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Why Building Community Online is Important When Attracting and Engaging Millennials

Written by Julie Dietz on August 8, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Millennials have a strong sense of community, it's just transitioned to online community.

71% of American adults think that millennials are selfish. That's according to a recent public opinion survey from Reason-Rupe, and it gives valuable insight into how society views one of the largest generations in history. People look at millennials on their smartphones and tablets and say they're focused on themselves, lacking engagement with other people.

That's a misconception. Community is actually very important to millennials, it's just that their idea of community has changed. The problem is that many organizations, associations included, may not fully understand that change, making appealing to and engaging millennials difficult.

To get past the misconception and start connecting with millennials, associations need to view the world through millennials' eyes. In this case, that means viewing the world through the lens of technology, because it is technology that has helped millennials' idea of community to change.

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Technology has taken community digital, and it's time for you to break your mental molds for community and leverage the technology available to you.

Millennials' Digital Communities

Millennials are the first generation that has always been connected by technology and the internet. That's influenced their definition of community, which they've transitioned to fit their lifestyle. For millennials, the primary sense of community is now online.

Millennials' digital transition is even clearly visible in several examples of thriving online communities.

Online Community Example #1) Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat

These and similar social networks are ubiquitous. They are, in essence, communities that give millennials the ability to regularly connect with family, friends, and colleagues. Other sites such as LinkedIn are built to support professional communities, connecting colleagues and job seekers with potential companies.

Each different type of social networking site, including the ones not listed here, illustrates a way that millennials have started taking their communities online. They also illustrate just how connected millennials feel with their sense of digital community.

Such a strong sense of connection leads to a lot of time spend in online networking. According to research from comScore, millennials spend an hour a day on Facebook, seven hours a month on Instagram, and six hours a month on Snapchat. 88% of millennials even get their news from Facebook so that they can react and share with their community in real time.

How much time do you spend in your community? Are you even close to the dedication millennials are showing?

Online Community Example #2) Tumblr and YouTube

Millennials' online communities aren't just social networks. They also take on the form of content and knowledge sharing through microblogging sites like Tumblr and video platforms like YouTube. Tumblr has 420 million users, for instance, and one billion YouTube videos are watching on mobile phones every day.

Like social networks, millennials have flocked to content sharing platforms that allow them to express their ideas and opinions with friends, family, and the world at large. They love to share, connect, comment, and express themselves – they just feel more comfortable doing it online. That's why so many new social websites have popped up as millennials matured.

Online Community Example #3) Pokemon Go

Think that social networks like Facebook are standout examples? The exception, possibly an obsession, but not the norm? They're not, and Pokémon Go is the perfect example of how millennials' love of digital communities is, and will continue, taking communities online.

The most recent example of a new millennial community, Pokemon Go is even more popular than Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. What's more amazing is that Pokemon Go isn't even a new community. A group of people who loved Pokemon existed long before the new augmented reality game was released.

Pokemon's community actually started in the 1990s, when Pokemon first came out as a card game. Millennials were just kids, but they loved catching the little Pokemon monsters. Now, Pokemon Go has brought that old love and the community surrounding it up to millennials' current, digital standards. So it should come as no surprise that millennials are embracing the Pokemon community all over again.

Think of Pokemon Go as your best, most up-to-date example of how millennials are not abandoning traditional communities. Millennials love traditional communities, their old Pokemon community included, they just want them online. Dating, shopping, content and idea sharing, personal and professional connections, and other traditional communities have gone online to suit millennials as well.

The Characteristics that Drove Millennial Communities Online

Millennials clearly love their online communities. But why? What is it that's made millennials want to shift the traditional communities that their parents and grandparent loved? These four characteristics of the millennial generation hold the answer. While they may not apply to every individual millennial, these generalizations are widely accepted and supported by research from top organizations including Goldman Sachs, Gallup, and Pew Research Center.

Millennials Are Digital Natives

Previous generations like baby boomers grew up outside, playing in traditional communities with their friends. A love of physical communities came naturally to them. The same general situation applies to millennials. Because millennials grew up with technology and a constant internet connection, it's natural for them to be online.

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Millennials prefer to interact with one another, as well as organizations and companies, online because that's what they're used to. They still value their connections and communities, which may be yet another reason why digital communities are so appealing to millennials. Digital communities can be accessed anywhere, anytime, so millennials never have to neglect the communities they love.

Millennials Are Nonmaterialistic

Where past generations collected things, millennials collect experiences. They value their experiences and memories over material goods, and that lends itself to virtual platforms. Online, millennials aren't dealing with physical items. They're focused on sharing experiences through photos, videos, and personal status updates that capture their mood.

Sharing their experiences online also means that millennials don't need the physical trappings of traditional communities. Paper newsletters and in-person neighborhood meetings don't appeal to them. An engaging email newsletter that highlights the new experiences or information shared in an online community, however, might just grab their attention.

Millennials Are Focused on Equality

"Achieve your personal best" was a phrase millennials heard often growing up. It wasn't about winning; it was about the team. In sports, for instance, everyone was made to feel equal and valuable enough to receive a trophy. That idea of equality and team spirit is now carrying over into millennials' more adult concerns like professional opportunities and purchasing decisions.

For instance, millennials see themselves as equal to companies and senior executives. They don't want to set an appointment to see the CEO of their company and if they have feedback about a product, they want to share their ideas directly.

Digital communities help millennials with those types of interactions. They break down the hierarchy of traditional communities with appointment setting and gatekeepers. In an online community, you can send a message to anyone and directly give feedback to the headquarters of any organization instantly.

Not getting through? Tweet it to the world, tag the CEO, and hashtag it. If the point is important enough, the rest of the millennial generation with retweet and blog it, raising your issue to prominence on their shoulders. We're all on the same team, after all.

Millennials Want to Make a Big Impact

The key word here is "big." Millennials want to be involved with things that have a purpose bigger than themselves. That's the definition of community. Millennials want to change the way things work, and they want to do it on a large scale.

That desire stems partly from the fact that millennials were taught (and shown) that they could make a big impact. "You can be anything you want when you grow up" was the message from their parents. The message from the world wasn't much different. Get a great idea, work hard, and skyrocket to success like Mark Zuckerberg.

Technology and the internet makes it possible for one person to reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. Online, millennials can reach the entire community and potentially make the big impact that they want. They use that power every day. When they love a product, they tell the world. When they support a cause, they tell everyone they know and 5,000 twitter followers they've never met but still consider family.

Millennials' Online Communities Takeaway

Millennials' reputation for being selfish and unattached is not without basis, but it is widely misconstrued. According to research from Gallup, millennials are unattached to jobs and the norms - like traditional communities - that other generations are used to, but they're very attached to community and connection. They've just shifted the concept of community to embrace the technology they grew up with.

Digital communities match with the technology millennials learned to love throughout their childhood. They give millennials the ability to share their experiences and thoughts with family, friends, colleagues and, if desired, a huge audience of their peers around the world. Their connection can be constant, with no hierarchical barriers to limit their potential.

As an association looking to engage millennials, it's important for you to understand that contrary to popular opinion, millennials do have a strong sense of community. You need to recognize and embrace the new ways millennials are displaying their community ties. Once you do, you can start using technology and online communities to engage your millennial audience.

Use this guide to evaluate, select, and plan a successful online community for your association.

Topics: Millennials, Online Community Management, Associations, Online Community

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