Using social media to deepen the impact of youth social mobility programmes

As someone who had the benefit of a privileged upbringing and world class education opportunities, I am passionate about empowering others and helping them get access to similar quality opportunities.

As part of my previous CSR role, I worked in embedding and deepening the impacts of a social mobility/youth development programme. In order to bolster student engagement, we wanted to make use of the power of social media.

Wanting to reach students, our initial thinking was to use Facebook or Snapchat, but in the end we decided on LinkedIn – a much better choice. Instead of going for a network we thought they would be on, we opted for a network that we thought students over 16 years old should be encouraged to join.

This was a great way to connect with students we worked with and supported through our development programmes. It’s much easier to stay connected than through e-mail or mobile numbers. It also encourages students to start to put down their educational background and previous experience, and to get them thinking about their professional network and things they can do to build on this.

We could also easily advertise internship and other work experience opportunities through a dedicated LinkedIn group we formed (a free resource). Students reached out to our team with questions regarding the impact of their subject choices on their potential career paths, regarding applying for internship opportunities and work experience, for advice ahead of interviews, etc.

The use of LinkedIn for these purposes, giving you the ability to stay in contact with students, also means it will be easier to track longer term outcomes following development programme, something notoriously difficult to do.

Beyond keeping students and our CSR team connected, LinkedIn provides an opportunity for students to reach out to corporate volunteers they meet and interact with through skills workshops and coaching programmes. Importantly, the nature of the social network tends to keep the tone of communication more formal and professional – good practise in itself for students wanting to develop employability skills. LinkedIn is much better in this regard, than a platform such as Facebook, where it may not be appropriate for students to become ‘friends’ with adults, sharing on a more personal and informal level.

Many students we worked with through our corporate volunteering programmes had no other contacts working in the City/such professional/aspirational roles. So having a platform to stay connected in this way puts them at slightly less of a disadvantage comparatively. Without the benefit of parents or close relatives to reach out to for help securing work experience over the summer, many of the students we worked with otherwise lacked a starting point for such opportunities.

For our students, securing a week or two long opportunity could prove extremely difficult. However, we encouraged them to reach out to contacts they formed through our programmes with a smaller ask initially – for just a day or two’s experience. This is usually a lot easier to secure for them, particularly because there is less need to organise a dedicated workspace and/computer or laptop. In my experience, long as HR were alerted, a few stadard forms were in place around confidentiality and two employees were willing to take responsibility for the student on the day/s, there was no issue – often volunteers were happy to arrange this themselves, but we offered to do it for them if they wanted/it helped secure their agreement to taking on a student.

A day or two’s previous experience served as a confidence boost, to further motivate students in their academic efforts, and quite often provided a tiny edge on their CV, helping them to secure longer work experience opportunities during subsequent summer holidays.