Social Media and Millennials

Many millennials are digital natives, which means that they grew up with access to digital communications technology, but they’re also social media natives, which means that they grew up or at some point during adolescence, they got their first social media account. So that exposure to social media really early in their lives had a direct effect on how millennials approach their social networks today. So, for example, they had to deal with this reality where suddenly things, social interactions that used to be invisible and subtle, they became very explicit and very public and permanent. So, you know, if you tell someone in person that you like their shirt, that’s a little bit different from, you know, liking something on Facebook. There’s a record of that. Now, they also had to deal with what youth researcher Danah Boyd calls context collapse.

The social context that used to be pretty well defined and clear became merged and collapsed in social networks through social media. When you post something online, it’s harder to predict who the audience is going to be, how they’re going to react to it. And it’s difficult to change your behavior or your persona to suit those different contexts. So in response to these challenges, millennials have developed strategies that they use in terms of how they use their social media networks and where they post content and who that content is. For now, this has some implications for us as U.S. professionals. We need to make sure that if we’re providing social media integration on our site, that we really clarify what’s going to happen when they click that Facebook button. Are you going to ask them to log in to Facebook? Where are you going to be able to see their information or are you going to try to post things on their walls? A lot of millennials are suspicious of those things because they really value the privacy that they’ve established on their different social networks. So if they’re not sure about how it’s going to work, they’re more likely to just copy the URL and share it that way. If you’re going to have a presence on social media, you need to focus on building a relationship with your followers.

Now, doing that involves not spamming them, obviously not filling up their feed with things that they’re not interested in, but also making sure that you offer some sort of value. So that could be a sale or it could be exclusive information that they couldn’t get from your website, something like maybe a notification about a upcoming product launch. And it could also be content that they find interesting. So offering some entertainment value is another option there. And then finally, one of the biggest things that I have to tell organizations is that they don’t have to have a social media presence in order to reach millennials. Now, that may sound counterintuitive, but for many millennials, social networks are a place for social interaction. So interaction with their family, their friends, their peers, their acquaintances, not interaction with companies, there are some exceptions to that, but generally that’s the case. So if you have a domain or a topic or subject matter, that just doesn’t really lend itself well to say, for instance, posting photos on Instagram, then maybe you don’t need to be on Instagram.

Having a bad social media presence is worse than having no social media presence at all. So just bear in mind that millennials will be able to find you if they’re interested in you, because they’ll go to Google, they’ll try to visit your website first. Also recognize that it is an option just to advertise through social networks rather than actually maintaining a presence for your organization.

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