among younger audiences. And though by no means the first, nor the last, teen film to explore tribes, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club succeeded in doing so in a particularly well observed manner.

OK, it creaks a bit under 1980s affectations, but it nails a lot of the basics around tribal identity with pinpoint accuracy. We’ll even forgive it for propelling Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ to global domination.