Communicating on a Separate Plane

Nick Light
Nick Light

There has been a spate of recent news articles focusing on millennials’ growing buying power and how their purchasing patterns differ from those of previous generations. Apparently, millennials aren’t buying houses and aren’t willing to pay for TV, but do buy craft beer. At least we’re not watching TV and drinking pedestrian beers in our rented apartments, right? As brands and companies look to tap into this growing buying power, PR and marketing professionals have an opportunity to lead the charge. For better or worse, they stand on the front lines when it comes to crafting messages that will resonate with millennials and get them to consider a purchase.

Many generalizations and blanket statements have been foisted on millennials, some of which are true, many of which are not. Like most people, we’re interesting, boring, diverse, entitled, humble and rational.

But one way in which millennials definitely differ from previous generations is our use of social media. There simply was no Facebook equivalent when the baby boomers were growing up.

So, when the dust of generalizations settles, we’re left with a world where millennials have increasing purchasing clout, and are buying all their stuff through social media. That means that, with a strategic approach to social media management, PR professionals have a great opportunity to cultivate and grow millennials as customers. So what’s the best approach?

Convince me. In the sense that many millennials use social media to communicate—and buy into its culture of written or unwritten rules—reaching millennials may be easier than reaching other demographics.

Never before has a generation nearly unanimously told companies to communicate with them through specific media channels.

When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Mr. Villa, gave us a brief lesson on customer service. He told us about a mix-up with Nike in which the sneaker company had essentially shipped him a defective shoe.

Mr. Villa guided us through the proper response to such a situation: Open a word processing program on your PC, type a thoughtful letter explaining the situation to the Nike customer service department, print it out and mail it in an envelope to Nike headquarters in Oregon.

At that point, if a company wanted to look like it was doing the right thing you would receive a reply letter with the resolution, which is what happened to Mr. Villa and my fifth-grade class.

Social media expedites that process, of course, as consumers and company representatives now speak to each other through a predetermined platform such as Facebook or Twitter.

The topic of conversation could be a customer service issue, or commenting on certain products or services.

To some non-millennials, these statements may seem tedious; who cares if you enjoyed your yogurt this morning?

But more important than the words are the intentions behind them. If a millennial tells a yogurt brand via social media that she enjoyed a new flavor, she’s reaching out to you, eager to spark a conversation.

Authenticity is key. I recently began working with an inspiring company called STRIVR, a new social app that connects people willing to lend a hand with people in need of a little help, from tutoring to getting a ride somewhere to carrying groceries.

The CEO and founder is a millennial who noticed that millennials are usually willing to lend a hand. And, perhaps more important, if they say they’re willing to help out, they mean it.

This is another reason why some non-millennials see some social media interactions as trivial.

For a brand to engage in a public, pseudo-improvised conversation with its audiences—instead of pushing out a one-way, buttoned up message—may seem like a bad idea. However, when executed well, this approach can resonate strongly with millennials.

For example, there is significant value in answering a question, “I’m not entirely sure about that. Let me get back to you soon.” The caveat is that you or your social media manager must follow up with these kinds of inquiries.

Because social media responses are public, other users may be waiting for the answer to particular questions, and will surely see your responses (or lack thereof).

Communicating with this level of authenticity and transparency sometimes takes a cultural shift, but when it comes to reaching millennials, the shift can be a valuable one, too.

Social media measurement. If your brand’s social media manager is a millennial, you already have a leg up. If not, don’t fear. Understanding the social media landscape in which your brand exists is half the battle when it comes to reaching millennials’ hearts and wallets.

Even if your initial social media strategy isn’t reaching millennials (and it will be clear based on interaction with your brand’s social media platforms), measurement allows you to adjust your strategy on the fly.

Facebook, Twitter and many of the most common social media platforms have analytics tools built into them to help you track likes, comments, favorites, retweets (RTs), reposts and shares.

Experiment with posting content at different times of days and analyze what posts resonate with your millennial audiences.

If the built-in analytics/measurement features of these social media platforms leave you wanting deeper analysis, there are a number of tools available for purchase.

Regardless of your approach, social media measurement provides an instant feedback loop to help you craft relevant social media content in real time. Now there’s no excuse not to connect with millennials.

Sidebar: Confessions from ‘Older’ Millennials

In this hypercompetitive world there’s another, more capable group of PR super-employees now hitting the entry-level job market. They’re called younger millennials, and they’re hungry to manage your social media accounts. Here are two confessions of millennials outdone by the younger part of their own demographic.

We only manage one item at a time. When social media was in its infancy, millennials who are now in charge were getting ready to graduate or had just started college. We learned how to “like” posts, tweet at other users and tag our friends in late-night photos. We became experts at each individual platform. However, younger millennials had social media and proto-smartphones in their infancy. They grew up managing multiple social media platforms simultaneously. If you recognize one of these younger millennials, empower them to take on more responsibility when it comes to managing your social channels.

We separate work life and home life (mostly). Among many of my peers, who are older, established millennials, there comes a time at night when the phone gets clicked off and the laptop gets tucked away. This window of unplugged time may be brief, but, in my experience, it’s longer than those of younger millennials. Because online work and home lives are becoming increasingly blurred, younger millennials’ email responses come faster, the relevant articles are noticed sooner and the meaning of “end of day” has been expanded. Work with your younger millennials to ensure that those late-night responses and social media drafts are strategic and buttoned up. N.L.


Nick Light is a senior account executive at Peppercomm, where he focuses on strategic planning, social media management, media relations and measurement. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @NNLightNN.

This article originally appeared in the September 22, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.