eremy Simmonds, joint managing director of Rough Hill, VCCP's youth communications agency
eremy Simmonds, joint managing director of Rough Hill, VCCP's youth communications agency
A view from Jeremy Simmonds

Youth ambassadors: Say goodbye to the 'coolkids', say hello to the geeky introverts

There is a new breed of youth brand ambassador called 'Insiders', and brands need to wake up and engage with them, says Jeremy Simmonds, joint managing director of Rough Hill, VCCP's youth communications agency.

Let me tell you about Eman. At the age of 16, he is the Youth Mayor of Lewisham and an eminent YouTuber. Motivated by the loss of a friend to knife crime, he uses his YouTube channel to promote a message of anti-violence to young people. He recently produced a film that has had over 2.6m views.

Eman is a great example of the important role social media can play in allowing young people to realise their potential. Recently the press have branded social media as responsible for creating an insular and anti-social generation of young people. From our experience at Rough Hill, this is complete nonsense.

For many young people, social media empowers them. Rough Hill is a youth communications agency that started off ten years ago organising music events, targeting young people at University. Back then we would look to recruit the ‘cool kid’ as a brand ambassador – perhaps a university sports team captain or DJ. But since the prolific growth of social media, most brand ambassadors are now a million miles away from the ‘big man on campus’ type.

A new breed of brand ambassador

The new breed of ambassador doesn’t need to hold a high-profile role in their community and outwardly can even come across as an introvert. Their tech-savvy, online personas and broad social media networks allow them to outperform their louder peers online. This has turned youth communications upside down.

The latest Rough Hill research, ASBO Generation (Adept Social Behaviour On and Offline) used responses from nearly 4,000 people aged between 16 and 22. It shows there is a distinct segment within the youth audience who can be categorised as introverts. What’s fascinating is that a significant proportion of these people are highly active and disproportionally influential on social media. We term them ‘Insiders’.


Digging into their social media usage, 83% of Insiders are using Facebook once a day or more. Social media allows them to express their individuality and is a place where they feel most confident. What’s surprising is that they are much more likely to create content than extrovert young people who are also active on social media: we have found that Insiders are 36% more likely to create content on Tumbler and 20% more likely to create content on YouTube than their extrovert peers.

Despite first impressions, this group are certainly not wallflowers. Moreover, they are the ones driving trends and opinions online.

...but remember they’re strong-willed

So for any brand concerned with harnessing the power of influencers, finding and engaging these Insiders is key. However, winning over these strong-willed young people can be tricky as they are very selective about the brands that they follow on social media.

We compiled a list of both the most loved youth brands and the most successful social brands in the UK and our research showed that 37% of these influential Insiders do not follow a single one of them. A real miss for those brands.

A chance to express individuality

So how do you inspire Insiders to help deliver brand objectives? From our experience it comes down to the message. This audience shy away from brands they perceive as utilitarian or ordinary. They are attracted to brands that offer them the chance to express their individuality and communications that are positive and active.

Take the recent, highly successful #nomakeupselfie campaign for Cancer Research. This campaign raised £8m for the charity in six days, and was kick started by a teenage mum from Stoke on Trent - not the most likely brand ambassador. Yet this 18 year-old instigated a campaign that encouraged young women who would never dream of going outside without make-up on, to broadcast a no make-up selfie all over Facebook, with celebrities following suit.

The key to Ben & Jerry’s success

This typifies the power of this new breed of ambassador. Ben & Jerry’s is another brand that knows how to connect well with Insiders. The brand actively encourages feedback from their online community on everything from their products to societal issues, an openness that speaks directly to Insiders.

If you make an effort to find and understand this hard-to-reach audience and then devise a message that sparks conversation and participation, the results can be phenomenal.

The geek, redefined

Mark Zuckerberg, arguably an Insider himself, has redefined the image of the geek. This is a result of his personal success but also because Facebook has played a significant role in giving a voice to apparently introvert young people.

Facebook and social media as a whole give them the tools to build genuine influence. Some use this to campaign against societal issues, others to drive brands forward.

Regardless of the way that young people choose to use this platform, they are able to have a level of influence on a scale that was previously impossible. And given that young Insiders are more active content creators online than their extrovert peers, they may just be a brand’s holy grail.

Now all you need to do is start a conversation with them.