By Daniel Hunter

New research by youth volunteering charity vInspired and FreshMinds has revealed that, far from using the internet as light entertainment, young people are quietly conducting an online revolution against traditional marketing and business practices.

The research paper, Online engagement, offline impact: Exploring four digital trends that lead to genuine impact in the real world, has identified the key trends currently defining young people’s internet use, all of which represent a shift in attitudes from traditional marketer/buyer discourse, to a search for authenticity:

1. Advocates and influencers — While celebrities might have some immediate influence on their online fans, the effects are short lived. The people with real influence over young people are their peers and those considered experts in their fields

2. Creating vs curating — Young people are finding their way through the vast quagmire of online content with the help of trusted curators. They aren’t interested in the type of marketing content being churned out every minute, unless a person or brand they trust has selected it to share with their followers

3. Incentives — Traditional incentives (money/prizes) may work for short term engagement, but digital incentives based on intrinsic motivations are what are really maintaining engagement. Young people keep volunteering because they are motivated by the desire to help people and to be recognised for that, not because they want to win an iPad. Monetary prizes change the action/reward relationship into a transaction

4. Collaborative economy — young people have a different understanding of the seller/buyer relationship to older generations. They are increasingly less reliant on traditional market structures to get the things they want — they are using digital technology to find and share products, services and ideas with other consumers, without an intermediary

“vInspired relies heavily on digital technology to engage young people in volunteering. So we know better than most that young people aren’t just watching porn and trolling one another online," Terry Ryall, vInspired Chief Executive, said.

"They are busy campaigning for causes and connecting with people who share their passions. But what has been the most enlightening discovery in the course of this research is that, primarily, what young people are looking for online is authenticity. Yes they are looking at cat videos and posting selfies, but they’re also finding ways to rummage through the mounds of useless content and by-pass the marketing noise to find and share information that is authentic, to which they can relate. In other words it comes from real people and it feels really relevant to their lives.

“This search for authenticity, whether it is through trusted peers or curators, or by trading products and services directly with the provider, is changing traditional business structures and, therefore, must change how we market to young people. All of us who want to engage young people, whether it’s to encourage them to volunteer, or to purchase a product, have an exciting challenge on our hands: to shake up the way we communicate, to find our authentic voices and to gain their trust.”

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