Having represented over 10,000 young people as an ex-Member of the UK Youth Parliament, Trib Gosain founded Millennial Counsel in October 2017 after working on several campaigns and seeing the disillusionment between politicians and young people.
Millennial Counsel is a politically neutral UK-based firm established to help politicians, candidates, parties and general decision makers from around the globe better engage with, and ultimately win, young voters - those aged 25 and under - who are often misunderstood or ignored. We were lucky to get the opportunity to speak with Trib to see what insights he might have on the issue of youth involvement in politics and how politicians can communicate better with millennials.
Thanks for filling us in on this much maligned and debated topic Trib! Straight into it, what are your thoughts on why millennials feature so poorly in the ranks of elected representatives in most countries?
Trib: There's a few things, where do I start? Firstly, it can be hard for young political candidates to have sufficient experience to get past the election process, where more mature candidates seem to be favoured. Secondly, young people don’t get picked by party structures to run, they have to serve their time in the party and “pay their dues” so to speak, before they are deemed suitably qualified. In spite of the fact that many of these young elected officials have been actively involved with their party since their early teenage years. And thirdly, young people are not clamouring to be put on the ballot as it is not seen as being the right way to have influence if you are politically minded. Nowadays, younger, politically active people usually apply themselves to issue-based organisations rather than political parties. Add to that the strain that elected office can put on your social and personal life with long and unsocial hours and you can start to see that there are many barriers preventing the election of millennials.
Millennials dominate the communication channels that politicians are now forced to navigate in order to communicate with voters, i.e. social media, so can we assume that they apply a secondary influence on these politicians?
Trib: Yes, social media is a space that is dominated by young people, but less and less so as the adoption rates spread. For example, Facebook has become predominantly a middle-age or older cohort of users. However, platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram tend to be frequented by millennials more than any other social media. There is a certain way of communicating that is effective on social media - and different social channels have different ways also - so, yes, millennials do ‘frame’ the discussion in the sense that political messaging needs to be more succinct that ever before, it needs to be really memorable, and it needs to resonate for a millennial audience if it is to be amplified across social media. Politicians are waking up to this and realising that 'wordy' press releases and Question Time are not going to be very effective communication channels for their ideas or their brands.
Can we talk about the 'currencies' that work with millennials. How can politicians speak to younger voters and activate them?
Trib: We have already mentioned a few of them. In the social media era, it’s all about quick and easy to digest messaging. Politicians need to be clear, succinct and memorable if they are to be noticed in the noisy ideas marketplace of social media. But young people don’t just exist on social so there is a lot of work to be done in terms of how and where to engage this demographic in the real world. First off, and it might seem obvious, but politicians need to respect the beliefs and rights of younger voters. It is easy to fall into the trap of, “Oh, they won’t come out to vote anyway”, or “There is a better return on engaging with older voters”. Politicians who are upfront with young people and respect the power of their vote, and who don’t just treat them like the kids, will get a much better response. Another thing that is often missed is talking about issues and ideas rather than speaking to a broad political leaning, like Left or Right, or appealing to party allegiance. Old school politicians don’t want to hear this, but it's true. The reality is that the vast majority of millennials are floating voters and they want to be convinced that a politicians messaging works with their beliefs on specific issues. That is how they will be won over.
Who is doing youth communication (if that is a term) well?
Trib: Jacob Rees Mogg is a great example of someone who does social well, and it shows in his follower numbers. He presents a clear brand and invests in personality politics that works very well then as a conduit to deliver his message. It’s even more fascinating just how he’s managed to do it considering his affluent background and aristocratic presentation. He’s defied all odds to gain a huge grassroots following from millennials. If you don’t believe me just check out his Instagram.
Final questions, what would be the top three things you would do today if you were a politician looking to build core support among millennials?
Build a plan around engaging millenials in the community, in real life. Attend events and make sure this is reflected in your social media output.
Develop messaging that works for a specifically under-30’s audience. Messaging on issues.
Use personality in social media. If you don’t have one that works, make sure you hire someone who can deliver it for you.