Preparing Your Community for the Digital Generation

By Maddie Grant posted Jan 30, 2015 08:32 AM


In a few years, the Millennial generation (born between 1982 and 2004) will be the single largest segment of the workforce—a spot they will hold for decades to come. That means they are likely to become the most important part of your online community, and like every generation before them, they are entering the scene with some different perspectives on how the world works and their roles in it. Understanding this generation a little better will not only help you attract them, but retain them.

All generations are shaped by the social, economic and cultural context during the time period in which they come of age. For the Millennials that's right now, so as you might expect, one of the primary factors that is shaping the Millennial generation is the social Internet. Except for the very oldest Millennials, all they know is a world with the Internet and all of its power right at their fingertips. The fact that Google can retrieve any piece of information on the planet in a matter of milliseconds is not amazing to them (as it still is to many Boomers and Xers)—it's just normal. This is the first generation to NOT remember the work world without the Internet. (If you’re a GenXer like me, you’re sure to remember when only certain people in the office were allowed to get an email address…)

Most importantly, when it comes to online communities, from a young age Millennials have learned to leverage their social networks. If they need something, they know that between their networks and Google, they can probably find it or build it. This generation learned early on they can do it themselves. There’s no such thing to them as “I don’t know”—only “I don’t know YET”.  And it’s not just that they search for information with a few clicks; they understand the value of asking their friends. They believe and trust in the collective power of networks to get the information they need.

So what does this mean for you? The implications for your online community are significant. For one thing, it means you don’t hold the keys to the kingdom. Your online community is only one of a whole slew of networks Millennials might be engaged in. You may have either content or people in a particular industry vertical that are worth Millennials’ time, but you’ll always be competing with any number of other groups that may be cooler, more fun, more technologically advanced or simply more recommended by their peers. So what can you do about it?

First, you can understand that your community is now part of your Millennial audience’s ecosystem of networks.You can find out (by talking to some of them) what other industry groups they are attracted to and why, and maybe consider collaborating with other group leaders on high value content.

On the other hand, you can also use that knowledge to truly differentiate the experience they are getting with your community that solves a need they aren’t getting elsewhere. (Discussion forums and connection to peers? Everybody and their mother offers that.) Are you offering real life value through things like jobs, volunteer activities, opportunities for grants or funding and social learning experiences? All of that can happen inside your community.

And second, you can find out what engagement activities your Millennials might want to bring IN to your community. What they might be able to offer, that makes them look good and advances their careers or status. Do they want to help source cool subject matter experts? Do they want to lead a group focused on entrepreneurial skills? Do they want to share their views about governance issues from their under-30 perspective? Do they want to host a Twitter chat or other social media activity inside the community? Do they want to run a scavenger hunt or contest that uses the community but provides fundraising for charity? Ask for what things they care about and how the community platform can help them do those things better.

Now you might be thinking: why should we pander to these young people? They should be coming to us for our member benefits and access to products and services. The key to this is realizing that far from pandering, what you’re really doing is differentiating your organization and your community’s value within the vast ecosystem of other places where young people can find what they are looking for. And that’s the only way to ensure your long-term future.

We’ll be digging into a lot more on this topic in future posts for Higher Logic. Join us in the conversation! What are you doing to differentiate your community and attract the Millennial generation?