Venturing Where Marketers Aren’t (Usually) Welcome

Social media is perhaps the most mysterious tool in marketers’ kits. Yet, social remains the driving force behind the Web’s most viral events, making it exceptionally attractive to marketers. Passionate debates on everything from sports and celebrities to political issues to brands have gone viral on social networks. Beyond its role of virality catalyst, social is the digital home of millennials consumers.

“Millennials, while careful of how they spend their time, exhibit a higher usage across all social media channels than other generations,” says Joe Gizzi, strategy director at the agency Meredith Xcelerated Marketing (MXM). “It’s more about building emotional experiences through sharing [for them]. They’re extremely skeptical of being advertised to.” Therein lies the issue. While millennials are present and active on these channels, they may react negatively to marketing there.

One reason: 84% of millennials sometimes feel overwhelmed by social media, according to a recent study conducted by marketing consulting company MBG Enhance. This isn’t necessarily because of marketing. Millennials are simply inundated by all types of content on social channels, from brands and friends alike. These consumers are struggling to find balance in their lives, according to the study. There are four steps marketers can take that will make them more welcome in the millennial’s online environs.

Respect millennials’ feeling of being overwhelmed

Millennials are extremely active on social channels. Indeed, if not for millennials’ ardent adoption of social media for communication, many marketers would have scant reason to invest in these networks. Staying current on social networks is important to this demographic, but it also contributes to feelings of burnout or stress. Marketers should respect this, and be conscientious when using social networks to interact with millennials.“It’s important to understand that there’s validity in that feeling of being overwhelmed, but we have to consider these how important these platforms are to millennials’ lives,” says Liz Aviles, VP of market intelligence at marketing agency Upshot. “If we see that millennials are looking for balance, the need is to be much smarter about your presence on social media platforms. Tailor content, [content] frequency, and messaging to the role those platforms play for millennials.”

Adjust to the changing digital tide

“Because of [millennials’] overall aversion to advertising, they are fast adopters of dark social and more ephemeral media, including messaging platforms like Snapchat and WhatsApp, MXM’s Gizzi explains. “You can see this illustrated at any concert venue across the country. Photos are being snapped not shared.”

Dark social has always been an enigmatic force, and as millennials venture deeper into its recesses, the blind spot it creates for marketers grows larger. Without insight into what millennials are sharing, marketers may consider reducing their efforts on social channels. But that may not be necessary. “Marketers shouldn’t scale back their social media strategies; quite the opposite,” Gizzi says. “It’s the social context and referral from friends that makes content more relevant to millennials. They no longer get lost in search; social is their curation platform.”

Follow social media etiquette and be relevant

“Social is a powerful conduit for self-expression, and will continue to be empowering [for millennials],” Aviles says. Marketers who want their brands to be a part of millennials’ online lives  must approach each social network in a way that’s conducive to that specific network. Marketers should avoid posting the same content the same on Facebook and Pinterest, for example.

Another way to be relevant is to consider the profound emotional appeal of social media. “[Millennials] are more likely to enjoy and relate to advertising campaigns likes Always’ #LikeAGirl and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” that appeal to their emotions and values.They are less concerned with what’s hip,” Gizzi says.

“Celebrate the everyday,” adds Jamie Gutfreund, CMO marketing agency Deep Focus. “Thirty-six percent of millennials feel that social media makes every day feel like a special day.”

Be truly social

Finally, brands must actually be social. Foster and encourage conversations with millennial audiences on social channels. Add to the community and participate in the discussions. Reward influencers, and above all, deliver engaging, relevant content.

“What brands need to do is invest in compelling content that begins an authentic two-way conversation,” Gizzi says. “As always, marketers need to be prepared to meet consumers where they are, which for millennials means creating messaging for a disparate tool belt of platforms, in listicles, short form video, tweets, GIFs and other content types that live outside of traditional advertising.”

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