The Millennial generation, which includes those born between 1980 and 2000, has proven to be a tricky group to cater to when it comes to marketing. Having experienced a landmark shift from old to new technology between both centuries, a dichotomy unique to their generation, Millennials have been the subject of in-depth consumer behaviour research. They view the world through a digital lens, which has revolutionized the way marketers conduct outreach. As a result, social media marketing has become the new normal.

Accenture’s poll on Millennial shoppers reveals that in order to effectively advertise a product on social networks, there are many moving parts that need to be considered. The brand must become a routine part of online conversations, which would focus on product information, updates and special offers. Creating positive buzz around a brand can be magnetic, so long as marketers adapt to the appropriate channels with the right message.

Essentially, this generation is looking for brands that have evolved past old school marketing techniques. Here are five tips on engaging this fascinating group of social media savvy consumers.

1. Hone in on the preferred social networks among Millennials

The most effective way to access Millennials is through the social platforms they use most. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak—market research firm Ipsos says the 71% of U.S. Millennials who use social media on a daily basis spend an average of 5.4 hours in front of their screens

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To that end, the latest B2B (Business to Business) Millennial Report asked 2,000 Millennial participants which social media platform they use most often to research new products and services. The results were overwhelming—Facebook reigned over all other channels as the ultimate social media platform of choice for purchasing new B2B products and services, reaching 40% of Millennials. Some key ways of a engaging Millennial audience is ensuring your business information in the About section is always current, up to date and engaging, using high-quality photography and posting relevant content that encourages the audience to interact.

2. Create compelling content

A McCarthy Group study found that 84% of Millennials dislike advertising and do not trust salespeople. In fact, they were ranked among the least trustworthy. Evidently, this is a major obstacle brands face—they must give the consumer experience meaning, as opposed to circulating superficial “in-your-face” ads. User generated content is a great way to reel in Millennials. They want to see how certain products work before taking the plunge and making the investment. This is called “social proof” and it is essential to building trust. Customer photos are the perfect example. Some businesses call on customers to share their social media pictures—typically through Instagram, which presents products in an aesthetically pleasing way—using brand-related hashtags, which in turn give conversion rates a boost. A Tidal study estimates that if this is done properly, Millennial customers are six times more likely to make a purchase. One particular company that has mastered the art of creating compelling content is Whole Foods. The organic supermarket publishes healthy recipes and tips on its blog, incorporating products readily available in its stores.

3. Keep up engagement to convert consumers into brand loyalists

The purpose of social media is to share information and interact. Millennials are the first generation to engage with advertisements on this level, giving rise to a new marketing culture built on a two-way conversation. Simply put, social platforms can nurture relationships with Millennial customers and establish loyalty.

To maintain the customer-brand bond, brands must consistently keep tabs on mentions from customers and respond with comments and likes, specifically on positive feedback. This genre of engagement makes Millennial customers feel they’re being heard loud and clear. As a result, they become avid endorsers and are more than willing to share their consumer experience with their online audience.

4. Be transparent and authentic

With marketing comes questions of authenticity and transparency, as many brands have proven to be misleading. In order to connect with this generation, these two elements are essential requirements that “humanize” a brand, as Forbes puts it. In all aspects of daily life, honesty is always the best policy, even if the truth is negative. Millennials can be described as skeptics and don’t immediately believe what they read, especially when it comes to branded content that’s plastered across social media; but if a company’s marketing is tasteful and honest, it will foster a sense of trust, which is the ultimate win for a brand. Sharing with consumers the ‘face behind the brand’ by occasionally showing the people who work for the company, being available for real-time conversations and sharing honest stories about the brand are all ways companies can create honest and transparent engagement.

5. Use social values as a means of engagement

According to the Young Entrepreneur Council, Millennials have a reputation for being lazy and self-centred but are highly philanthropic. They want to feel as though they’re contributing to their communities in a constructive way.

The 2016 Millennial Impact Report states Millennials are among the most frequent participants in cause work and their influence has the power to determine the success or failure of a social movement. Sixty-one per cent of respondents indicated they post about or engage with social issues online at least once a week, whether it be through an original post, comments or retweets. Facebook is the leading platform, ranking in at 88%, followed by Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Marketers can leverage these findings to further engagement on a deeper level. Brands with purpose that genuinely stand for something, from CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives to individual contributions to society, will easily attract Millennials, as their desire to give back is strong. A new way to demonstrate a strong commitment to social and corporate responsibility is becoming a certified B-Corp, which is a third-party certification which demonstrates they have met rigorous standards on social and environmental performance, as well as corporate transparency and accountability.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Direct Marketing. 

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Sean Jimenez

Sean Jimenez is the CEO of Soulpepper, a full service digital marketing agency based in Vancouver, B.C. A social impact entrepreneur, Sean uses his expertise in e-commerce, sales and sustainable business practices to develop digital strategies to help impact corporations grow. His areas of specialization include omnichannel and digital strategy, web analytics, search engine optimization and online advertising. Sean's passionate about developing triple bottom line businesses equally focused on profit, people and the environment. He is the former owner and operator of Champions Martial Arts, Canada's largest martial arts school.