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This grinds school can teach you a thing or two about connecting with teens

The Cork grinds school Essential French has placed a major focus on social with teens and it’s paying off.

Image: Darragh Kane

WHEN IT COMES to demographics, there are few that are harder to pin down than teenagers. Trends change quickly, new apps rise as quickly as they fall and what could be relevant now could be abandoned by them without warning.

If you want to keep up to date, you have to continue to change your approach and for Essential French, a language grind school based in Cork, that’s been the case.

Its founder Natasha Lynch started the school 20 years ago but when observing how her students were interacting with the web and later smartphones, she knew it was become an essential part of her work. And what better way to bring yourself up to speed with trends than to just talk to them.

“With the market I’m in, dealing with 15 and 16 years old, you have to be innovative, you can’t be behind… [you have to be] in trend with what they do,” she says. “I pull in students and talk to them about it and ask ‘Who has the most followers? Who’s the funniest? Who’s this?’ and sitting down over coffee”.

I’d talk to them, I’d Facebook them and they felt that they were very much part of something. Then it becomes more successful and the numbers are increasing and they feel part of that … it’s about involving the students.

Such an approach is brought across all of the social platforms it uses and take up the vast majority of Lynch’s time. While the school has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Snapchat – there are also private accounts for students on Facebook and Twitter where they get extra content – the latter two are the main focus since teens have migrated from the others at different points.

Creating memes, quick video lessons and other slice of life posts gives it a personal touch that both students and teachers respond to and for those outside the region to connect as well.

Yet popularity is fleeting and for Lynch, she doesn’t see Snapchat lasting with teens for much longer.

“Unfortunately, once something becomes popular, they’re gone,” says Lynch. “For social media, a generation is a year and a half, two years. They went to Facebook, then they went to Twitter and now what’s happened is they’ve now migrated between Snapchat and Instagram. All of them are on Snapchat and half of them are on Facebook and Instagram”.

I’d say for the next eight to ten months, twelve months max, Snapchat is going to be used … [before] another new thing comes around. There’s always a new thing.

DK26112015 EssentialFrench 015 Essential French founder Natasha Lynch. Source: Darragh Kane

Its first app, also called Essential French, was developed by Zone Digital and released on iOS and Android back in November as a way of reaching those areas outside of Munster. The app shares some similarities to apps like Duolingo in that they break down learning relevant phrases into small games.

But instead of just throwing it out on all its social channels, it focused its promotion on Snapchat instead. It was enough to get it ahead of other apps like Duolingo in the education section at the time and reviews have been positive. Yet while the app took a year to develop, the research behind it started five years ago.

“Because kids were so involved with social media, I knew technology would be the way forward,” explained Lynch. “I started researching it five years ago and seeing how it would fit in and how our content would fit best into an app”.

The same approach Lynch has to social media, regularly talking to teenagers and seeing how they use their phones and apps, was key to this. Developing it around them instead of just throwing the coursework onto an app or site was a trap she wanted to avoid.

“Because there are so many companies out there, not even with apps or any product, they just put a product together, then they test it [before finding out the market] … Instead of looking at social media companies, I’m just watching the kids.

For now, the school is working on releasing an Irish app. That has brought up its own challenges because of the many different dialects out there – Lynch says it’s taking its time with it since “you need to make sure it’s perfect, especially since teachers will be trialing it and promoting it” – but the main focus is the same: knowing where teens are and making sure they’re on their side.

Teenagers have a completely different spin on everything and the fact that they are rebellious by nature … you can’t sell on these platforms, you can’t sell to teenagers because they’ll cut you out so you have to do it in a very soft, gentle approach … win their respect and ask them questions.

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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