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Engaging young people with peer communication

Peer to peer communication executed in the right way can ensure the most powerful campaign vehicle for reaching young audiences.

It works so incredible well because this group is far more likely to engage with messages that are delivered by their peers – people they can trust and connect with, and talk to about issues that they are mutually affected by.  

By overcoming barriers, peer communication helps drive better engagement with a brand and core messages, but getting it right isn’t easy, requiring a very different approach to more traditional ‘top down’ corporate communication. 

Our current Student Finance campaign with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills uses peer to peer communication to educate pupils about the financial support available for university. It’s a great example of how well this type of communication can work and it has been the power of peer communication that has made it so successful in engaging its target audience – the tough to reach 16 to 18 age group. 

Student Finance Tour

We have recruited and trained over 100 graduate presenters since the campaign launched in 2011. They have toured schools and colleges, delivering 5,710 events and have reached 387,337 people so far. By using recent graduates – people who had been through the university experience themselves - the message is more convincing and the delivery more engaging. 
It’s a difficult job, so the people we recruit have to be self-motivated and able to deal with travelling long distances as well as a wide variety of people from teachers and parents to students. As such, flexibility, creative thinking and the ability to respond to demands is essential. As a first job it is tough, but it offers an amazing learning experience.

Training is essential in peer to peer communication to ensure those representing your brand are fully prepared. As well as educating our presenters on all aspects of the campaign we also equip them with the skills necessary to operate confidently in the field, from presentation skills to time management and problem solving. They are also offered a mentor – someone who had been a presenter in a previous campaign – so they also benefit from a peer communication approach too.

The results have been outstanding. We had a third more students attending the last campaign (2012) compared with the previous year and engagement was at an all time high, with student awareness of financial support after the event up by 47%. We have just sent our presenters out in the field for the 2013 leg and we look forward to the results.

Tips for getting the most out of peer to peer communication...

Complementary background –have a clear idea of your audience’s background, so you can attempt to recruit those similar; presenters with a complementary background to their audience will help build a natural connection reducing the need to build credentials. Even if the audience aren’t from a similar background, they need to be able to believe the presenters credibility. 
Geography – by recruiting a team that is local with the same background and accent to your audience you will help to ensure a connection.
Language – Getting it right when it comes to language should be an essential part of your preparation work. For example, it’s tough to teach people to refer to the adult at home as a ‘parent or carer’ rather than ‘mum and dad’, but a significant proportion of the Student Finance audience come from a background where this is relevant. It’s vital to ensure our presenters got this right to avoid alienating a young person immediately.  
Training – solid training will help a team to craft the message, reinforce their tone, and prepare for the curve balls. Remember to brainstorm the elements that are going to be important to your audience, reinforce and regularly repeat them. A mentor offering ongoing support can help strengthen the process.

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