The need for youth empowerment in an age of unprecedented stress
Teenagers face a unique set of challenges that are amplified in a digital world. Research shows that although there have been significant improvements in the last few decades in certain areas of youth risk behaviors such as sexual activity and high-risk substance use, significant disparities persist by geography, household income, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Youth today also face unprecedented stressors that are having a measurable impact on their mental health and wellbeing. In short, youth need support, guidance, and evidence-based information to help them navigate their ever-evolving teen years in a world that is defined by change and uncertainty.
Partnering to create the We Think Twice youth empowerment campaign
To address these issues the Administration for Children & Families (ACF) Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) partnered with RTI to create and implement the digital media campaign We Think Twice. It aims to build teen knowledge and skills to form healthy relationships with peers and adults, set and achieve their goals, and make healthy decisions relating to sex, substance use, and other topics relevant to teens.
We Think Twice is designed with teens and for teens. The campaign’s success is due, in large part, to youth involvement in content development from conceptualization through co-creation and iterative testing. As of 2022, over 300 youth from across the United States have been engaged in virtual and in-person focus groups and an online research forum developed by RTI International called the We Think Twice Insiders, where teens complete polls, journaling prompts, creative challenges, discussion forums, storyboarding, and journey mapping to inform campaign content.
Launching the We Think Twice website – the campaign’s hub
The award-winning youth empowerment website has been viewed by over 150,000 visitors since its launch. RTI follows an innovative human-centered design approach to ensure all website products are responsive to teen’s needs and interests. For example, the team engaged the We Think Twice community of “Insiders” in a variety of user research activities, including usability interviews, A/B testing, and surveys to continually improve the website in response to youth input. The team also built a custom analytics dashboard that provides an at-a-glance snapshot of key performance indicators to help FYSB leverage data-driven, actionable insights in real time for continuous improvement.
Using social media engagement to reach teens
We Think Twice launched on Instagram and Facebook in July 2019 and has published over 1,000 social media posts, stories and ads, reaching more than 7 million people. Content developed for the social media platforms is continually informed by the campaign’s community of We Think Twice Insiders and analysis of social media metrics and social listening to gain the latest insight on youth trends.
The team uses a variety of strategies to boost engagement, including hosting contests and giveaways, often championed by youth Instagram influencers and organizations. Contests include the Create Your Future: A National Arts contest, which involved 150+ teens whose original artwork was judged by a jury of teens, and the Now You Try! Hobby Contest, which encouraged youth to showcase their hobbies and skills to educate and instruct their peers. The campaign also engages a team of youth content creators who develop posts on a variety of youth-identified topics. The campaign’s Instagram account continues to outpace industry standards with an average organic engagement rate of about 9.6%.
Empowering teens with diverse online quizzes, games, and more
A key component of the campaign is a diverse collection of more than 25 mobile-friendly digital products such as Buzzfeed-style quizzes, games, videos, listicles, stories, infographics, playlists, and interactive tools. These products, showcased on the We Think Twice website, engage youth with important campaign content and direct them to resources they can use to learn more about specific topics. These digital products are branded and coordinated with the messages youth receive as part of the social media channels to produce a cohesive campaign with a unifying message. Youth are involved every step of the way, from the concept phase to the development phase. For example, teens recorded and submitted their own videos for the award-winning Our Goals, Our Lives video series that highlights authentic stories of young people who have set and achieved their goals, made a difference in their communities, and have shown resilience in the process. Teens are also featured in the Teens Ask the Experts video series, in which they have the opportunity to pose questions to national experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Digital Products for Youth-Serving Professionals and Parents/Caregivers
The project team also produces complementary educational materials and tools exclusively for parents/caregivers and youth-serving providers such as federal Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention grantees, community organizations, schools, and after-school programs.
Example products include the Toolkit for Engaging Parents and Caregivers in Optimal Health Programming, Creating Safe Spaces: Facilitator's Guide to Trauma-Informed Programming, and Checking Our Reality, a classroom module designed to supplement a school’s or organization’s youth programming to teach youth the difference between peer influence and peer pressure, test their knowledge about peer norms, and correct misperceptions. These tools can be found on The Exchange, an interactive platform for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program grantees, partners, and stakeholders.
We Think Twice receives national awards
The We Think Twice campaign has been the recipient of multiple awards, including a first-place award in the website category for the 2021 National Association of Government Communicators’ Blue Pencil & Gold Screen awards competition and the highest award (Platinum) in the category that recognizes social campaigns using multiple platforms for the 2022 AVA Digital Awards, sponsored and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP). In addition, the campaign has won prestigious awards for its digital products for youth and materials for youth-serving providers and parents/caregivers. For example, the youth-informed Healthy Relationships Challenge game won the American Public Health Association’s 2021 Public Health Education and Health Promotion section's materials contest for multimedia materials and the Toolkit for Engaging Parents and Caregivers in Optimal Health Programming won in the training materials category in the 2022 contest.