The Millennial generation grew up with unparalleled abundance. Not a lot of generational authors mention this. They tend to focus more on the influence of the internet and social media, which is, of course, understandable. But the abundance piece is equally important.
The internet is actually part of the abundance. Millennials grew up with every bit of information known to humans available to them with the swipe of a finger or a few taps on the keyboard. But the abundance they've experienced goes beyond the digital realm. Obviously we can look back through history and see an overall increase in standard of living, even more pronounced in recent years. As Dan Pink pointed out in his book, A Whole New Mind, there are more cars in the United States than there are licensed drivers.
That's abundance. And my favorite abundance statistic comes from the self-storage industry. We spend $24 billion per year on self-storage, simply because we (apparently) need a place to put all the stuff that we can't fit into our houses (which are, on average, bigger than past generations). This is abundance. Remember this is an industry that did not even exist during the Great Depression.
So what's the impact of all this abundance?
It means the Millennial generation is coming into the workforce (and onto your membership rolls) with higher expectations. Many in the older generations label the Millennials as 'entitled,' but I think it's just a natural reaction to the environment in which they grew up. Resources were there. Adults were available to them. Rides were provided. Answers were readily available. Millennials have a higher bar, plain and simple.
This has obvious implications for your online community:
It must work.
Millennials don't understand when we use tools that don't do what we need them to do. While older generations might have patience with technology that is still under development, Millennials are too used to things just working, or at least having quick access to an alternative. It doesn't have to be perfect or have all the bells and whistles, but it needs to work. And this isn't just a technology issue'you must understand exactly what the Millennials are trying to achieve in your community. If they can't get that done, they will move on.
It must improve.
Part of the abundance of the digital world is the notion of new releases. Not only do they expect a new iPhone to be released every year or so, it is almost automatic that every piece of software they use will be improved almost constantly. This means you'll need constant attention to your community and how it is meeting the needs of the members. Again, this may not be only a technology issue, but if the community feels exactly the same for too long, Millennials will start to look elsewhere.
It must be a rich experience.
Remember, this is a generation that played World of Warcraft when they were bored. That meant they were forming guilds, managing a global, 24-hour operation with friends across the globe and watching realistic animation evolve in real time. That's a rich experience, and one they were able to control and manipulate. They don't expect your community to be a video game, but they don't expect it to be completely static either. Pong or Frogger were great for us Gen-Xers; not so much for this generation.
Organizations and some associations have fallen into a bad habit of thinking improvements can be scheduled every two or three years, since resources are limited. That pace needs to improve as the Millennials become a larger component of your membership. Complain about entitlement all you like, but the organizations that learn to get over that ever-raising bar will be the ones to thrive in this new era.