All things Millennial Newsletter 2 Q1, 2011by Steven Conway, Consumer StrategistAs a professional career focus of mine, I have taken on the monumental task of learning, studying, andunderstanding the generation known as the Millennials – born between 1978-1992. In an effort to pass onthis knowledge to you, I have created a newsletter called All Things Millennial. Each issue will be focusedon different topics that personally relate to or have been affected by my Generation. My goal for A.T.M. is for youto become better educated about this consumer segment and to share with others who might be interested in learningmore about this diverse generation.WHY DON’T YOU “LIKE” ME? HOW BRANDS CAN BECOME BETTER FRIENDS TOMILLENNIALS IN SOCIAL MEDIA:Over the past few years, social media and Millennials have become synonymous. Thisshould not be surprising, as the 18-32 year old age range represents our prime “socialanimal” years, the time when our fundamental human need to connect emotionally withother people is at its peak.For us, social media has become THE way to communicate and stay connected to other people, to make and maintaina network of friends, to share information, to entertain ourselves, and to bring us together around mutual interests.Social media also has become THE way for brands to try to capture a piece of our attention and tap into our significantbuying power ($200 billion at last count). However,as brands jump headlong on to the social mediabandwagon, many still lack the social skills necessaryto fit appropriately in our space. The fact that only 44%of Millennials have friended or followed a brand theylove on their social network (Edelman 8095 GlobalStudy) is compelling evidence that many brands stillhave much to learn about being friends with us andmaintaining these relationships over time.This issue of All Things Millennial lays out somebasic ways brands can develop to become more likea friend than a company voice through their socialmedia efforts.
TO BE A FRIEND IS TO UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF FRIENDSHIPThe notion of “friend” in the context of social media has come to encompass a broad spectrum of people, from closefriends, to friends of friends to friends-of-friends-of-friends who may have popped on for a variety of odd reasons toadditional categories that could best be described as “other.” For many Millennial Facebook users, the accumulationof friends has become a competition over “he/she who dies with the most friends wins”; as indicated by the 387average friends Millennials have on Facebook, twice the number of non-Millennial’s 178 average friends.Despite the blurring of the word “friend” in social media,I believe my generation has not lost sight of the originaldefinition of friend learned at an early age – “a person attachedto another by feelings of affection or personal regard.” Thisconcept of friend was practiced and reinforced throughoutchildhood through such experiences as play dates, schoolpals, being team members and lessons of sharing, to name afew. We also learned the real value of friendship through acode of conduct consistently demonstrated during childhood,which can be boiled down to five simple rules:Rule #1: Mutual understanding and respectRule #2: HonestyRule #3: Sharing of like-minded interestsRule #4: Relationship based on equal give and takeRule #5: TrustMILLENNIALS SOCIAL MEDIA BEHAVIORS PARALLEL THESE RULES OF FRIENDSHIP:Millennials’ behaviors in social media suggest we are well attuned to these rules of friendship, and seem to beapplying these same rules to our own social media behaviors. However, what makes these rules even more relevantis that we are applying them as a way to scale back on our social networking use.Quality vs. Quantity of Social Media Friends:Many social media behaviors parallel friendship rule #1 (mutual understanding and respect) and rule #4(relationship based on equal give and take), as Millenials’ have been scaling back on the number of friends wekeep AND “defriending” people – the process of removing a contact from your friend list. One survey reportsthat 81% of Millennials have defriended someone in their social network and on average have defriended 39people, compared to just 14 people for the non-Millennial group (Digital Generation is Un-friendly, jimbernard.net). As the survey author states: “Millennials are much more casual about both accepting and removing friends;we have developed a more sophisticated and efficient method of managing our social networks,” a behavior thatgets us back to our roots of what “real” friendships mean.
A Demand for Privacy:Millennials have also been applying Friendship Rule#5 (Trust) as they have been displaying more privacyconcerns about their personal online information as wellas showing an increased desire for control. Millennialsare more likely to monitor their privacy settings thanolder adults, as well as to delete comments or removetheir names from photos so they cannot be identified(Pew Internet Project, May 2010). This behavior is areaction to Facebook’s ever changing privacy policiesand Millennials desire for more control of their onlineidentities. This is largely due to Millennials’ suspicion that Facebook is lookingto monetize their community by making much of people’s profile informationpublic by default.Social Networking goes Niche:My recent discussion with Iconoculture’s Millennial strategist indicates our Generation is looking at socialmedia (Facebook in particular) in more pragmatic terms. They are now leading the charge around the question of utility of popular social networking sites and asking, “What’s the point?” and “What am I getting from this?” These questions are now leading to more considered usage around with whom and what Millennials want to connect with. The resulting trend is a small but growing move away from mass audience sites onto smaller, more niche networks; a behavior that parallels friendship rule #3 (having like-minded interests). Path.com is a social media network that allows Millennials to become more connected to their passions and limits users to only 50 friends. Calling itself a personal network, it is the antithesis of sites like Facebook and Myspace. Path.com emphasizes the ability to control who you share your personal moments with only your closest friends. CollegeOnly.com was built as a response to the unwieldy nature of sites like Facebook which many Millennials now perceive to be a social media haven for every parent, employer, and company out there. CollegeOnly.com launched in August 2010 as a social network that has gone back to Facebook’s original roots as a social network only for college students. Joindiaspora.com has also made a big splash in 2010 as the anti-Facebook networking site designed as a way to give individuals control over their online information including friends’ lists, messages, photos, and profile details, without 40% OF 18-TO-24-YEAR-OLDS NOW VISIT SOCIAL NETWORKS BASED ON PARTICULAR INTERESTS, SUCH AS TV, MUSIC OR MOVIES, ACCORDING TO AN AUGUST 2009 SURVEY BY MINDSHARE.
