Who are millennials, and what makes them different than previous generations?
Since this age group first emerged as consumers, companies began devoting enormous amounts of time and money into the search for definitive answers to those questions. Such an investment is not without its value, a Goldman Sachs infographic supports, as the millennial generation, which consists roughly of people born between 1980 and 2000, is the largest in U.S. history. Though varied, the answers found throughout the course of this research have certainly proven beneficial for advertising purposes, but what do the generalized behaviors of the millennial generation mean to organizations who are not attempting to sell a product, but rather to persuade these young people to feel a certain way? Just as advertising agencies must adjust their strategies in order to better reach this target audience, public relations specialists must also understand the best ways to communicate with millennials.
How They Think:
The first thing to understand about millennials is how they view themselves and the world around them. To view the thoughts, values and beliefs of young people on an individual basis, one would most likely look to social media sites such as Twitter. However, as anyone who has researched a certain demographic has experienced, it becomes much more difficult to pinpoint common values of a group of people on a large scale. When patterns do present themselves, it is very important to recognize them.
A common attitude amongst millennials has proven to be an overall skepticism of the American political, judicial and economical systems. Data gathered by Karen Foster from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley University provides a discussion on millennials’ views from such a standpoint. While voices in the media often depict this generation as apathetic, Foster’s data argues that they are actually just “disenchanted” by the United States systems and policies. They have witnessed, via the tribulation of their parents and grandparents, that throwing yourself into a job doesn’t always mean you can rely on keeping it and that just because you place your vote doesn’t mean the elected official is going to make the changes you desire.
That is not to say millennials do not have beliefs that directly correlate to certain political or social issues, in fact, as we saw with the Bernie Sanders ‘revolution’ this past year, there is a wild desire for change when prompted by the right voice (which somehow ended up being an elderly man from Brooklyn). In comparison to their predecessors, says Foster, millennials “self-identify” as being more tolerant of “different opinions, sexualities, ethnicities and cultures,” a notion that could eventually lead to wave of change amongst the societal norms that have been in place for decades, if millennials so choose to voice these views.
How They Take in Information:
Naturally, if you want to get a message across to any group of people, you’re going to need a basic understanding of how they learn and absorb information. The first step in doing so is choosing the right medium for communication. “Managing for Dummies” author Peter Economy advises that for millennials it is best to address them where they “already spend the most time–on their mobile devices.”
As far as the format and content of your messaging, Economy and Jayson DeMers of Forbes magazine agree that whatever you are trying to convey you should do so quickly. As DeMers writes, millennials are accustomed to having devices with answers to almost any question at their fingertips. As a professor once said to me, “[the millennial generation] has no excuse for not knowing something.” This means that you must hit them “with fast, thorough information” in order to get their attention, DeMers concludes. The pace of your message isn’t just about the way you present content either – millennials are more likely to use a site or application that loads “quickly and easily” on their devices.
How They Work:
Amongst other unique qualities, millennials have a different approach when it comes to the work force. With the entrance of this generation into all fields, innovation in the way businesses are managed is a must. Dixie Gillaspie, a contributor for Entrepreneur magazine, writes that millennials are responsible for changing the way businesses operate, in part because they value “life over work-life balance.” Millennials tend to be passionate about enriching their lives rather than heightening their position on a corporate ladder.
This dedication to a fulfilled life, writes Dian Schaffhauser for Campus Technology, means that young people have placed a “premium on their time,” and prefer not to hold face-to-face meetings unless they are absolutely necessary. I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of staying at home in your pajamas for work? They like to work in the “most efficient way possible,” rather than committing themselves to sit at a desk for set number of hours each week, a notion that is a step away form Generation X’s stress on the work-life balance and goes so far as to directly oppose the strictly ‘loyal’ work ethic of Baby Boomers. As Gillaspie puts it, it is a generation that “believes in efficiency… for maximum impact.” Forbes magazine’s Kate Taylor cites data in her article “Why Millennials Are Ending The 9 To 5” that says nearly half of young people prefer flexibility at their job over a larger paycheck. Again, they would rather have less time in the office and more time spent experiencing the world outside of it.
Millennials are not afraid to leave a position that does not value such preferences either – the desire for flexibility has lead to an increase in freelancing and self-employment, with “60% of millennials leaving their job in under three years,” in search for opportunities that better suit their needs as employees.
What This Means to the Communications Field:
In summary, millennials:
- Are skeptical of the United States economic and political systems
- Identify as tolerant of differing opinions, cultures, ethnicities and sexualities
- Communicate via mobile devices
- Favor fast-paced messaging
- Value a life of experiences over careers
But what do all these things mean to public relations professionals?
Taken together, we can deduce that millennials are selective – their computer-based skills allow them to use the internet as a tool for shopping around. This means if you’re selling a product, it better be the best out there – at least according to reviews written by millennial peers – and the same goes for representing an organization. You better prove that your client is the best at what they do, that they do it with integrity and that they believe in social responsibility.
Additionally, you’ve got a very short amount of time to get that message across. Millennials are -unsurprisingly – busy. With society’s push towards requiring a college education for entry level jobs, they have been tasked with balancing university workloads with paying positions, while also pursuing the type of fulfilled life that they can be proud of. They have also been raised in an era where the incessantly staccato messages of social media and the internet rule, which means they’re accustomed to getting their information quickly.
Designing a communications plan around these stipulations may seem daunting, but once you’re armed with a basic understanding of the way millennials think, learn and work, effective communications strategies are not far behind.