Let’s get it out of the way. You need millennials. The generation born between 1980 and 1998 now makes up a larger chunk of the workforce than any other generation: There are more of them working than Gen Xers or boomers.
Even though many of these workers are now well into their 30s, we’re still treating them like a workplace novelty: Thousands of articles have been written about how to engage this generation, a cohort that happens to be, in many cases, drifting away from association membership.
There’s been so much frenzy about this audience, but much of it is surface level. Pundits throw around a lot of so-called solutions, which generally fall into a few categories: Make membership free, make content more engaging, and make everything digital.
The reality is, it’s not enough to make things cheaper, or digital or add a bunch of shiny graphics to the materials you produce. To understand how to speak to young professionals, you first have to separate fact from fiction and distill trends from material, meaningful shifts in how people communicate and seek out information.
The good news is that many of the strategies forward-thinking associations are adopting—being pointedly mission-based, de-emphasizing traditional membership—are inherently appealing to the younger generation. The key is not just to cultivate a value proposition that’s grounded in those ideas, but also to communicate it in a way that resonates with a tech-savvy, always-on, mission-driven population.
In true millennial style—the listicle—here are five steps to make your organization focused on millennials and future generations, without falling prey to passing trends.
1. Be digital first—but not digital only
When it comes to millennials, the channel you share content on is especially important. You have to be where they are: Millennials expect information to be convenient—and, unfortunately for you, the meaning of convenient varies from person to person.
One thing is consistent, however, for those accustomed to using a phone or tablet for just about everything: Convenient almost always means digital. If you’re tempted by the idea of going all digital, though, my view is that it’s usually a mistake. Some associations feel pressured to go 100 percent digital to stay current and try to simply drop their existing information into this space. The result? Uninspiring flipbooks that merely reprint magazine content, a barrage of self-serving Facebook messages, a multitude of uninspiring blog posts or email newsletters full of clichéd stock images.
When it comes to messaging, associations that throw themselves headlong into a digital-only approach can end up alienating both younger members who crave authenticity and older ones who are accustomed to print. Without a doubt, there’s still power in paper—maybe more than ever. Imagination’s research shows that a print magazine is routinely among the top three benefits that association members most value.
The precise content distribution mix varies from association to association, depending on who your audience is and what they need. No matter what, you need to cover a healthy mix of media with your specific niche or industry in mind. Experiment with upping your frequency and sharing information via social media (for example, Facebook Live broadcasts), print (magazines, newsletters, books), video (YouTube tutorials, videos embedded in your email newsletter) and audio (podcasts).
2. Don’t forget to be human
A bone-dry content style will not endear you to millennials, who are leery of corporate-speak in all its forms and have come of age with the much more casual speak of social media as their tone-setter. Loosen up the tone of your communications, but don’t go overboard and risk alienating members by suddenly ricocheting from a style reminiscent of a corporate news release to emoji-laden, acronym-riddled content (srsly!). Not to mention, millennials can see right through your inauthentic attempts at mimicking their style. [eye roll emoji]
Part of being human, too, goes back to not just the words you use, but also your behavior, especially in social spaces. Young professionals have been communicating in social media virtually their entire lives. They expect conversations, not one-way communication streams where content is being pushed at them by a faceless entity. You have to be there. You need to respond and be a part of the conversation. When you talk, be prepared to listen—and talk back. Have a staff member monitor social media and other platforms where you offer content, and respond to anyone who comments.
Using Google Analytics or similar tools to analyze where your website traffic is coming from will help your staff focus on the platforms your members use most, and free social media monitoring tools will allow them to stay on top of social media mentions so they can quickly respond.