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Not Their Parents’ Activism: How Millennials are Using Digital to Take a Stand on Issues They Care About

Submitted by: Whitney Dailey

Posted: Dec 11, 2014 – 11:33 AM EST

Tags: millenials, activism, social media, digital natives, impact


Millennials are the first generation of true digital natives. They were just babies during the advent of Apple’s first laptop  and teens when the Nokia 3210 mobile phone launched and forever changed the telecommunications market. Today, Millennials spend an astounding average of 17.8 hours a day consuming different types of media, with social media topping the list as most important. So it’s almost a given that organizations looking to reach this group with social or environmental messages should turn to digital, but what’s the best approach to engage this savvy audience?

Findings from the 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study reveal that organizations looking to reach Americans through digital channels must hyper-target their approach, as each audience seeks unique content, on different platforms, with diverse drivers to action. Millennials are no exception, with digital and social media closely integrated within their personal brand identity.

Promoting, discussing and taking action around issues is part of Millennials’ DNA. They effortlessly use social media to tell the world what they stand for; as 71 percent use these channels as a platform to discuss issues they care about (vs. 52% U.S. average). This generation grew up with the ability to voice their opinions to the masses, so activism and digital engagement are seamlessly interwoven. And Millennials understand the power of their collective social voice – nearly three-quarters (73%) feel tweeting or posting information about social or environmental issues online is an effective form of advocacy or support.

But despite the naysayers, Millennials are not slacktivists. They view their digital support as a gateway to further engagement both on- and offline. For example, after “liking” or “following” an organization online, eight-in-10 Millennials would be more inclined to support that issue in other ways, such as volunteering and donating (vs. 63% average).

Mass-market approaches to online content just won’t cut it when looking to reach this hyper-connected audience. Millennials are bombarded with content on their phones, tablets, laptops and TVs at an astounding rate. To break through, marketers must take a customized and thoughtful approach to social and environmental messages. When creating digital campaigns with Millennials as your target audience, keep these five key areas of distinction in mind:

  • It’s All About Apps: When it comes to supporting issues, Millennials need only look in the palm of their hands. They are significantly more likely to harness apps to learn about social or environmental issues (79% vs. 56% U.S. average), be rewarded for behavior change (78% vs.  58% U.S. average) and to do research on ingredients or product components (77% vs. 57% U.S. average).
  • Impact Trumps Brand: Millennials aren’t impressed by big brand names; they want to hear about the tangible impact of their efforts. More than any other population segment, Millennials say it’s more important to have an impact on an issue than be familiar with the organization they are supporting (71% vs. 58% U.S. average).
  • Giving Gets an Upgrade: Millennials use digital as a conduit to charitable giving; once they’ve learned of issues online, they are more apt to donate (80% vs. 63% U.S. average). Over half prefer to donate via digital channels including online (34% vs. 27% U.S. average) and mobile (20% vs. 11% U.S. average).
  • Education Meets Entertainment: Millennials seek different content when learning and interacting with social and environmental issues online. While the average American might prefer an article or written story, Millennials report videos (55% vs. 44% U.S. average) and pictures (54% vs. 42% U.S. average) as preferred content. What’s more, Millennials are significantly more likely to want to see games or quizzes (29% vs. 19% U.S. average).
  • Equal Opportunity Platform Users: While Millennials still gauge off the charts on a plethora of platforms including Facebook and Twitter, they’re more likely to spread the social platform love. They are twice as likely to use Instagram (32% vs. 16% U.S. average) and Tumblr (14% vs. 7% U.S. average) as channels to engage around social or environmental issues and index higher across the board with platforms like Reddit, Pinterest and more.

Looking for inspiration? Check out Kenneth Cole’s partnership with digital activism media site TakePart.com. The campaign provides compelling impact stories with easy calls-to-action right below each article, allowing consumers to sign petitions and share with their networks to actively participate in pushing issues even further. Bank of America’s recent World AIDS Day campaign picked up Millennials’ preference to be educated and entertained, closing out December 1, 2014, with a streaming video concert featuring U2, Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Martin and Carrie Underwood, interspersed with PSAs from celebrities and President Obama. Finally, AT&T’s #X campaign harnesses apps, celebrity videos, internet slang and even create-your-own animated GIFs to help drive home the cell carrier’s no texting and driving message.

As the first truly wired generation, Millennials have seamlessly integrated digital into their everyday lives – and when it comes to supporting social or environmental initiatives, it’s no different. Millennials look to support issues when they’re consuming online media, when they post to their social channels and when browsing on their phones.  Show up where they are and create content that is interactive, entertaining and impactful.

Want to learn more about Millennials’ unique motivations? Read the full 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study here. 

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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