More Information

This guide has been compiled by Tim Davies of Practical Participation with shared learning from many contributors.

The most recent work on this guide was supported through the work of the Local Government Information Unit Action Learning Set on Youth Participation and Social Network Sites.

Practical Participation offer research, training, consultancy and evaluation services to organisations and networks working on both Youth Participation and Social Media. Contact to find out how we could support your work.


The Impact of Social Media

Social Media can sometimes seem like just a new set of cool tools for involving young people. Sometimes you may use it this way (and that's OK - there are some pretty cool new tools around!). But the emergence of social media potentially has a bigger impact than that.

It impacts upon young people who are growing up in an age where media is not about broadcast content from the TV, but is about interactivity, multimedia and multi-tasking.

And it impacts upon organisations who need to remain relevant to a new generation, and who find their own work and structures being changed by changing communication tools and patterns of communications.

What's the impact on young people?

Constantly Connected Generation

New connections?

Tanya Byron points out in the Byron review that in part, young people are turning to digital connection because fears about traffic or 'stranger danger' have led to restrictions on how much young people are allowed to go out and socialise.

Social media tools are woven into many young people's day-to-day lives. Young people are in conversation and communication with their peer groups using a wide variety of different media and media devices every day.

10 years ago, young people may have only been in touch with friends and peer-groups when hanging out at school, or meeting up in town. Now young people can be touch through instant messaging, social networks, online games and many other tools. Young people are growing up in a constantly connected society.

Social Networks

Part of this constant connectivity comes through Social Network Sites.

Young people are using social network sites for:

  • Keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances; 

  • Developing new contacts often with friends of friends, or people with shared interests;

  • Sharing content, engaging in self expression & exploring identity;

  • Hanging out and consuming content including commercial and user-generated content;

  • Accessing information and informal learning; 

  • Participating in informal groups, and formal youth engagement opportunities;

Based on Youth Work and Social Networking Final Report (NYA, 2008)

The Power to Publish

20 years ago - if you wanted to create and share a video with the world then you needed expensive equipment to create the video - and then you needed the support of a broadcaster to get that video distributed. Or if you wanted to share written ideas with a large audience, you needed a publisher and printer to get your ideas into a book.

Now, anyone with cheap technology can publish directly on the web. Without asking anyone's permission.

That's a big shift.

Many young people are taking advantage of the power to publish - not necessarily intending content for a global audience, but using sites like YouTube to share video clips intended for friends, and platforms like Bebo to share photos or comments reliving a recent shared experience with friends.

A blended world

Talk if 'real world vs. online world', or 'real world vs. virtual world' is mistaken. The online world is real. It has meaning for the young people who use it, and increasingly physical and virtual and woven together.

Appropriating technology

When a technology is developed, you can't always predict how people will use it. Often young people are involved in 'technology appropriation' - taking social media tools and using them in new ways, developing and experimenting with new forms of communication using the tools available to them.

Digital Inclusion

The impacts of social media are not equally spread across all young people. Some young people lack direct, regular access to the internet. Others may have literacy or skills issues which prevent them from participating fully in mainstream social media spaces.

However, as social media brings about changes in society - it does impact upon all young people.

Where young people have limited access to technology their 'digital exclusion' may add to 'social exclusion'.

What is the impact on organisations?

All these changes have a big impact on organisations working with young people. They can shift the expectations young people have of services, provision and engagement. They can shift the balance of power between young people and organisations. And changes in communication tools and markets can change the role and nature of organisations themselves.

Changed expectations

  • Can I find full details of your organisation or project by searching for it on Google?
  • Are there photos, videos or audio-content which explains what your project is all about?
  • If I get in touch - will you reply within 24 hours? Will you reply within 2 hours?
  • If I compare your web presence to that of my favourite band or brand - is it going to measure up?
  • Can I leave comments anywhere? Or give you feedback? Are you going to respond to it?
  • If I want to keep updated with what your project does - can I link up with it through an online network?
  • Can I take photos and video clips on my phone at your events - and then share them with friends afterwards?

You may not find a shift in expectations articulated as explicitly as in the questions above - but it is important to think about how projects and organisations that developed to meet expectations in previous generations remain relevant and accessible to young people today.

Changed roles

Does your role change as technology changes?

If you are involved in providing information to young people, but young people now have access to a wealth of multi-media content online, is your role still to create and hand-out information? Or is it to signpost young people information online and to equip them with the skills to assess the quality of different information sources? Or is it to look at the gaps in online information provision and to focus on filling those?

If you are involved providing activities for young people - does your role shift from planning months of activities far in advance, to helping young people set-up and run their own activities - which you help them to fund and promote?

If you are involved in youth participation - does your role change from acting as the go-between between young people and your organisation once a month, to facilitating on-line and off-line dialogue directly between young people and the decision makers on issues as and when they become hot topics?

Often the roles that organisations or projects take on emerge when vision and ideas hit up against practical limitations and the established ways of doing things. Social media leads to a shift in many practical limitations, and shakes up the established way of doing things.

Changed organisations

Clay Shirky writes about how social technologies have lowered the costs of organising activity. Where we previously needed organisations to co-ordinate people to carry out particular tasks, social media and online networks can get the job done far more efficiently.

It's a theme that Manuel Castells has been writing about for a long time - exploring how the internet leads to a network society - in which conventional organisational structures can be dramatically changed.

Social media not only changes the way your organisation or project can communicate with young people - but also the way it can communicate with other organisations, and individuals, who share your goals for social change.

Explore More

There is a wealth of online discussion about the changes that the development of social media brings about. The links, videos and books below offer an opportunity to explore in more depth…


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what/what_does_it_change.txt · Last modified: 2014/09/21 19:15 (external edit)