How to engage young people in research: an interview with BARB’s Sonja Ajdin

“Advances in technology combined with young people’s willingness to participate in research means that there is a huge opportunity for companies to engage them.” 

Sonja Ajdin, Research Manager, BARB

In 2016, we were lucky enough to partner with BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board) on a fascinating piece of work designed to explore how best to engage young people in research.

We caught up with BARB’s Research Manager, Sonja Ajdin, as she shares some of the most interesting findings from the research and discusses how brands can capitalise on these insights to conduct more effective research with young people.

Q: Thank you very much for joining us today Sonja. To start, can you tell us a little bit about the work you conducted with FreshMinds?

A: We engaged FreshMinds on a piece of work involving young adults to ensure that our strategy for measuring media across multiple platforms and devices is appropriate for this demographic. Through an online community and one-to-one interviews, we sought to understand how young people responded to new forms of research and media measurement as well as how to incentivise them to take part in research on an ongoing basis.

Q: Are we facing a losing battle when it comes to trying to engage young people in research?

A: Absolutely not! There is a prevailing stereotype that young people, and particularly teenagers, are disinterested and disengaged but what we found in the research is that that’s simply not true. Young people want to take part in research and they want to do so because they care. They see participating in research as a way to contribute and make a difference to the causes they care about. As insight professionals we need to harness this enthusiasm by finding new and innovative ways to engage young people in research and to overcome some of the barriers they face to participation.

Q: What are some of the barriers that stop young people from taking part in research?

A: The perceived time commitment is a real barrier. If you cast your mind back to when you were a teenager, it’s a really busy time of your life. The young people that we spoke to were between 16 and 24 years old and as such their lives were dominated by exams, studying and the challenge of navigating their first jobs. At a time of so much change, the idea of taking part in research, particularly on an ongoing basis, seems like a major (and daunting) commitment. We need to recognise this and find ways of engaging young people that fit in with their lives and are as hassle-free as possible.

Q: As part of the research with FreshMinds you explored how young people responded to a range of new and innovative research techniques. How did they react to passive tracking?

A: As part of the research, we asked young people to download a placebo app to test how they would react to passive tracking. This was really well received. Not only did all the respondents in the study download the app but they kept it on their devices for the duration of the research. When we explored this in more detail, we discovered that passive tracking was popular amongst young people because it’s seen as an easy and low effort way to get involved in research. This is particularly appealing for ongoing research programmes, which can traditionally involve a substantial time commitment.

Q: Were young people worried about sharing their data with a third party?

A: Whilst we did encounter some concerns around privacy, interestingly these weren’t widespread. In actual fact, we found that when consumers trusted the company, any worries they had subsided and they became less concerned about privacy.

Q: What are your top tips to brands looking to harness the passive tracking opportunity?

A: The first has to be trust. Advances in technology combined with young people’s willingness to participate in research means that there is a huge opportunity for companies to harness passive tracking to obtain hugely valuable behavioural data. But this will only succeed if they are able to build trust so that consumers feel comfortable sharing their data. Otherwise they will fall at the first hurdle.

My second tip is to think carefully about the app design. The app can’t take up too much space or drain battery, otherwise it will be rejected by young people. The technology needs to be reliable and must not interfere with the use of the device. And it’s helpful if the app has an element of interactivity (e.g. being able to see what data the app is collecting) so they feel a sense of ownership over it.

Q: Finally, what is the best way of incentivising young people to take part in research on an ongoing basis?

A: Naturally young people want to be rewarded for taking part in research but if you think monetary incentives will suffice, think again. We found that for many young people, a crucial element of the value exchange is actually being able to see the findings of the research and find out how it is used: something that’s often overlooked.

Of course, tangible rewards do have a role to play, particularly in ongoing research programmes. Many young people talked about the importance of points systems, where you can accumulate points each time you participate in research and then trade these in for rewards. Having a choice of rewards was also important to young people so that they can select incentives which mean something to them.