Q&A: My Life My Say on getting young people to vote

Cost of living, NHS and housing are biggest issues for young people

The UK general election is rapidly approaching, taking place in less than three weeks on 4 July. However, many young people are reluctant to vote, either identifying as apolitical or not believing that their voice will make a difference. In light of this, MediaCat’s Content Editor Svilena Keane sat down with the Social Media Lead at My Life My Say, Remi Olokun, to discuss the ‘Give an X’ and ‘You Already Vote, So Vote’ campaigns which aim to get young people registered to vote.  

Hi, Remi. Could you tell us a little bit about My Life My Say and the Give an X campaign?

Remi Olokun

My Life My Say is a non-partisan organisation that is focused on getting every single young person registered to vote. It’s been around for about 11 years now and this year — an election year — is big for us. We launched the Give an X campaign alongside two partner organisations, the #iwill Movement and Shape History. Together, we are leading what we hope to be and what is fast becoming the biggest online youth registration drive the UK has ever seen, primarily trying to reach young people where they are.

We launched the campaign in April, and that was alongside our big National Voter Registration Day, which is on 16 April. This year, we managed to register 151,000 people on the day, and 113,000 of those were our target demographic of 18- to 24-year-olds. And now, two months on, we’re at it again. For the first time we’re doing a second National Voter Registration Day on 18 June, the last day to register for the general election.

What do young people ‘Give an X’ about?

The Give an X campaign came about from this idea that young people have been told throughout history that they don’t know enough or they don’t care enough, which has been far from the truth, actually. What we have been trying to do with this campaign is reframe the mentality of young people to say that there isn’t anything that you need to learn more about to be able to vote or participate in democracy. You already care enough.

So, it’s been about showing issues that young people care about in their everyday life; that could be about climate change, playing football, having access to facilities, youth clubs, and anything else.

So, in our campaign messaging, we’ve been doing a series ‘I Give an X aboutposts. For example, last week we spoke about your town losing its soul or having plastic everywhere, or the cost of living going up in every shop. We’re trying to translate everyday issues into things that would give people a reason to go out there and vote.

Last year, we partnered with Opinium who do polling; they’re currently in the midst of doing polling as we speak, so we’re going to get the newest data soon. But based on the one from last year, amongst the things that would influence young people to not vote, 37% said that it was a lack of political knowledge. Young people on the whole do feel like they know enough, but when they aren’t going to vote, a large portion of them do say that it’s because of not knowing enough about politics.

Last year, 63% also said the biggest issue was the cost-of-living crisis, and 45% said the NHS. So, the cost-of-living crisis, NHS, and housing are the biggest issues for young people.

Can you talk about the ‘You Already Vote So Vote’ campaign you recently launched? How did the idea come to be?

It was launched on our National Voter Registration Day in April and the idea was that we know young people already watch Love Island, I’m a Celebrity, and loads of different reality TV programs which have an element of voting. You vote for who you want to keep in the villa or on Big Brother or anything like that. We wanted to convey the idea that voting on a TV show is no different to voting in an election, really. You’re voting for someone that you want. So, the campaign utilised Love Island stars.

We had many influencers that were willing to be in the video. Predominantly, a lot of them were from Love Island. And it was telling people that you already vote, so go out there and vote in the local elections that were last month.

We’re going to hopefully be reviving that campaign again in the next couple of weeks to get more interest into the general election as well, which is perfect timing because Love Island is on at the moment. So everyone’s attention will be on a show which is built around voting. It’s perfect timing.

As the social media lead at My Life My Say, what techniques have you found to be most effective in engaging a younger audience?

I think it’s being a young person myself, I would say it’s knowing about what young people are used to seeing. I think content that has been too branded hasn’t really done well because young people are put off when they see a brand or a partnership on their feed. And I think while we have been working with loads of partners, it’s about being authentic and not making it seem as if we’re just working with anybody.

I think what has also worked well is utilising humour. Young people don’t want to take everything too seriously because things are already not in the best way. I think when times are hard, which they have been, especially since COVID, having a bit of humour or a light-hearted element, has been good.

And then lastly, the Give an X campaign was predominantly youth-led. We had a youth steering group, which was a group of about 10 young people from all across the country, with varying levels of political engagement. They helped come up with the name and craft the creative identity of the campaign, the way it looks and feels with the fonts and the bubble writing. I think that’s why it’s been so successful because it’s been made by young people for young people. All the imagery that we use and the fonts, it’s very fun and very shareable, which I guess, again, helps young people share it on their stories or with their friends.

You mentioned working with brands; how do you choose what brands to partner with and what do these partnerships look like?

