The millennial generation is one of the largest in history, and the largest segment of the U.S. population today. There are 77 million people between the ages of 18 and 34, which is 3 million more than the 74.9 million boomers and three times as many people who belong to Gen X.
By the sheer force of their numbers, millennials are reshaping society and demanding that businesses pay attention to them. And so, a lot of companies are grappling with the best ways to communicate with them.
Before we get into some observations and tips, it’s important to point out that the individual members of any generational group never think or behave in the exact same way, and that it’s always best to understand your specific customers and engage with them based on what they need and how it relates to what you offer or why they should be doing business with you.
That said, let’s take a look at some statistical information about millennials that you should keep in mind as you think of the best ways to communicate with them.
- Millennials are the best-educated group of young adults in U.S. history, with one-third of older millennials (ages 26-34) having earned at least a four-year college degree.1
- Millennials are the last generation born in the 20th century.2
- Millennials love their devices. They own, on average, 7.7 connected devices and use 3.3 each day.3
- Sixty-three percent of millennials stay updated on brands through social networks.4
- Despite the dominance of smartphones, computers remain an important purchase device for millennials. Nearly one in three (32 percent) use computers to make purchases at least weekly.5
- Fifty-five percent have posted a selfie to social media sites versus 20 percent of Generation X. 2
- They send a median of 50 texts a day.2
- As of 2012, only 19 percent of millennials said that, generally, others can be trusted. 2
As communications professionals, how should our companies/brands talk to them
While this is a very tech-savvy group, it’s also one that values authenticity. They’re a generation that buys from people, not corporations; and thus, it’s crucial that we speak to them in a way that feeds their need for social connection and uses a true voice.
How do we do that?
Earn your spot in their world. Millennials have learned to use technology to filter out what doesn’t serve their interests, and they control the terms of which brands they let into their worlds and which brands to exclude. If you want to capture the attention and (if you’re really good) the loyalty of a millennial, it’s best to communicate to them how your company, or the products you sell, improve their lives in some small way. If your communications are all about you and how great you are, you’re probably going to run into resistance.
Be genuine. Millennials can sniff out when companies are trying to be something they’re not. If it’s not in your company’s nature to be a certain way, don’t put on airs in an attempt to become more popular or more relevant with millennials. Because it will backfire.
Here’s an example. Say you’re a manufacturing company that makes top-of-the-line suspension performance parts. A great idea for your social feed might be to have your engineers talk about the finer points of how to improve a car’s handling. A terrible idea is to say, hey, Super Bowl commercials are hot and everyone’s paying attention to them, so let’s do a post where we rank our favorite Super Bowl ads. It’s off brand. And the people who would naturally care about you will wonder what you’re doing.
A real-life example is Denny’s. Yes, the same Denny’s that opened in 1953 and has offered the famous Grand Slam breakfast ever since. They’ve developed a personality that’s real, irreverent and occasionally provocative. When you visit any of their social feeds, you get the sense you’re talking with people who have been empowered to speak in an authentic voice, not one that has been edited by a circus. And it works for them. Because they know their audience, and they know themselves. But what works for them might not work for a hospital system, for instance. Know your audience, and know yourself.
Be responsive. Millennials expect companies to answer their questions and resolve their problems – quickly. If you don’t get back to them in a hurry, or hit them with some corporate speak when they run into a problem or service issue, you may have a problem. If you aim to protect yourself at all costs, or are evasive, you’re not only going to lose them, but they may also go out of their way to roast you on your social and digital properties and their own.
Understand and produce the kind of content millennials favor. More and more, with each passing day, the social platforms millennials have fallen in love with, and spend so much of their day on, are forcing companies to pay to reach their audiences. If you’re a company, it’s estimated that about one to 10 percent of your Facebook followers see what you post on your feed because Facebook’s algorithms are making decisions about which posts your followers will be interested in seeing from you, based on what they know about their preferences.
So, today, if you want a large and active following on any of the platforms, chances are you’re going to have to sponsor some of your content or pay for ads. That said, no matter if you’re paying to reach your audience, or reaching them through your organic posts, it helps to know, in general, the kinds of content that tend to perform better with millennials.
- 60 percent of millennials said they would share content if it’s thought-provoking and intelligent.
- 70 percent said they’ll share if it’s funny.
- Adding a human element makes content more engaging – selfies and pictures with faces get 38 percent more likes and 32 percent more comments.
- And if you’re going to share, start with Instagram. It has the largest millennial audience of any social platform, with 58 times more brand engagement than Facebook and 120 times more than Twitter.6
What does it mean to me?
As a communications professional targeting millennials, remember to speak authentically and use social platforms as a primary means of communication. Add humor and thought-provoking ideas to make the content more shareable. And don’t be afraid. Remember – millennials love the people factor. If anything, untie your tie, kick off your heels and let your true, authentic voice shine.
1) Pew Research Center
3) Adobe Digital Index
4) Sprout Social