being subjected to changing privacy policies and sell–outs to third parties; a hot topic in social media and a bigconcern for my generation.So what does this all mean for brands and marketers looking to connect with Millennials through social media?Although brands have made strides in their social media efforts, why is it that only 40% of Millennials have “friended”a brand they love? Is it possible for brands to generate a higher acceptance of “friends”, “followers”, or “likes”?WHY BRANDS INITIALLY MAKE POOR FRIENDS: SURVEY RESPONSES FROM MILLENNIAL AGED ADULTSThe biggest mistakebrands make when it “Brands that show up on facebookcomes to social media often look like your parents whenis that they see the space they (unsuccessfully) try to actas another marketing cool. It feels like most brands are scamming you in some way whentactic or channel they they want to be your friend”have at their disposalto sell their productor see it as a way toshout their product/ “It depends on how (brands)brand message. These approach the connection. If theysocial media efforts are not the best way for brands to win “friends’ among are providing entertaining contentMillennials, as this group uses social media primarily to connect with (e.g. revitalizing Detroit documentaryother people, not brands. Regardless of what social media platform we from an urban boot company) instead of just trying to sell youuse (Facebook, youtube, blogs, or texting), we are there to interact and something or offer a discount I amengage with other people. This tends to be one of the biggest reasons why more likely to view it”brands fail when trying to attract fans, followers, or “likes”. It’s not thatbrands are unwelcome, it just seems like they don’t belong. To get a betterunderstanding of what my generation thought of brands trying to interactwith them in social media, I conducted a recent survey to understand their “There is a fine line betweenperceptions of brand friendships. The box to the right represents some wanting to hear from them andof the insightful comments I received from 18-34 year olds based off the enjoying their communication andquestion, “What do you think of brands that try to connect with you in spamming. If I receive too muchsocial media?” communication, I delete”Brands that try to sell us something or spam us with irrelevant content are anautomatic turnoff. Although marketers might have the right intentions, many of their efforts are falling on deaf ears. Towin with Millennials, brands that start behaving more like a “friend” and less like an intruder tend to find themselves ina better position to win with their social media efforts.
BRANDS THAT FOLLOW THE RULES OF FRIENDSHIPWITH MILLENNIALS:There is a lot of good advice from social media “experts” and companies that have given their two cents on howbrands can succeed with Millennials and social media. As a member of the Millennial generation and a prime targetof brands’ social media efforts, I believe brands must start acting more like a human being and levering these fivesimple rules of friendship in their own social media efforts.Friendship Rule #1: To Have Mutual Understanding and RespectListening is key to any friendship and is the primary way brands can show they understand and respect theirconsumers. In general, our generation just wants to be heard. We use a number of different channels just tohave a voice; we tweet, text, blog, IM, comment, and “like” things on Facebook because we want someone tolisten. When a company does respond, it says “we hear you loud and clear”; similar to how we interact withour friends.E.G. One brand that understands the power of listeninghas been Wheat Thins. The company recently beganmining Twitter and Facebook to find customers wholove its Wheat Thins crackers and gave a lucky few ofthem a surprise of their lives. One Wheat Thin Devoteewas Tabitha Hancock (@fox_girl313) who tweeted,“AAAHHH Im outta Wheat Thins…My life is officiallyover.” Wheat Thins tracked Tabitha down , and in a stylethat mirrors publishers clearing house, made sure shehad enough crackers to last her a very long time. WheatThins understood to be a good friend, they must listenfirst to have something to talk about. By doing so, theywere able to solve a “friend’s” problem and were ableto turn their social media stunt into a marketing campaign; the videos were used for TV ads and social/onlinemedia efforts that both entertained and effectively conveyed the brand’s “Crunch is Calling” message.Friendship Rule #2: HonestyOur closest friends typically are the people with whom we can be most open and honest. This same rule appliesto brands that are looking to connect with my generation. Two ways brands can build an honest relationship withMillennials in social media is to be transparent and authentic. Transparency translates to being as honest and openas you can. It means owning up to your mistakes, responding to unflattering comments and providing access to your
