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The art of engaging Indigenous youth via social media

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Media consumption today has become personalized, through emergent technology, especially mobile technology and social media (which enables peer-to-peer sharing). Indigenous youth have more control over what their choices are in terms of what they want to view online. More and more access to media is neither ‘only offline’ or ‘only online’ as the shift to a seamless media consumption consumer becomes more widespread.

Media and Social Media

Until the dawn of emergent technology, media has always been within the grasp of a finite group of people and their companies. Today, media has become social where ‘You” are the central actor or director and your media content can be shared with anyone, anywhere, with access to the Internet.

The novelty in media consumption (my first TV vs my first iPhone)  is no longer about the tools but more on the content. Engaging, relevant, simple and targeted content is what makes a successful social media effort. Every minute, 24 hours or more of video material is being uploaded to YouTube. How then does health related videos compete with popular video for viewership if it is not tailor-made to reflect local content, local actors and especially local efforts and ideas. Engagement, for the purpose of behavior change, targeting Indigenous youth today is far  from simply raising awareness on  television or radio and definitely not on social media either.

The 3 elements of ‘Engagement’

Engagement in the days before social media meant it involved a more hands off process. Health promotion project officers would take their project plan to a dedicated team in the local/national radio and television company and based on the available budget, a series of advertisements will be produced and aired. The media companies having done extensive research on what time slots are worth in dollars and cents, and will advise your air time. This was best practice in the days of ‘one way’ health communications via traditional media.

Media and marketing companies are wired to sell, they are focused on converting information dissemination (advertising) to sales (behavior change). Social marketing campaigns that are geared for behavior change seldom go beyond raising awareness and  (advertising) assuming that knowledge is the key to behavior change. It is quite different to sell a brand (E.g. Coke, Dunhill) as  opposed to promoting a new behavior or stopping an unhealthy one. The comparison between commercial marketing and social marketing is unfortunately not within the scope of this article.

To engage today’s Indigenous youth,  your product or program must:

  1. Be relevant to your target audience; the more precisely defined target audience, the more relevant will be your marketing strategy
  2. Co produce media and social marketing content with motivated representatives of target audience
  3. Make the ability to “share” social marketing content easy to do; e.g. via Bluetooth, share via social media, word of mouth

Target audience

We must stop referring to Indigenous youth as a homogenous group of young people. Firstly, there are hundreds of Indigenous languages, clans, moieties, totems, songs, dances and ceremonies that make up the identity of a particular Indigenous youth. When mainstream health promotion efforts contribute to the homogenization of Indigenous youth, we are indirectly, killing the diversity and richness of knowledge and culture of Indigenous communities.

In order to engage Indigenous youth from a remote community, ( post community consultations) the project must group their youth within their natural clusters; taking into consideration kin, land, traditional beliefs and clan affiliations. The project must be capable of focusing on the process of negotiation, so paramount to Indigenous community life where everyone has a role to play; even the land and the tree that we will sit under and the language that will be spoken, to plan the social marketing and social media campaign.

Indigenous youth from more urban settings would apply to the same process of working with them to produce locally driven content. When content is authentic and empowering then, even when it crosses borders and cultures, it will rarely lose its luster and effect as media and  social media has a trans-cultural effect in knowledge and information dissemination.

Are we creating a  Digital Divide?

The focus of this article is to discuss the importance of relevant, co produced and sharable media made by local youth for their peers. The tools that are used to achieve this have been different based on the available technology at the time. Today, with smartphones, high-speed internet (3G and 4G) and social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, the ability to create targeted media is within the grasp of any motivated and capable health promotion officer and NGO.

The digital divide cannot undermine or disadvantage youth, even Indigenous youth from remote communities. If the main cause of this so-called ‘digital divide’ is due to socio-economic disadvantage then, employment and skills training needs must be met first. If young people expressly refuse to use the Internet and social media, and their ability to access information via Internet is halted,  then the process of developing media content for them will take on another form with different dissemination tools. The strategies or principles remain the same.

Creating access to services and health information does not have to end in a “divide”. Innovation in health communications practice is yet to take on the attributes and attitudes of a silicon valley startup. As Lucien Engelen from the ‘Radboud REshape and Innovation Centre’ (Nijmegen University Medical Centre) says: “If you’re afraid of failure and only want 100% positive results, don’t innovate.”

As long as we still have a socio-economic divide, we will continue to have the digital divide amongst young people. What matters the most is that we don’t create a divide called the ‘innovation divide’ because innovation exists everywhere and those disadvantaged are innovating constantly to survive.

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