Co-Creation: Involve Youth in The Process

I was asked by Graham Brown of Mobile Youth to give an Expert Interview around the subject of youth sourcing. I hope you enjoy it!

“…We’re talking to Julia about how to engage youth within the product development process. Can big mobile brands increase the relevance and hit rates of their products by incorporating the target market into the idea generation and message shaping? Julia thinks so. We find out more about how co-creating innovation with youth is not only possible but vital to product relevance.

Watch the video to answer these questions:

* How can large organizations conduct better youth insights?
* How should you build youth panels for companies or conferences?
* What are the business benefits of involving youth in product development?…”

Digital Youth Insights & Learning Experiences Webinar

This is a webinar, that I did for the DCK TN and Mobile Monday London, 27th Jan 2011, and should be of interest to people that want a closer understanding of the youth market.  Through my experience in mobile and online community products since 1993, despite much time, effort and cost, I have seen many products fail to succeed or fail to reach their full potential. One of the key reasons is that end users are not engaged in their development. I set up the Digital Youth Project in 2005 to address this gap focussing on the youth market and to show how engaging young people in your projects can provide great real life learning experiences for them too. I illustrate the points using case studies from virtual world to mobile to community projects with a social media twist.

Thanks to those that logged in live, for my 4.5/5 rating and for the great feedback! It was a fun new experience talking to the aether!

Please click on this link to view and listen - you will need to register but it is free:  Webinar DCKTN / Mobile Monday London.

Here is the presentation, without me talking over it, and some of the key points listed below.

Key Youth Insights– see presentation for the case studies that support each point

1. Young people are practical & they want useful products too

  • Some adults incorrectly equate youth products only with fun; my case studies show that young people need and appreciate helpful products too, such as mobile mapping services.
  • In addition, young people can quickly tell you where your product is not practical – for example, they are worried about the security aspects of wandering around holding their phone and whether your service can be fully appreciated on a small screen.
  • They also want product naming to effectively describe the product – so say what it does on the tin.

2. Hygiene factors – what is now expected by young people as standard, basic features

  • Young people want choice, so for example if you are developing a music-based App, make sure that you have as many genres in there as you can.
  • They want to be able to use services on their mobile, pc and other devices such as i-Pod so multi-platform and channel access is important.
  • They are so familiar with certain user interfaces, for example, the Apple Store, so where you can, work with their understanding rather than feeling you need to create something different.
  • Time over I see that young people will dive straight in to using the product. They want to work it out for themselves – that is part of the fun, however, that is no excuse for creating something that is not intuitive.  If you are going to add help, first time tutorials can be effective, as long as they are interactive; making help information concise is essential and males have a tendency to look to YouTube for short videos.
  • Social functions are now expected. Facebook is the benchmark for being able to share, comment and converse.
  • Voice, text and camera are now the basic expectations of a phone.

3. Young people want to help with feature definition & market positioning

  • Before creating your visual presence, talk to young people and ask them how they would use the product; again, you will see case studies of where using the wrong visual will throw the user off track.
  • I have worked with many products where the functionality is fantastic, but the wrong user facing product has been developed – young people are very good at un-packing the functionality and putting it back together again in a more attractive proposition.
  • Competitor analysis, as we know, is crucial before you can work out your feature set and positioning; young people will tell you who they think your competitors are, which is far more valuable than who you think they are!

4. Young people need to be addressed with the right language for their age group

  • When considering the youth market, I suggest 2 year increments; 11-13, 13 – 15 and so on. I have found that your actual users will be those that are in the age increment below the one that you are targeting – young people are often trying to appear to be older than they are.
  • It is also important to realise that there is a lot of cross-generational traffic on sites that are populated by young people – particularly in the virtual world, social networking and gaming scenarios.  Aunties, uncles, godparents, grandparents, older siblings – particularly when they are remote – will engage with their younger contacts in their own environment.

