I am not an expert on Millennials, but I have three daughters aged 22, 20 and 18 so I am definitely gaining some basic understanding of how they think. I have also studied, in a previous life as a designer, how technology changes the way that the generation react to the world around them. When my eldest daughter was ten she went into my music room, turned on the equipment and figured out how to record herself singing. I was blown away when I found the results a few weeks later! How did she do that? And as insightful as that was, I think it was actually her eight-year-old sister that really had the biggest effect on my thinking. Soon after the iPhone came out, she walked up to the TV while we were watching the news and tried to swipe the screen to the right to change the channel to her kids’ program. Technology sets certain expectations that young kids take for granted and apply to every instance where they encounter similar experiences. They don’t care if you are an association or Apple, the largest company in the world. Their expectation is that you all operate in the same sophisticated way.
You know that if you get stuck with any of your digital devices or apps that the fastest way to solve your problem is your kids. Not tech support.
Five years ago, when figuring out how to rejuvenate our gradually declining association revenues and aging membership, I remembered my kids comfort level with digital technology and knew intuitively that any attempt to attract the Millennials would have to include a new approach to our clearly outdated digital presence. It is the most visible manifestation of who you are to the generation who will choose to interact with you digitally first. I was sure that when they saw our website they were turned off immediately. We needed a presence that was relevant and made them feel at home in order to attract them to the association. We needed to create an experience with which they would automatically be familiar.
Today, five years on, our membership is 47% Millennials, 34% Gen X and 19% Baby Boomers. We did not lose the Baby Boomers. We grew 83% in membership in 5 years. That growth came from the Millennials.
WHAT DID WE DO?
In the Millennial world view, digital technologies and the virtual world are one. They don’t see a difference between virtual and real. It is all real to them. Associations, on the other hand, have not grasped how to manipulate the virtual (digital) world and use it to their advantage. I am sure you recognize that your website is a pretty poor version of what the Millennials are used to interacting with. We had what could most flatteringly be described as an electronic brochure for a website. They expected Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter and a thousand other cool sites. It was time to up our online game and give them a real reason to interact with us.
Recognizing this, we changed our Strategic Plan to offer 50% of our benefits physically and 50% digitally. Five years on, we offer ten times our membership cost in value digitally already and we are on a continuous cycle of digital innovation!
Result: this strategy has resulted in explosive membership growth among the Millennial generation.
To get to 50% digital benefits, we had to create a roadmap for the development of our digital presence. We looked at its development as a three-step process:
1. Digital brochure. Promotion of the association and its programs
2. Content portal. The main source of great content for the profession
3. Platform with tools and apps. To help make the association a vital resource for members to prosper in their careers
To move from a digital brochure to a content portal, we turned the association web model on its head. Instead of the website being about the organization, it needed to be about the members, their firms and their great work. That drove incredible growth in visitors and page reads. One of the unintended consequences was that now when you search our members’ names, more often than not our association website comes up in the top five google search links for their name, often above Facebook, LinkedIn and their own firms’ websites. That’s a crazy outcome for an association, right?
Significance: their bios on their association website are the reference point people look at.
Unintentionally, we’ve discovered that associations have a role to play as the reference point for members digitally and have claimed our (small) place among the social media and top websites! What’s more, in order to develop great content for our digital presence, we record every talk at our physical events. Those talks are now a part of a member’s bio as well as all other content on our website referencing them. There is no richer content than their bios anywhere on the web, including LinkedIn.
Millennials found us through our serious search optimization. They found rich content and what was available – but not accessible unless you were a member – on our website and joined.
Conclusion: if you want to attract the Millennial generation, start with completely redefining your digital presence, and focus your content on the members, their firms and their good work.