Millennials: Don’t Bother Leaving a Message If Nobody’s Ever Home
My generation talks about Millennials like they are a different species. We think they are different at the DNA level. We study them and develop intricate ways to deal with them, with systems, processes, ropes, pulleys, whispers, shouting and… none of it works very well. And we need to figure out why—and soon.
Maybe the problem is not our message; it is our medium. We are relying on ways to communicate that are comfortable for us—not the Millennial—and that is impacting our results.
We keep calling on a landline when they have mobile devices.
We keep emailing when they don’t read emails.
We invite them to receptions when they want a service event.
We aren’t communicating in their channels.
To help me understand this, I consulted Turnkey’s immensely educated senior account manager, Alexandria Brown. Alex studied this very topic in acquiring these degrees during her five years living in London:
- B.A. Economics/Business, Minor in Accounting, Randolph-Macon College
- M.S. International Management, Royal Holloway, University of London
- M.B.A. Marketing and Market Research, Roehampton University
She also studied abroad while attending college, with the following courses contributing to her undergraduate degree.
- International Marketing and Britain in the International Economy, Wroxton College (Banbury, England)
- Economics, Business Strategy, International Marketing and Computer Science, Queen Mary, University of London
Alex shared her research on the channels various generations utilize:
Alex’s 1st Study: What Generations Prefer What Medium?
Previous research I had completed focused on analyzing how various generations interact with different social media platforms. Findings showed Generation X and Y prefer communication via social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter), whereas Baby Boomers prefer contact via email. The initial study was conducted in 2012, and even then, there was evidence that Baby Boomers were starting to adopt social media communication. The majority of the respondents studied for this research were between the ages of 18 to 31, (72 percent) and also included Generation X (6 percent) and Baby Boomers (22 percent).
Ninety-three percent of participants indicated they were members of social networking sites. The majority of respondents (93 percent) were active on Facebook, 61 percent had a YouTube account and 55 percent had a LinkedIn account. Some of the social media sites that were also mentioned include Twitter (49 percent) and Instagram (33 percent). Additionally, more than 90 percent of participants owned a mobile device with the Internet capabilities necessary to access their social media accounts.
Alex’s 2nd Study: What About Mobile?
In 2012, social media was really starting to take off. Therefore, when I embarked on another research study in 2015, I was led to collect primary data on how individuals prefer to be contacted by businesses and organizations when they are being requested to perform a specific behavior (i.e. redeem a coupon or respond to a questionnaire). The difference between this study and the last was that it focused more on the mobile aspect, whereas as the previous study was desktop/browser based.
Mobile devices are key promotional communication tools, especially when targeting younger generations. However, it is important to communicate in the right way. Studies have shown when individuals are contacted through their mobile devices via email, text message, push notifications, etc., depending on how it is done, it can be found to be convenient and euphoric, or invasive and irrelevant. What was interesting about this study is that a study was conducted within it.
A Study Within A Study: Reliability & Ease of Data Collection Via Social Media
Collecting primary data can be done a number of ways. I was interested in a convenient, snowballing sample. Because social media is the preferred method for generations below Baby Boomers, I wanted to see how many responses I could gather by only using social media and word-of-mouth. The survey was constructed using an online platform, which generated a shareable link to distribute. The survey was live for one week. It was posted on my Facebook page every day in the morning and the evening. It was also posted in the bio of my Instagram account.
When I shared my methodology with my classmates, who mainly belonged to Generation X and the Baby Boomer generation, they questioned the reliability of my online data collecting. However, studies show that collecting primary data online produces results that are just as valid as data collected offline.
Additionally, studies show that the reliability, completeness and caliber of responses gathered online are comparable to those gathered by offline methods; and as a result, there are no significant differences between data collected online and offline when conducting primary research. In seven days, without directly soliciting any responses, I received 593 survey responses and of those 511 were complete. My classmates expressed their time-consuming data collection methods. They admittedly stated they didn’t have a strong social media presence, which forced them to collect random samples outside of grocery stores, malls and around campus.
Participants belonged to all generations. The ages ranged from 18 to over 45, with 22.1 percent between the ages of 22 to 25 and 22.8 percent over the age of 45. These two groups made up the majority of the sample followed by the 26 to 29 (18.2 percent) and 34 to 37 (12. percent) age groups.
My studies helped show the importance of identifying your target audience in order to choose the best online communication method. Over 90 percent of individuals have a mobile device they use to check emails and social media platforms. Additionally, these studies showed the importance of developing a social media strategy, as it is cost-effective, yet can reach a large target audience.
The takeaway for nonprofits? The Millennials, and indeed any generation, require us to understand and walk through the communications gate to them. And, they pick the gate. Not us.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.