If you believe most of what’s written about millennials, holding their attention for more than a blink is like trying to have a calm discussion with a ferret addicted to Red Bull. As with most stereotypes the myth is exaggerated out of reasonable proportion. And for any association to successfully execute content marketing for millennials, understanding must come first.
They’re the selfish generation, and the generation most likely to give. They’re only interested in going out on Friday nights, but they drink less, and are also very insular and enjoy pastimes like crocheting, baking, or crocheting baked goods onto vintage pillow slips. They would sacrifice themselves to Justin Bieber, but are also incredibly cynical about all things celebrity, and pay their endorsements absolutely no mind. Their only language is Twitter-speak – can they even wield a pen anymore? – but they are also outreading their elders by tomes.
Such is the cluster of contradictions surrounding millennials in a swirling, mysterious cloud. No wonder associations have difficulty engaging this group.
More than 35% of associations report that they’re in dire straits to reinvigorate disengaged members, many of whom are feeling their investment is not serving them as it should. On the other hand, association board buy-in can be an uphill battle, with a deep-set wariness over innovation – particularly if they believe a shift could jeopardise existing (read: gen X and boomer) member support.
But it’s the choice between being overcautious and stagnant rather than enterprising and up-to-date. What’s more, it’s an issue of sustainability. Though millennials fall outside associations’ current core membership (those gen X and baby boomers again), last year they oustripped the boomers to become the largest generation right now. This makes them the largest, most connected generation group in history. To ensure your association is fighting fit in years ahead, recruiting and retaining millennials is a must.
Step 1: Understand what the term ‘millennial’ means
Making assumptions about your audience is one of the worst content marketing mistakes you can commit. This applies to content marketing for millennials as well.
First off, it’s imperative to understand that millennials aren’t a homogenous bloc. While the dominant stereotype has them as peppy teens, they actually span an age range of 16-35. That means you could be addressing high-schoolers working late shifts at Hungry Jack’s, or men and women well-settled in their career trajectory, hoping to give back to the community in some meaningful way.
Even if this age span were less broad, millennials would still comprise a group of incredibly diverse interests, preferences, backgrounds and lifestyles. Appreciate the richness of the category, and get acquainted with it. Ask them: what do they want to achieve? What are their hopes and goals? Their challenges and pain-points? What do they value? Where are they at in their journey, and how can we shape content that answers their needs?
Step 2: Listen
When they answer these questions, listen. This can be in the form of membership surveys, or in-person at forums, university presentations and events. ‘Social listening’ is a means by which you register and respond to users through social media channels (ie the stomping grounds of the millennial tribe) using platform-appropriate tools. They also expect quicker responses; so it’s in your interests to make real-time interactions (or near to it) a reality.
Step 3: Bait millennials with millennials
To break out of the ‘fusty’ label, associations have a mandate to evolve. This means understanding the language, frequency and platforms millennials are familiar with. Yes, bridging this evolutionary step can be tough, but there’s a hack: if possible, have someone in the communication strategy who is in that age group. They’ll have grown up in a similar communications milieu, and probably have a more intuitive, nuanced understanding of the millennial profile. Whoever’s leading the approach however, your rule of thumb should be to never condescend.
Step 4: Reach them in their natural habitat
Okay, we told a lie: there is one assumption you can make about millennials – they’re utterly at home in a digital environment. Internet savvy, with deep, socially accepted attachments to their plethora of devices, they are increasingly choosing smartphones to consume content of all kinds (but video and image especially). As a basic then, ensure that your content is dynamic across devices. Secondly, go to their preferred platforms and serve content that they have shown they engage with most.
Step 5: Tell authentic stories
This last pointer may well be the most important of all. No one should take the internet’s strange worship of stock photo Harold as a sign that stock photography is #trending.
Most people alive in the 21st century are wising up to phoniness, but an audience as media savvy as millennials is going to be able to spot inauthenticity far quicker than the rest. Rather than giving yourself another tired pat on the back in describing another “hugely successful forum” for instance, how about getting some of the speakers to participate in a short Q&A video series? Perhaps you could offer opportunities for the millennials you already have on board to interview the individuals themselves, or help with filming, editing and promoting the series online. Far from lazy, millennials are ambitious, and crave opportunities for career leadership and development. These things your association can provide.
*Disclaimer: The author of this piece is, in fact, one of them.