Audience Insights

How to Tell Your Story to a Millennial… Without Trying to Sound Like One

By Kellen Owings | Jun 16, 2016


Ah millennials. When telling your story to this audience, there’s a fine line between being appealing and coming off as trying too hard. If you try to sound like one by using language you think they want to hear, or worse—using emojis, they’ll see right through it and reject your content. Authenticity is an absolute must. Just like most audiences, millennials look for a genuine voice when consuming content, not their own. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” for every publisher looking to communicate with today’s most sought-after generation:


DO: Show them ‘short and sweet’ videos.

The human brain processes video 60,000 times faster than it does text, making it a must-use for publishers looking to reach and maintain a millennial audience. High-quality, short-form videos will not only attract and hold the attention of your online audience, they will also increase the chances that readers will explore more of your content. Videos give your audience a way to quickly digest information, and more reason to stick around your site.

The popularity of video amongst millennials is underlined by the fact that leading social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have made video a top priority. Videos also provide a level of entertainment and evoke feelings in a way that just isn’t possible with other content mediums A funny video on Vine can go viral in an instant, but it’s difficult to think of the last ‘viral article’ you read. Videos are shared much more often than articles within social media circles, so they should play a major part in your millennial content strategy.

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DON’T: Use abbreviations, slang or excessively colloquial language.

SMH if you do this. Seriously though, the use of terms like LOL or FOMO is a poor attempt to relate to millennials, and is a sign that your publication hasn’t done its research and is trying to pander to a younger audience. You should also stay away from slang like “swag,” “lit” or “on-fleek” (if people are still even saying that one). This kind of language, especially when used incorrectly, can make you seem out of touch, and worse, like you’re trying too hard. This can set you up for ridicule on social media.

DO: Meet them on all platforms.

Just because millennials are spending more time on the go and on mobile devices doesn’t mean that they aren’t seeking out news. An American Press Institute survey showed that 64% of millennials said they “keep up with what’s going in on the world,” with about 70% engaging in those activities at least once a day. Respondents also said that Facebook was the first or second place they went to find news on a wide variety of topics. So the millennial audience is there, but you need to reach them where they are. ComScore reported that 18-34 year olds spend an average of 26 hours a month on Facebook’s mobile app and 3.5 hours per month on Twitter. So combined, that’s an hour a day where you can reach millennials on the two social media apps.

But don’t just rely on those two platforms. Millennial users spend an average of 7 hours a month on Instagram, and almost 6 on Snapchat. Three out of every five people in the younger millennial group (18-24) use Snapchat, and for the 25-35 group, that number is 27% and growing. It’s important to have a content strategy that reaches users where they are across all social media sites.

DON’T: Be mobile-unfriendly.

One in five millennials no longer use a desktop computer to go online, relying exclusively on smartphones and tablets. While desktop is still very relevant, smartphone and tablet usage makes up 60% of digital media time spent. The average millennial also spends 3.1 hours a day on mobile devices, which is almost equal to an entire day every week.

DO: Make your content scannable.

Many millennials tend to scan stories to glean important information, rather than reading from beginning to end. This demographic’s innate exposure to the internet’s sea of information has allowed them to develop a keen eye for sorting out what’s important from what isn’t. The most effective news stories are structured so that readers can come away with the main points even if they don’t read the entire piece. Including headings, subheadings, key words, lists and graphics on your site is a great way to steer readers to find the most critical information quickly. Apply this in moderation – too much bolding can actually make your article harder to read.

DO: Focus on good design.

To piggyback on the last point, millennials are capable of absorbing a lot of visual information at once, as long as it is presented in an attractive and easily consumable way. If the presentation is not appealing, millennials may have a harder time looking past bad visuals and may even reject otherwise quality content altogether. This makes good design and layout as integral to your content strategy as good writing.

Readers judge the aesthetic value of a website almost instantaneously. It’s worth it to take a few hours to play with design templates and customizable options on your digital platform to develop an attractive, original space that will make readers want to stick around.

DON’T: Use emojis.

Just don’t. If you need a visual or graphic to emphasize your story, infographic illustrations, charts and, of course, short-form videos work wonders.

DON’T: Use the word “millennial.”

While you may tailor your writing in order connect to a younger audience, avoid explicitly using the word ‘millennial’. It paints an entire generation with a broad, stereotype-covered brush that many find offensive. It can also come off as “marketing speak,” a sentiment you don’t want attached to your news publication. Your content must come across as genuine – so write like you talk (not like you think “they” do).

Kellen Owings