Posted At: December 10, 2013 8:30 a.m.
by Lexi Holdbrooks & Benjie Ladrillono.
But are these perceptions accurate? Who are the real millennials, and how can we be reached?
Born between the years 1980 and 1999, millennials have been surrounded by technology for most of their lives. It’s a generation that has lived through 9/11 and the economic recession. Therefore, we are more wary and critical of the world around them. However, we have also lived through the boom of social media, which allows us to always stay engaged with the global community.
Many believe that millennials, also known as Generation Y, are slackers and conceited; however, according to Pew Research, our generation is on track to become one of the most educated generations in American history. Only 37 percent of the generation does not have plans to attend college, while only half of Generation X has received or plans to receive a college education.
Another misconception about millennials is that this generation does not know how to communicate and that we care too much about ourselves. Keith Burton, partner at Brunswick Group who leads the firm’s global Employee Engagement specialty, explained this misperception.
“People wonder if there is a lack of interest,” Burton said. “In fact, it is just that this group is always on and always engaging — not necessarily with other people, but in other ways.”
Burton believes that it’s not that millennials only care about themselves; it’s merely a shift in communication. For instance, the art of writing letters is no longer common. Instead, members of Generation X use emails to communicate, while millennials typically interact with each other via texting.
“My son doesn’t like talking on the phone, but he will text me back immediately,” Burton said. “It’s not that he is rude; it is simply his preference in communication.”
So how does one communicate effectively with millennials in the work environment?
Working with millennials
Baby boomers and other generations have to face the challenges of working with such a tech-savvy generation now swarming into the job market. Unlike generations before them, Generation Y grew up with modern-day technologies like the Internet, social media and smartphones.
Burton described this generation as very smart but also very reliant on technology. Our reliance on technology is not necessarily a negative trait but a positive asset we can bring to the workforce. Millennials are natural pros at social media and become reverse mentors with elder generations.
Burton explains that senior leaders must understand reversing the model and allow millennials to help them learn how the world has changed.
“Millennials have such a command and dexterity with technology that some other generations feel like they are being left behind,” Burton said. “They help people like me understand technology to build a community to facilitate effective communication.”
The best way to teach millennials is by letting us conduct research and learn ourselves. Burton stated that in his experience, millennials go through an experiential learning process and have a willingness to make change. Generation Y also has a strong sense of social responsibility and a strong belief in our role to make communities better.
When working with millennials, it is important to understand the power behind our second-nature knowledge of technology and our global, expansive minds.
Commonly known as a generation that is not trusting of brands because of the economic recession, Generation Y is thought to not care at all about consumer products and at the same time care too much.
Adrienne Sheares, the social PR manager at Vocus, spent many of her working years at a nonprofit policy association that specifically targeted millennials. Here, she learned firsthand knowledge about typical stereotypes and the realities behind this generation.
Sheares explained that the most effective way to target millennials is through nostalgia.
“I believe you need to build trust with millennials,” Sheares said. “We are not tied to a particular brand because of the recession. We like going back to our childhood and remembering the good old days.”
Unlike other generations, who identify with certain brands, millennials are not easy targets to reach. Sheares recommended using social media as a way to engage in a conversation with this audience. It is important to not only make an impression, but to create a conversation that will stem into old-fashioned word of mouth marketing.
Yelp and Google are two tools that millennials seem to trust. Hesitant to part with our dollars, millennials use these type of sites to check out word of mouth marketing and research product reviews.
“There are very few things that I go to buy that I won’t go onto Yelp and make sure it has good reviews,” Sheares said.
When it comes to social media, Sheares recommended being subtle and relying heavily on conversational engagement. Social media tactics vary depending on which specific millennial audience you are trying to reach.
Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Snapchat are all great ways to reach the younger millennial generation. Sheares has learned that Facebook is most popular among the older millennial generation and dissuades using this tactic to reach those in college because it is a more personal form of social media. Twitter is Sheares’ favorite marketing tool because it engages those in conversation and builds a personal relationship between the consumer and the brand.
The future of the industry
All in all, millennials are the future. When asked his outlook on the public relations industry in the years to come, Burton said that he felt good about having such an innovative and caring generation taking the reins.
“I always tell the men and women of this generation that they are the future,” Burton said. “The way they learn, build community, and redefine problems and solutions are the reasons why this generation will thrive.”
Burton believes that with a new wave of millennials entering the field, the PR industry will change — not in a bad way, but in the sense that the work will be focused on the importance of people and community.
“Millennials will be able to focus on the human quality of marketing,” said Burton. “In public relations, this generation will lead the movement to have a more human quality in businesses. It will redefine the work from the past.”
So for everyone out there doubting our generation, it’s okay. We love the challenge. We will make the world a better place.