Young people (aged 16-29) represent about one-fifth of the European population--and many of them seek to participate in dialogue and debate around EU policies and practices. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these conversations aren’t taking place in traditional forums, but across social media platforms.
This represents an opportunity for the EU to meet younger citizens’ desire for democratic participation, and to find young people where they are.
Images dominate social media platforms in the EU.
In most EU countries, Instagram is the second most popular social platform in terms of the daily share of users’ time. While Facebook and Twitter remain predominant in the digital ecosystem, younger users tend to favor image-based messaging and applications such as Instagram. From the average 90 million young Europeans with web access, more than half of this population are active monthly users on Instagram.
But why? This platform highlights visuals over text, with an emphasis on ephemeral content – like stories lasting for just 24 hours before disappearing – to encourage users to check their feed more regularly. Other features capture users’ desire for personalised content and have been introduced to maximise time spent within the platform.
Instagram secures influence, presence, and participation.
Nicholas Westcott, former managing director of the EEAS Africa and Middle East division, highlighted three crucial elements to reaching an online target: connection, presence, and participation.
Currently, the European Commission alone has more than 190 Facebook pages, more than 100 Twitter accounts, and extends its presence to at least six other social media platforms. The institution also has an active presence on Instagram and uses all possible tools the platform has to offer (including regularly posting stories and using the opinion poll stickers).
But presence is just one corner of the triangle: both influence and participation are just as important. And there are further methods the institution could implement to optimize its potential on the platform:
1. Personify the institution.
More recently, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has appeared on the Commission’s Instagram page, which helps to personify the organization and build a relationship with young people. Providing a persona to embody the Commission will help followers recognize a human face within the institution and make it more tangible.
Here’s how to achieve personification and influence among Instagram followers:
- Use authentic visuals that showcase behind-the-scenes pictures or short footage. Avoid overtly top-down or corporate material with excessive logos.
- Real people earn attention. A selfie-video story of a Commission can be eye-catching and informative.
- Spontaneity is key. Try personifying institutions by allowing an employee or leader to take over the Instagram account for a day.
2. Opt for tailored content.
Because Instagram’s primary user is under 34 years old, it’s necessary to adapt all messages for this target group. Replicating content found elsewhere will get you nowhere. Differentiate your calls to action to point toward specific initiatives that are relevant and meaningful for this age group, and adjust your tone to speak in their voice.
Here are some ways to ensure your content is tailored to the intended audience, and ensure participation in the dialogue happening on this platform:
- Keep it short and try some humor.
- Engage followers by continuing to use features such as the opinion poll.
- Share results and feedback. Remember, this is an opportunity to engage in a two-way dialogue.
These considerations can ultimately help the European Commission and the EU to effectively engage with young people. By fostering and maintaining a two-way communication method on Instagram, the EU will be able to reach and empower young citizens in an environment where they’re already spending time.
This article is the result of a joint applied-research programme launched by ICF Mostra and the think-tank Protagoras.