Every marketer knows social media is important to Millennials, but few understand why.
Marketers are far too acquainted with the “whats” of Millennials and social media. They can rattle off stats such as three in four Millennials use Facebook at least weekly and the average Millennial belongs to two social networking sites and has 231 connections. The two terms have become are interdependent—social media marketing efforts aren’t successful without Millennials and Millennial marketing efforts aren’t successful without social media. But success in either area is dependent upon understanding the “whys” behind Gen Y and social media, not just the “whats.”
For brands, social media is all about engagement, a chance to forge connections with consumers. The dream is of course that deep engagement will lead to not only brand loyalty, but brand ambassadorship. To forge these kinds of alliances, brands need to understand why people share on social networking sites.
First and foremost, people of all generations use social media to stay connected with people. At face value, that doesn’t seem to help brands, but it serves as a reminder that social networks are an extension of consumers’ lives. Examining social media use through a generational lens further demonstrates that all-important point.
The second most common reason Millennials share on social networks is to show others what matters to them—the things going on in their lives. Two in five Millennials list it as one of the top three reasons they share on social networks, compared to one in four Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. While it’s easy to quickly slap a “narcissistic” label on that eagerness to share what matters to them, strategic marketers will consider what this fact implies.
Consider society when Boomers and Xers were at a similar age and life stage. At those times, the only real platforms they had to showcase the things they cared about—personally, politically or otherwise—were things like bumper stickers and t-shirts. Now, in addition to those “old-school” options, Millennials have social networks. When they are passionate about anything from a political stance to pictures of their family to LOL cats, they can use their mobile device and quickly tell their 231 closest friends all about it. In an instant. What drives a Millennial to share a viewpoint on Facebook is the same sort of thing that drove Boomers to wear “peace” t-shirts. They are simply telling the world what they think, in the method that makes the most sense to them.
Generational differences extend beyond how they share to what they hope to accomplish by doing so. Boomers expected to change the world to see their view. Xers didn’t care about much other flaunting their rebellion openly. Millennials want to start an all-inclusive conversation. Some of those conversations do lead to action and wind up impacting the very thing they care about (remember the SOPA and PIPA bills earlier this year?), but sometimes they are simply conversations. Millennials are ok with that. They see value in that.
This level of understanding is the linchpin for marketers devising a social and/or Millennial strategy. Brands can initiate conversations and spur social activity when they focus on creating opportunities for Millennials to show others what they care about. If they are yet to care about your brand specifically, what can you share related to your brand that might spark some interest? What your brand stands for is more likely to align with the things that matter to Millennials and thus prompt sharing across their broad networks.
First understanding, then exploiting this innate desire to share is the key for marketers to achieve success in social and Millennial-marketing efforts.