Using social media to target and engage with a specific audience is a common marketing tactic these days, but what happens when you reverse the requirements and use social media to watch and learn? And we don’t mean using Google Analytics or SurveyMonkey.

A University of Western Australia research study into influences on teenage drinking took an innovative turn – using the online blogs and comments of young people to identify and inform the influence exerted by adults and peers.

The study, Teens’ blog accounts of the role of adults in youth alcohol consumption, aimed to review the role of parents and other adults in facilitating teen binge drinking, but took the unusual step of accessing teens’ discussions on the internet – taking a closer look at what teens thought of their alcohol-related interactions with adults.

“[the study] …took the unusual step of accessing teens’ discussions on websites – taking a closer look at what teens thought of their alcohol-related interactions with adults.

Without using surveys, focus groups or other self-reporting measures, teens’ responses were more genuine – although some leeway must be given for self-aggrandisement in the online mirror, or as the report puts it “such data collection processes are likely to be subject to considerable social desirability bias”.

Key findings showed the considerable role adults play in endorsing, supporting and tolerating excessive alcohol consumption. So while kids might not want to listen to their parents, they are still clearly influenced by their parents. And policies, strategies and campaigns aimed at adults will have an impact on youth drinking, an idea supported by a Boston Medical Center study that found that US states with broader adult alcohol policies had reduced underage drinking issues.

Similarly,  research into the effectiveness of climate change communication and engagement for young people consistently found that trusted messengers (ie not the mass media or politicians) were

A study completed by Climate Outreach research director Dr Adam Corner, How do young people engage with climate change? The role of knowledge, values, message framing and trusted communicators, takes a worldview approach of psychological distance, information interventions and messengers, providing recommendations to engage with this particular audience. 

He notes: “Unsurprisingly, a host of studies from several different countries conclude that parents have a strong influence on their children’s attitudes and behaviour towards the environment and climate change. Encouraging greater intergenerational dialogue and involving parents (and other social groups) directly in climate education have both been identified as ways of facilitating the positive influence of parents on their offspring’s climate­relevant beliefs and behaviours”.(Research paper, page 9).

Older binge drinking campaigns such as the Federal Government’s Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare campaign were aimed straight at the youth audience, with parents as a secondary target.  And a combination is probably on the money. Campaigns in the US this year have included placing fine warnings on bottle tags to remind adults of the penalties of buying for underage drinkers. And ongoing campaigns by the Government of WA Drug and Alcohol Office continue to have a multi-pronged approach.

The practical implications of the research? That social marketing campaigns aimed at young people must also include strategies that target or that can be used by adults.

Because kids do still listen to their parents, no matter what they say.