company’s culture. If your brand is hiding behind a wall of secrecy and non-disclosures, then how are we able to trustyou? Authenticity, while similar to transparency, focuses more specifically on being real and genuine. Social mediais a prime place brands can show the people behind the company, rather than a way to push marketing, PR or a brandagendas. Millennials want to converse and relate to human beings – an actual person that is helpful, interesting, funny,and genuinely interested in building a relationship with them, not a corporate entity.E.G. One Millennial-friendly companythat has been the poster child fortransparency and authenticity is Zappos.Tony Heish, Zappos CEO, uses Twitterto humanize the company and uses hispersonality to represent and bring thecompany to life; a personality that isfriendly, helpful, funny, and trustworthy.Tony also tweets simply because he wantsto. It never seems like you are listentingto the sales pitch of a CEO. In addition,the company urges all of its employees toblog and tweet on behalf of the company,allowing their employees to share thecustomer service interactions they undertake to provide Zappos’ legendary service. Very few, if any, other companieshave the courage to put all the tweets that mention the company right on its own site. Authenticity and transparencyare core values that guide how Zappos interacts as a company and are not seen as marketing tactics. A key reasonwhy Zappos has gotten the Millennial seal of approval.Friendship Rule #3: A relationship based on equal give and takeA mutually beneficial friendship is all about giving and receiving something of value. The same rules apply forbrands looking to win over “friends” in social media. However, Millennials typically won’t just “friend” or followa brand without reason. We are more likely to see our online information as currency and if we “like” your brand wewant something of equal or greater value in return. Research shows that the top reasons Millennials fan or follow abrand is related to content. This includes “liking” or “fanning” a brand to get news or product updates (67%), havingaccess to promotions (64%), or viewing/downloading music or video (41%), (The Participatory Marketing Network).Millennials are willing to give up their information to join brands that make it worth their while. Rewarding themwith incentives and offers just gives them another reason to find you and keep coming back for more.E.G. One brand that is getting it right in social media is Urban Outfitters. UO uses its social platforms forsharing various incentives with its loyal followers, which includes giving away 5 tracks from undiscovered/unsigned bands via its Twitter page for #musicmondays, using their Facebook page to offer fans discountson items, highlight merchandise and share tips on clothing care as well as using their UO blog to run theirsweepstakes initiatives.
Friendship Rule #4: Share Like-Minded InterestsOur generation wants to be friends with brands to which we have something in common. While offers and deals give usa reason to “like” or follow a brand, we also want to engage with brands that publish interesting and relevant content thatrelates to our lifestyle, interests, and needs. For brands that want to get their message noticed they must understand theyare also competing with all of our other friends’ comments and status updates. Thus, a brand’s content must be unique,interesting or have a viral quality to it – because when we find content that is relevant to us, we are more likely to engagewith it and share it with our friends.E.G Redbull has always been a brand that has understood youth culture and their presence on social media is nothing different. Their Facebook fan page contains extreme sporting events, parties, creative contests and fun games. They created the “procrastination station” on their Facebook games page, which features engaging and interactive options for procrastinators, including a soapbox car racing game, a rock, paper, scissors game, and ‘Drunkish Dials’ recordings – recordings of Red Bull drinkers who called the company’s toll free number, leaving ‘drunkish’ messages. Red Bull also created a web TV program that is highlighted on their Facebook page. There are multiple segments, many spotlighting the lives of their sponsored athletes. Overall, Red Bull has successfully been able to create a community of fans with like-minded interests who can engage with the brand on a deeper level. Friendship Rule #5: Trust Good friendships typically are built on a strong level of trust. Brands need to act in the same way if they want to retain theirfriends. One way brands can show trust is by collaborating and interacting with their Millennial fans or followers.Whether it’s helping craft a marketing message or helping the design of a new product, brands can achieve a higher levelof trust when they allow their fans to participate in a company’s marketing initiative and advocate for the brand.One Millennial friendly company that knows all about building trust andengagement with its customers is Levi’s. Currently in its third campaign,Levi’s is turning to its Facebook community to find the brand’s nextonline face and voice of their Levi’s Women’s wear a.k.a “Levi’s Girl.”The winner receives a six month paid position which involves reachingout and engaging with Levi’s fan base through the brand’s social mediachannels on a day-to-day basis, as well as working on Levi’s other socialmedia initiatives. To further engage Levi’s fans, the brand is tapping intoits Facebook community to help select the final candidates and winner.Overall, a smart campaign in which Levi’s built mutual trust among its community of fans and is certain to get a fewmore “likes” along the way.As social media has changed the way people communicate, interact, and engage with one another, brands must alsodo the same. They can no longer behave like they have in the past when it comes to connecting with Millennials inthese spaces. Once brands start acting more like a friend, start facilitating a relationship, and start treating us likewe are important– they undoubtedly will find a lot more “likes” as well as Millennial praise. To continue this conversation on the Millennial Generation or if you have any other questions on this cohort, please feel to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 630-693-1812.