What’s driving young women in 2018? What topics are they talking about? What platforms are getting them excited? And how can brands tap into this?

These are questions that I’m often asked to consider in my work at Hook Research. I’m lucky enough to frequently sit down with incredible women all over the world, discuss the modern pressures facing girls today, and tweak the veil on what it means to be a young woman in the modern, digital age.

I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the topics that are frequently raised in conversations with this dynamic demographic and explore what impact this might have on brands wishing to engage with young women in a more productive way.

Being a young woman hasn’t changed… but their spaces have evolved

I’ve been working with young women for a good few years now (first as a teacher, then a counselor, and now as a researcher). While many of the needs and fears of young women in 2018 haven’t changed, the spaces and platforms on which they are talking and seeking out information have evolved dramatically in the past ten years.

In the past, young women would turn to print magazines for their questions about dating, fashion, and sex. Back in the day, a host of ‘Agony Aunts’ answered teens’ eager queries about the latest fad diets, ideal outfits for a first date, or ‘what exactly is a blowjob?’

In 2018, those questions haven’t changed.

Today’s young women still have many of the same concerns as those a decade earlier (dating, clothing, sex, etc). But as print has begun to lose its relevance to this age group, girls are instead turning to social media for answers instead of seeking out experts in their favourite magazines.

In some ways, this change has been positive: the litany of platforms, blogs, vlogs, and forums has made it significantly easier for today’s hyper-connected young women to find answers to their burning lifestyle questions. However niche the problem, there is sure to be a Tumblr page or YouTube video that addresses it in a funny, informative, and meme-riddled way.

But as helpful as these spaces can be, they are accompanied by their own dangers.

Misinformation is rife online: whether it’s explicit (streaming from the keyboards of millions of angry trolls) or implicit (in content like porn – videos which grossly exaggerates portrayals of sex and dating). Navigating fact and fiction in these spaces can be a tricky activity, and while young women in 2018 are astute at recognising the various perils of the internet they don’t always get it right…

For brands who hope to connect with this young audience it’s becoming ever-more important that they nest themselves within the myriad spaces in which young women are hunting for guidance and become a trusted source of information or entertainment. Brands must define a clear role for themselves on key platforms and shape an identity which not only resonates with the audience, but also with the values/tone of the space.

Young women in 2018 are starting conversations in new ways

YouTubers are increasingly supplanting the traditional ‘Agony Aunts’ and becoming young women’s go-to source for lifestyle and health advice. Many young women are turning to makers around the world like Hannah Witton, Laci Green, Rachel Ballinger, and Natalia Trybus (for our Polish readers) for their series of sex-positive videos on dating and female health.

Notably, most of these YouTubers aren’t too much older than the young women seeking out their advice.

These aren’t older experts who draw their knowledge from age and experience, but contemporaries who are sharing the knowledge they develop from their own mistakes and successes pretty much as they happen. This marks an interesting move towards a more peer-to-peer model of education – a model that really resonates with young audiences (indeed, so much so that schools are starting to integrate these vloggers’ videos into their own lessons).

How can this spirit be captured by brands? Brands should think about the different roles that they can play in young womens’ lives (eg guardian, teacher, best friend), the tone/voices connected with each offering, and the value exchanges with their audiences – why should young women listen to your brand? What do they get in return?

Young Women in 2018

Changing the topic and keeping it positive

Beyond new platforms and formats, the digital space has also opened up what topics young women in 2018 are willing to talk about in public.

What were once private conversation topics are now being discussed freely in blogs, forums, and Facebook pages. A great example of this is Plan International UK’s push to create a new ‘period emoji’ (an emoji that was initially rejected by Unicode – the emoji approval board – but Plan International UK are trying again this year).

Young Women in 2018 - Plan International UK

Credit: Plan International UK

This dialogue points to a larger shift in the way young women in 2018 are thinking about their bodies – ultimate perfection has become less of a goal, and the dialogue is now more about accepting all aspects of oneself (even if they aren’t particularly liked). A great example of this can be seen in #SideProfileSelfie: the viral hashtag created by Radhika Sanghan that celebrates large noses.

From a content perspective this development is great, as it means that brands are being given a license to talk about different and varied aspects of young women’s lives. As young women become more open about the topics they explore online, how can brands support them? However, this also requires a degree of nuance: just because Western girls are more open to discussing menstruation does not mean that the same goes for young women in Africa or India. A careful understanding of new content needs in each space can be incredibly rewarding for brands who get it right.

Young women moving forward

While today’s young women are dealing with a new level of openness and connectivity that hasn’t been experienced by previous generations, they are also generating powerful narratives that are creating real change in their communities. And that’s something that’s worth paying attention to as brands strive to create content and marketing messages that resonate with this exciting and inspirational group .

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Author Debbie

Debbie is Hook Research’s kids and youth specialist. She has been a pioneer in qualitative market research for 20 years, and her experience is regularly called upon by leading children’s programming providers.

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