The surprising ways Millennials use technology

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Social media and smartphones are just the start. If you want to market to Millennials, your understanding of how they use technology needs to deepen substantially.

Millennials, or generation Y as they are sometimes known, form a massive demographic born in the years between about 1981 and 1997. The key to understanding and marketing to this generation is that technology is central to their being. It’s how they get information about the world and how they negotiate personal relationships and public personas.

The way Millennials use technology has crucial ramifications for business and government. According to social researcher Claire Madden, Millennials spend seven hours and 40 minutes a day using technology. This figure blows out to about 10 hours when “tech multitasking”, such as using social media while watching Netflix, is taken into consideration.

Social media channels and smartphones are central to the Millennial tech experience. Millennials typically dislike making and receiving voice calls, but are happy to use their smartphones for just about everything else.

“For many of them, they start and end the day using social media,” Madden says. Businesses that want to engage the Millennial generation need to explore the channels in which they are constantly engrossed.

Smart use of social media

So how are Millennials using social media? The social media landscape is essentially divided into three companies – Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Snapchat. Yet how Millennials use these channels varies widely.

Madden says Millennials use Facebook in a more “formal” manner than Snapchat or Instagram. Facebook is for keeping up with the news and getting notifications of upcoming events with friends and family.

“What they don’t do is post their lives to Facebook,” Madden says. “That’s something older people do.”

Facebook also tends to overwhelm Millennials with news and current affairs content. “They express a sense of desensitisation to the newsfeeds,” Madden says. “They feel as though they don’t have enough time or energy to engage with every single issue.”

Instagram has become the platform for presenting a carefully curated projection of a Millennial’s image. “It’s where they manage their personal brand,” Madden says. “There is intentionality in terms of what they publish. It’s all about the image, the [photographic] filters that are used, and even the time of day that the image is published.”

Snapchat is for casual conversations with friends. The platform’s ephemeral nature (images and videos may last only 10 seconds and stories for up to a day), means brands need to find fast and sharp ways to connect with the younger audience, such as the Snapchat takeover (this involves allowing a young “influencer” to take over the brand’s Snapchat account to create a story – giving the brand the influencer’s reach).    

Unusual integrations

It may come as a surprise to some, but Millennials still like to go out shopping. But here’s the thing: they also shop online, and they use online channels while in bricks-and-mortar stores.

According to HRC’s Retail Advisory Study 2017, 70 per cent of Millennials have consulted social media or online reviews while shopping in a store. Further some 41 per cent of participants in an Accenture survey said they had “showroomed” – bought a product online on a smartphone while examining that product in-store.

Millennials are also leading the charge in the world of wearable technology. According to Deloitte’s Media Consumer Survey Report 2016, 58 per cent of the digital native generation owns either a fitness tracker or smartwatch. These devices not only provide potential lifestyle benefits such as motivating young people to become more active, they also throw yet another method of instantaneous digital information into the mix.

On the very odd occasion Millennials happen to glance away from their smartphones, these wearable devices help to close even that brief communication gap.

Businesses seeking to engage Millennials online need to tailor their messages to the way Millennials use a particular channel. It pays to play where the market is, but the real key is getting the tone and content right. Remember, Millennials also grew up on the Simpsons: they’re savvy and sometimes cynical and can spot inauthenticity at 10 paces.