Creating an internal marketing agency run by high school students

A guest post from Jordon Rooney with tips on tapping into technology to unleash youth voice on social media.

I shouldn’t need to stress the importance – We all know it. Social media plays a huge role in society today, especially if you are looking to reach young people. However, the jury is still out on whether social media is good for us or not. If you asked me, though? I’d tell you, it’s not going away so let’s embrace it and use it for good.

About me

After starting my career traveling the US as a school speaker, I saw the benefits of social media and the negative effects it could have on young people. I realized that if I wanted my messages to be heard, I had to utilize social media, so I started to create videos specifically for the platform.

In 2017 I received 18 million organic video views, 260,000 shares, and I grew to 130,000 followers. I was incredibly focused on how to create consumable, shareable content focused around socially relevant issues.

Confronting Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville

Beyond running NFBD, I serve the role as digital marketing coordinator for Pond Lehocky, one of the largest law firms on the East Coast. I also work with around 15 other nonprofits, foundations and companies on their social media and content strategies. I’ve heard the critiques of the platforms. I understand where and why people are struggling.

Also, I’ve recently launched a video series focused on helping people work through their insecurities and vulnerabilities. In the last 3 years, I’ve created close to 200 videos specifically for social media.

If you have posted anything on social media in the past year, you know that organic reach has drastically decreased, which has made it difficult for others to see your posts.

Social Impact in the Digital Age

As well all know, most organizations and schools don’t have the resources for a marketing staff or even a dedicated marketing person. In most instances, the person that handles the marketing, has multiple other roles as well. I’ve had plenty of conversations with these individuals and they are frustrated.
With the social media algorithms changing, the rise of misinformation, on top of being spread too thin – How can an organization or school develop a proactive social media strategy? Notice how I said proactive? This is different than just posting something to check a box for the week. This is amplifying your mission to be heard and have an impact.

This past summer I started a program called VlogU (Thanks to Remake Learning and the Buhl Foundation), which is a social media marketing agency run by high school students. I believed that high school kids could be better social media marketers than a digital marketing agency.

The results were remarkable with the students improving over 40% – 60% in their ability to explain fake news, modern propaganda techniques, and how social media algorithms work.

A news story about Jordon Rooney's project. / via <a href="" target="_blank"> Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>

A news story about Jordon Rooney’s project. / via
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

So.. How can you create a proactive social media strategy on a tight budget, lack of personnel, and the rapidly changing platforms. Do you have students available to you? You know, digital natives, the ones that grew up with a phone in their hands? The ones that think in terms of memes and emojis?! If yes, then you have enough resources to create an internal marketing agency!

Here’s how you can create a marketing agency with high school students:

1. Know the importance and why social media matters.

Let me get this out of the way – Social media is not going anywhere. 80% of the United States uses at least one social media platform and that number is only going to continue to grow. This is how people communicate and how people are influenced now. Careers are made through this means of communication.

A graph showing the percent of U.S. adults who use at least one social media site

Percent of U.S. adults who use at least one social media site

Life shouldn’t be about likes and followers – I agree. I get told this all the time. However, this is a communication tool. This is a way to spread a positive message, inspire change, create a movement. The question I was always ask is “What’s a message without an audience?” The more people you reach, the more impact you have. Before you start building out your in-house agency, you have to acknowledge that this is not going away. So, why not embrace it?

2. Set the tone.

Build excitement and create appeal. It won’t be tough to get students eager to take part in this but it’s on you to set the tone from the beginning. Send out an email or hang up a flyer announcing you are starting an in-house agency and that you are looking for creatives, photographers, and big personalities to get exposure. This is exciting, don’t be afraid to promote that you’re helping them build their following or increase their likes. This isn’t a bad thing, bringing more attention to an art piece increases its price and a video with more views looks better on a resume. This is the same thing as writing a book that gets more sales or having a fundraiser that gets more people to attend. Exposure can be good. I always make sure to stress that our social media approach is impact driven. But, if it gets more exposure, it’s a bonus, but that’s not all that matters.

3. Recruit young people.

Ask yourself, who would be a good fit? who would excel in social media marketing? Look for those that seek attention: Creatives will be great for developing quality content and adding a unique personality. Writers can create stories that people will engage with. Analytics will be able to conduct data driven projects based off of previous research. You want students who are willing to invest in themselves and understand the value. Trust me that will make all the difference.

