“OK Boomer?” If you have been following Twitter over the past month or so, you’ll be aware that social media believes intergenerational differences remain as marked as ever. For example, Millennials mock Boomers for their nostalgia and typos; and Boomers assume Millennials are easily offended and self-obsessed. Despite the storm in a tea-cup feel to it, many publications - FT, HBR, TED - are sharing serious research into the disparate group we call ‘Millennials’.
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
Who are Millennials? The term "Millennials" generally refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and 1990s, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. They are a group with growing influence, from a UK perspective. In 2015 there were around 8.82 million people aged 25-34, which is 13.6% of the population.
In this post, I want to focus on generational similarities rather than differences. In my research it seems technology has been the instrument of change. A large section of the workforce is familiar with technology, and using it in new and interesting ways. This has implications on their information expectations...
Why are Millennials so important?
Every generation thinks they are something different when in truth, ‘all successive generations resemble each other in their laments, as in their triumphs’. People may remain the same; however the past 25 years have seen unprecedented technological change. There is a reason why experts are calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution:
As in the previous industrial revolutions, the impact of these changes has the potential to ripple across industries, businesses and communities, affecting not just how we work, but also how we live and relate to one another. [my emphasis] … Amid shifting demographics and unprecedented global connectivity—not just technological, but also social and economic—Industry 4.0 can herald greater opportunities than any that came before it. (Deloitte Insights, The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here—are you ready? p.2)
As we have seen recently, there will be misunderstandings between people but this more due to ignorance and preconceptions. We need to break these down, and foster relationships. Therefore more than ever we need diversity in the workplace because a business always needs people with a broad range of experience - and talent - to succeed.
Seismic economic events always seem to adversely impact the younger generation the most. One report confirmed, “youth is a crucial period when people gain independence and, therefore, tend to be more vulnerable to external events and the situation in the labour market in particular.”
Although statistics show that the 2007/08 crash hit young people hard, resulting in poor job prospects and an explosion in student debt, we can see they are a large part of the modern workforce. They have higher employment rates than both previous generations at the same age and this is why they are so important.
Millennials and the changing role of technology
Internet, social media, instant personalised information… the majority of Millennials have grown up immersed in technology, which has given rise to the idea of the ‘digital native’. One article describes a digital native as,
...someone who was raised in a digital, media-saturated world. The term is often used synonymously with ‘Millennial’, though not all digital natives are Millennials — for example, the members of the newest generation, Gen Z, are also digital natives. Plus, not all Millennials are digital natives — there are many members who had limited access to communications technology while growing up, for example, those raised in poverty.
Reliable and speedy internet has a significant side-effect on us all: we have become more impatient with technology. This has many implications, not least psychological. In a previous post, I stressed the importance and growth of video for business and information purposes but if your impatient audience is kept waiting for more than a few seconds, you will lose them.
Millennials use social media not just to connect with friends, but also to consume and share news. I discuss email below, but online social networks are key. Social media - with all its flaws - has amplified the effects of word of mouth, with millennials trusting the opinions of their network above all.
And finally, as we head towards 2020, we have reached peak digital customisable self-service. Most people want to access the information they want, when they need it. They don’t want to be dictated to, but receive personalised and proactive responses. Customers willingly provide a wealth of data in their interactions, and they expect companies to use it in the right way.
These points explain why it is vital for information professionals to ensure they know how to reach an increasingly tech-savvy workforce. You are already aware of the demands your end-users are making and how information consumption has changed. If you haven’t already taken this into consideration in your service planning, now is the time!
An email newsletter isn’t simply an electronic communication
In this brave new technological world, surprisingly email is not yet dead. It has been the default method of communication in the business world for years and ‘despite the growth and prominence of mobile messengers and chat apps, email has remained a central part of daily digital life...in fact in 2023, the number of global email users is set to grow to 4.4 billion users, up from 3.8 billion in 2018’.
This doesn’t mean that Millennials - or anyone else - enjoy reading hundreds of emails a day.
There is a danger that sending generic, non targeted emails will simply go unread and leave your audience disengaged. Current awareness services must find new ways to engage with clients, and adapt to their specific needs and behaviour. This might include:
- Moving from a ‘push’ model, and allowing end-users to ‘pull’ relevant information into a space convenient to them.
- Providing a simple user experience whilst giving end-users full control over curated, relevant and yet unrestricted content.
- Millennials enjoy sharing content which is a great way of driving engagement through recommendations, likes and reposting.
It’s more important to think of emails as a way to start a conversation. Millennials - and others - will appreciate not being bombarded with messages. They will enjoy being able to share interesting links on social media, and being able to do everything from a mobile device.
It is hard work but if it is done right you are connecting with people in a more meaningful way. An email newsletter isn’t simply an electronic communication. It’s a chance to deepen your and your firm’s connection with your network on a personal level. Use that opportunity to its fullest and reveal the people behind your ‘must-read’ message.
What do you think? Has social media been the cause of generational polarisation? And what is the future of organisational current awareness delivery as we head into the next decade?