5. Young people are savvy, so be honest, satisfy their curiosity and gain their trust

  • When presented with a new product, often a young person’s response is to think “where is the catch”, so if you have chargeable elements; sponsored content; integrated advertising and so on, just be upfront about it. This way you will show your respect for their intelligence and gain their trust.

6. While they are financially aware, this does not mean that they won’t spend money on digital experiences

  • There are already plenty of online and mobile experiences that young people enjoy for free – so there is no point presenting them with a similar experience that is chargeable.
  • However, young people are spending money on digital – as I found when looking at digital music products “who do you think got Tinchy Stryder to the top of the download charts?” Note also that digital goods revenue lines are still in growth.

7. Young people are social media natives, they can help you create content and awareness for your product, business and business event

  • You can offer great learning experiences for young people to help you understand how best to use social media to generate awareness and social media coverage of your business, project and events.
  • Media students are on the look-out for real life projects where they can provide media coverage for you whilst adding to their portfolio – think photographs, film, interviews and general journalistic comment.
  • If you are looking for creative content perhaps to add some spark to an event, think about offering an opportunity to young people’s arts and performance groups.

Adult Misperceptions

Throughout my work in this area I have come across some resistance from adults to engaging young people, so here are my challenges back:

  1. Young people are scary and they will automatically take a negative stance: Incorrect! Young people are encouraging about innovation and willing to take risks. You will find working with them energising.
  2. They just grunt – think Kevin the Teenager: Incorrect! Explain, listen, coach and ask open questions in the right environment – you will get very constructive feedback.
  3. You have just chosen the clever kids to work with: Incorrect! Great feedback does not just come from clever kids – often the most disruptive and under-achieving have the most creative and honest input.
  4. “What young people want is…”: Incorrect! Avoid generalising about the youth market – some just call and text; they don’t all have blackberries, they don’t all want an iPhone, and the list goes on.

In conclusion, by engaging users in the design of products and marketing, you will become more efficient. You will know when you have a dead horse to stop flogging; you can avoid endless internal assumption-based debates on features and user interface; you can generate new challenging ideas; you can get a good idea of how best to target the youth market and overall maximise your development and marketing spend.

Please do get in touch if you would like these insights presented at your business or event.

Youth Insights from Mobile Heroes Conference

On December 7th, I took a panel of 16-18 year olds to a conference all about Mobile, called Heroes of the Mobile Screen at the National Film Theatre, to give feedback to 5 product pitches for new digital services.

Before you go any further, please note that I have designed the Travelling Teen Panel to give businesses a quick  “toe-dip” into youth opinion.  As the panel is only 6 strong, this does not reflect the youth market in a broad sense so the statements I make below are in the context of this panel only.

My intention is for the sessions to be both insightful and entertaining.  Going by the twittersphere surrounding each show, I am pleased to say I am confident that I deliver both.  Feedback from the parents, teachers and teens who have taken part in the sessions strongly indicates that I am also meeting my further objective, which is to create relevant and engaging learning experiences for young people.

As my Panels continue to travel, I will continue to write, so thanks for dropping by and I hope to see you again!

Here are the pre-task presentations that each of the panellists made to show people, places and things that they are into.

Alex, 17, from Park House state school, Newbury

Camilla, 16, from Park House state school, Newbury

Shivz, 18, from Rising Tide music and enterprise charity, Hackney

Rebecca, 17, Rising Tide music and enterprise charity, Hackney

Nic, 18, from King Alfred private school, North London

Rachel, 17, from King Alfred private school, North London

The Presenters had 4 minutes each to present their offering and then received feedback and questions from the panel after each presentation.

Flook – An iPhone app that lets you discover and share the world around you by simply swiping through a stream of nearby flook cards. With flook’s innovative new user interface, local discovery is just as easy as swiping through your photo library. Cards have a full-screen photo and some text and they’re also geo-located – placed at a specific location for you to find when you’re nearby. Over time, flook learns which cards people like most, and then shows them to you first. Flook also offers a point system for regular use.