4. Draw the link to their future and what they like.

Social media is the future. Do you want a job where you work from your laptop or your phone? Do you want to never work for anyone? Do you want to work with major brands? If so, get social media experience now. Now more than ever you can create an income from your personality or interests. Food bloggers, makeup vloggers, meme sharers, and gamers are making a 6-figure income through building an online brand. Even if you don’t want to start your own career, remote work has grown by 140% since 2005. That is nearly 10x faster than the rest of the workforce or the self-employed. Learning these skills will give you the ability to work from wherever you want. According to Mondo demand for digital marketing professionals will rise by 38% this year.

5. Provide the resources.

Have the students do research on influencers they follow and who are similar to them. This way they can identify themes that are already being used on the social media platforms and how they can utilize them along with their unique personality.

Then, give them tasks to research on nonprofits and mission-focused organizations. It is the same as if you would provide a writing assignment. You can have them break down commercials and Youtube ads. You can get ideas from what other nonprofits are doing and see what is working for them.

Another great resource (I’m biased) is the The Social Media Playbook for Nonprofits I created.

The cover image of Social Media Playbook for Nonprofits by Jordon Rooney

Social Media Playbook for Nonprofits by Jordon Rooney

6. Develop brand guidelines.

What is the message you want your audience to see and hear?

Put together a focus group and discover your brand and what direction you want to go. Make sure everyone working on your content team is on the same page. Establish the brand mission, audience, voice, competitive analysis, and map out your follower’s journey. Who is your audience? What are they engaging with on social media already? Think about what is going to get your followers attention and how are you going to keep their attention. These guidelines will give you an idea of how your brand will be perceived in the eyes of your audience.

Some questions to ask:

  • What does our audience look like?
  • What type of content do they want to see?
  • How can we build a sense of community?
  • What is our brand personality?
  • How often do we post?
  • What time do we post?

7. Monthly content meetings.

Things to consider:

  • Is this socially relevant?
  • Does this provide a unique perspective, entertain, or evoke emotion?

The first word of social media is SOCIAL. Your posts need to be social-media friendly.
Brainstorm different topics for content. Promote conversation and collaboration within the group. Build off of each other’s ideas. Almost every time it won’t be the first idea that comes to mind that is the best one. Be aware of what events, holidays are coming up and what topics might be relevant for content. What is going to be your hook, story, and offer? What is going to call your followers to take action? Always ask these questions when establishing the purpose of your content. Lastly, create action items and a timeline of what steps you are going to take from the meeting.

8. Assign roles.

So how big can your team get? Who would be a good fit for what? This is a great opportunity to get multiple people and personalities involved!

Who is creative or loves watching movies? Great! You’re on our video production team.

Who has a big personality and loves acting? Congrats you will be in the videos!

Who loves to read or write? Awesome! You’ll help write scripts and develop copy.

Who is great at math and has an interest in numbers? Perfect, you can be our analytics team and keep track of our social media numbers.

9. Don’t post & guess.

Get others involved. Network and create collaboration. Work with other nonprofits who are also making an impact. Feature them and give them some exposure. Take a field trip to interview other organizations. This is a cool way to get your content featured by them as well.

Influencer marketing is one of the biggest ways to grow on social media at the moment. Youth can serve as your influencers! Develop a strategy where they are providing cross-platform promotion to bring their audiences to your message.

10. Keep the right perspective.

Remember, social isn’t about acceptance, it’s about amplifying impact. I always stress to my students that this isn’t a competition. You aren’t competing for likes and followers. You all can have the same 100 likes. Support each other and grow together. Keep harping on the impact. You aren’t seeking attention simply by using social media more. You are providing community, opportunity, a voice, and an impact.

Now that you know that structure – Here’s the education and strategy in my nonprofit playbook.

About the Author

Jordon Rooney is the Founder of NFBD & VlogU. He speaks and coaches on personal branding, social impact in the digital age, and social media marketing for nonprofits. You can reach him at or see more at

A portrait of Jordon Rooney

Jordon Rooney

See more about about VlogU:

Published April 09, 2019