It’s about having that authentic reason to collaborate with a partner. When I first joined, one of our main partners was The Body Shop, and they had a large commitment to having that social impact and political engagement. The same is true for Ben & Jerry’s.

They’re a partner that we’re working with currently. Today (13 June) I’m going to be in Birmingham, where we’re going to have an ice cream van, giving out free ice cream and getting people to vote.

Honestly, I love working with Ben & Jerry’s because they’re so passionate about the work as well. I think when Ben & Jerry’s was founded, they had very strong political beliefs, and they have done a lot of work across politics and democracy in America and in the UK. So, naturally, a partnership with them made a lot of sense.

Again, with Lime, another one of our partners, we got Register to Vote stickers on the front of the Lime bikes with the QR code so people can register to vote, and they even gave away free Lime bikes on the day of the election, so you can ride to and from the polling station. Partnering with Lime, who provide a greener solution to that travel crisis within London made a lot of sense. And a lot of young people already use Lime bikes as well so it goes back to the idea of going to places where young people already are.

Now with the election, we’re working with loads of different partners as well. One of the most exciting ones is Snapchat. They’re helping us through their ads credit partnership, so they’re giving us money to do ads on their platform, and they’re going to give us a spotlight on their platform as well. I think that’s the thing that we need because young people are not going to read necessarily — they might, but they won’t necessarily always read a Twitter thread that we make or they might not see a graphic on Instagram. But if they’re on Snapchat, which they are, then they’re more likely going to see us and see the messaging to go and vote.

We do get excited, personally as a team with the bigger names about partnerships. But I think sometimes we have to remind ourselves it’s not just about vanity and not just working with the biggest partners just because it sounds good and it makes us feel better about ourselves, but actually the partnerships that make sense for the people that we’re trying to target.

Do you think brands, celebrities, and influencers should be more vocal on political issues? And if so, how can they use social media to voice their views?

I honestly think they should. I understand that if you say certain things in this climate, it could impact central sponsorships or partnerships and affect income. So, it is a risk that they need to take. But I do believe that it is the responsibility of influencers and brands to provide that information and stand up for what is right because we’ve got into this position in society because of a lack of standing up for what is right and letting things slide.

The younger generation, that’s 16-25, they see through a lot of the stuff that goes on. If you’re not speaking about something they’ll call you out for it, and we’ve seen a lot of that recently with the conflict going on in the Middle East. I think it’s sometimes it’s wise to say nothing, but sometimes saying nothing can often be worse than saying the wrong thing. If you’re wrong, it’s okay to be informed and change your opinion and grow.

The problem is when you’re just digging your head in the sand and not engaging in the issues going on around you. Especially brands, if you’re working in the UK and making money in the UK, you have a responsibility to give back to the country that you’re making money from, essentially. I think brands that do make it a part of their identity in the long run benefit from it, because people want to spend money with brands that they think are doing the right things.

Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers ahead of the general election?

Go out and vote. One thing that we’ve definitely come up against is political apathy. People have given up a lot since 2016 in the Brexit vote, and then in 2019 with the general election and then COVID. Those three incidents have really led people to take as little interest in politics as they’ve ever done, partly because I think they haven’t seen any change.

But the solution isn’t to not vote. The solution is to vote and try and enact change where you can, particularly locally. A lot of people get caught up in the headline debates between Sunak and Starmer, and it’s all about the Westminster political sphere. But actually, when you vote, you’re voting for your local MP and you’re voting for your constituency.

And I think that’s much more of a thing that you can have an impact on. Whether that’s writing to your MP, or even scheduling meetings with your MP, knowing who your councillors are and having a much more local focused view on politics can perhaps change the way you view it, because this year there’s going to be a lot of change in terms of your local MP. A lot of conservative MPs will be standing down or getting voted out, which means there’s room for new conversations to be had.

I would say go out and vote and just try and get as engaged as you want to be. Obviously, it’s not for everyone, but the issues that you care about, whether it’s climate change or homelessness, there is a solution, and that solution comes from voting and working with the people that are in charge. I would say it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s not bad, but it’s going to be a year of change for sure.

Featured image: My Life My Say

Svilena Keane, Content & Social Editor at MediaCat Magazine

Svilena is the Content & Social Media Editor at MediaCat Magazine. She has a joint bachelor’s degree from Royal Holloway University, where she studied Comparative Literature and Art History. During her time at Royal Holloway, she was also the Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper The Founder. Since then, she has worked at a number of digital and print publications in Bulgaria and the UK, covering a wide range of topics including arts, culture, business and politics. She is also the founder of the online blog Sip of Culture and a self-published poet.

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