Live Talkback – Live Talkback is used by businesses to enable audiences to vote via the web, mobile phones (iPhone and Nokia) and TV screens on live events. This service lets people find out what is going on in their area and vote on it.

payByMobile – Shop online and pay by texting from your mobile. Users load credit on to their new mobile wallet at most places that offer prepay top up. Users select the new paybyMobile option at the online check out and text the unique code to 51525. It works on every mobile phone, both contract and pre-pay, and is free to the end-user.

Psonar – A music service where you can listen, discover, buy and share your music knowing that it is all backed up. It offers a PC and mobile interface and will let you play your music wherever you want to (iPod, phone, laptop etc).

Animentals by Fluid Pixel Studios – An online and mobile game for Nokia phones where you play for a week to rehabilitate an “Animentals” cyber-pet. Users pay £3.00 to download the game to their mobile.

The Key Insights

1. “We already have something that does this for us”

  • LiveTalkback – reference was made to Facebook
  • Psonar – reference was made to iTunes plus they already have the ability to move music around by using your USB in to your laptop where their music is stored. One panellist commented that Spotify already lets you put your music on your iPhone or iPod. While one user liked the idea because they have merged the music parts of MySpace and iTunes, they felt that it would be very difficult for them to take on iTunes as it is already very advanced and has lots of customers.
  • Animentals – reference was made to other cyper-pets e.g. on Facebook
  • Flook – reference was made to Flickr and Facebook (although the location-based mobile access is not covered by those existing offerings)
  • payByMobile – some of the users felt that they already had payment methods that worked for them; but bear in mind these are older teens that have bank accounts. Also note that they did not liken it to anything that they already knew existed that enabled people to pay using their mobile for online purchases.
  • This overall view was challenged by one of the panellists who pointed out that not everyone wants to use the old service and they love to find new things.

2. Teens are sophisticated in their questions and observations

  • How do you make money? (to payByMobile where the retailer pays a fee for each transaction)
  • I wouldn’t particularly want someone to go through my music (Psonar)
  • Suggestion to Animentals that they targeted social network sites younger than Facebook
  • One panellist commented that the name “Live Talkback” sounds like an answer-phone service rather than a voting capability
  • Sounding like an older user(!), one panellist said that it would be nice to not have to fiddle about with pins and card numbers when presented with the ease of payByMobile.

3. Teens demand social and rich media capabilities

  • In response to Live Talkback – on Facebook, you can take the discussion further and interact with people on their responses – this was not obviously available on Live Talkback
  • One panellist commented that he liked Flook as it had all the social capabilities built in to further discussion with other users
  • Flook was also liked because they felt that teens took a lot of pictures and they liked the idea that this would turn teenagers in to the paparazzi when they saw celebrities
  • Facebook and iTunes were mentioned frequently as leaders in their field
  • They described a “basic” phone as one with a camera
  • It is a given that they all use MSN Messenger and some referenced their blackberry purchase was so that they could use the IM functionality. Interesting that they shorthanded Blackberry Messenger as “BBM”

4. Young people know how to get things for free and are very money-conscious

  • “Do you have to pay for it?” is a common question
  • One response to Animentals was that they can already play games for free online so they would not pay for it
  • Rebekah suggest that payByMobile offer an incentive to encourage her to use the service. (Different payment methods attract different processing charges to retailers, so this approach could be viable, as long as it is presented very cleanly in the user interface).
  • Shivz asked Psonar whether they are a legit version of Limewire
  • On mention of a point system from Flook, one panellist quizzed the presenter about what benefits she would get

5. Late teens see themselves as much older than the early teens and they want to be addressed differently

  • Many comments throughout were about how to target their age group and talk their language
  • Rachel loved payByMobile reflecting that she is a sophisticated consumer – she would use it for eBay purchases and also felt that it would be really useful for parents teaching their children how to manage their personal budget.
  • Animentals was universally considered too young for this group, although one panellist said he may play it if he was really bored.
  • Another panellist commented that she already had a pet and it was hard enough to keep her alive

