Award-Winning Youth Helpline gets Web 2.0 Right

Lori Halley 09 July 2008 1 comments

People born since 1980 — the first generation to grow up in a wired world — have a whole new set of expectations about communication. Nonprofits who want to reach this audience need to rethink the traditional outreach methods and learn to understand how this group operates.

Whether we call them Millenials, Net-Genners, or Generation Y, these young people “dislike and tune out traditional news media,” says Joanne Fritz, PhD, Nonprofit guide at About.com. “They are more likely to use their internet enabled cellphones, websites, blogs, and email lists than to watch the network news. They want two-way communication, not the old one-way communication of advertising and traditional media. They wish to be engaged, not talked at.”

Sounds like a challenge? It is, but those of us who want to reach the Millenial generation are starting with an advantage, in that the same yen for transparency and disclosure that makes us fear for kids’ safety online is also a trait that makes it possible to engage them in real, honest, open conversation. If its done right.

It bears repeating:
They wish to be engaged, not talked at.

The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline does this exceptionally well, scoring a Webby Award last month for its website at Love is Respect.org. Here, an array of Web 2.0 tools are brought into play to engage and educate youth, while providing the interactive experience that this audience demands.

Right away, when you visit LoveIsRespect.org, it’s clear that this site is totally focussed on the needs of its audience. Moving onto the website, the eye is caught by the animation that showcases its purpose and main features, with a live chat link and toll-free helpline phone numbers posted prominently “above the fold” where they can’t be missed.

Navigation links immediately above and below the header lead the user into areas of interest — Are you being abused? Support for a friend. Real Love e-Newsletter. Is This Abuse? Get Help. Teen Dating Bill of Rights. Resource Center. Get Involved — and to a page about the organization.

The main content of the page is an active blog, flanked by links to key social networks (MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook), a toolkit for activist teens (with plenty of PDF materials to help youth fight dating abuse in their own schools and communities), and a video library including celebrity PSAs. Sponsors are drawn from the world of fashion and entertainment, again on target with the interests of the audience.

To my eye, however, the most significant feature of the site comes before that first page is even loaded into your browser:

Immediately on accessing LoveIsRespect.org, a safety alert pop-up reminds users that their internet usage “can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear.” It suggests alternate ways to get help if they are afraid that their privacy may be compromised. And it draws attention to an “escape button” on every page of the website that users can click if they need to “quickly get away to an unrelated site.”

This is the first time I’ve ever seen such a notice on a site, and it strikes me as a clear message that this is a teen-safe place where it’s okay to speak out; that total confidentiality is offered and respected. Could any privacy statement get the message across as strongly as this alert box?

There's nothing extravagantly flashy about this site -- indeed, the design is classic and clean, more of an adult aestheitc than the teen-pop style one might expect. For me, this works. It gives the website something of the calm maturity of a trusted adult in whom a troubled teen might confide with confidence. Would the site be as effective with, say, a trendy black background and graffiti-style text?

I'm interested in hearing your reactions to this website: What might you do differently? What ideas here might inspire your own organization?  And if you know another nonprofit organization that does a great job of engaging its youthful audience online, please leave a comment below and tell us about it.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 09 July 2008 at 8:45 PM

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