6. Dispersed Mobile preferences

  • Concerns where raised where services were restricted to a particular mobile manufacturer or model
  • In the group, they all had different preferences – Alex has a Sony Ericsson W300i – “the only one probably that still works in the world!”;  Camilla has a simple Nokia but would like a T-Mobile Pulse;  Shivz wants to “…Keep it simple. I don’t like iPhone, I don’t like BlackBerry. It’s people like you who have those phones…” (addressing a “grown-up” audience of mobile and brand professionals); Rebekah likes her simple phone, but would get a smaller BlackBerry with a touchscreen if one came along;  Nic has a BlackBerry Bold that he got on an upgrade and Rachel also has a BlackBerry, which was originally bought for the “BBM”.

7. Safety and Bullying – This was raised as a question in the Q&A session

  • Generally, the panellists were not concerned over safety online, they were very comfortable about their ability to control their online privacy and understood the tools they had or needed to do this. This echoes their sophistication as per the point above.
  • Alex said that he tries to take non-embarrassing photos of himself and if he does, then it should be his call to publish it or not.
  • One user did wonder whether Flook could lead to online bullying through uploading of photos, but Flook assured that while they had been concerned about this, they had no reports of such behaviour to date. Flook also described the safety measures that they had and the panel understood and accepted the mechanisms.
  • They mentioned that on Facebook it is easy as when they publish only their friends can see.
  • They were all aware of the privacy settings that all the social networks offered Rebekah is busy using social media to promote her various music projects and tries to make posts about what she is doing rather than directly about her private life.

Flook was the most popular service amongst the panel.

Carpets or Virtual World?

At one school session using a real-life case study about a teenage virtual world, the business challenge for the students was to define an engaging product feature that the company should work on next.

One bright spark said, “Hang on a minute. I just gave you a good idea. If they decide to do my idea, then I should get paid for that.” I asked him whether he would rather do a case study about carpet manufacturing (the previous year’s exercise in which I was not involved) or do this year’s study on a product that they were really interested in? After processing, he nodded indicating he knew he got a much better deal this year.

There is no doubt that bringing a real-life case study on the cutting edge of digital innovation plays a large part toward engaging a group of teens. You should have seen the students’ fascination when talking through the business model at the start!

Youth Experience

Between the ages of 13 to 18 years old, I was a youth leader in an international organisation. I designed, delivered and co-ordinated sessions and conventions as well as provided coaching for emerging leaders.

When I started work at 21, I already had well-developed public speaking, presentation, leadership, team and communication skills. I was hired as a team manager in my first role and continued to coach many individuals and teams to high performance throughout my career. I have always held leadership roles and have worked
cross functionally and at the board level. From my own experience, I understand the huge value in giving students the opportunity to practice and develop these skills from a young age.

Throughout my career, I have worked with youth products from the launch of One2One / T-Mobile to the areas of Mobile Content and other online youth offerings. I have managed and driven innovation for £350m product portfolios such as Mobile Messaging and have consulted with many companies in the digital space. My 12 years at One2One / T-Mobile saw me promoted to a new role each year. I also spent 3 years as Director of Product and User Insights for a popular teenage avatar / virtual world site called WeeWorld. My special approach has always been to be both end user and revenue centric.

I have been running workshops in schools for over 8 years, starting as a volunteer in Hertfordshire schools when I was at T-Mobile. I have worked with over 10 schools across Herts and London and with teacher groups including the Heads of Business Studies in London.

I have also started conversations about the new Diplomas and how to integrate “Real Work Environments” in to the various programs. I have also been exploring ideas around Education 2.0 with sites such as http://www.teachable.net and the educational properties of virtual world environments.