Millennials do a lot of things differently than older generations. They get married later, rent rather than buy, demand flexible work hours and are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion.
Their reading habits are no exception. Millennials, it turns out, are active readers. A study from Pew Research Center found that millennials are reading more books than people over 30. They are also voracious consumers of the news. In the survey 85 percent of millennials agreed that keeping up with the news was at least somewhat important to them, and 69 percent said they read the news every day.
According to the American Press Institute (API), “This newest generation of American adults is anything but “newsless,” passive or civically uninterested,” although their reading habits are “strikingly different” from those of the older generations.
These findings can be turned to your business' advantage. When creating content for millennials -- whether you are a digital news publisher or a startup with an active blog -- keep this generation's unique habits in mind. Understand and respond to their changing demands if you want them to engage with your content.
Content is the fabric of millennials' lives.
Millennials are attached to their mobile devices and, not surprisingly, lead other age groups in media consumption on smartphones. This impacts the way they consume the news. The API report found that rather than being consumed over the course of distinct sessions, “News and information are woven into an often continuous but mindful way that millennials connect to the world.”
In other words, they don't sit down to read a newspaper or comb through a specific news website. Instead, they check up on the news between projects at work, while waiting in line for coffee or sitting on the bus.
Millennials are news junkies, then, but they also absorb and read information differently than older generations do. According to a McKinsey survey, millennials consume 72 minutes of news a day. However, they are less likely to go directly to news providers. Instead, they rely heavily on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit to access their news.
The result is that their consumption of news is interwoven with lifestyle content, as well as interactions with their friends. The publishers and topics become mixed into one continuous stream.
Millenials' unique media habits show up in other ways: Nowadays, for example, high schoolers do their initial research into potential colleges and universities on the Internet rather than during an actual trip to a campus; and young media users rely on YouTube videos to learn everything from magic tricks and hair and makeup tips, to cooking secrets.
These practices are having an impact: According to The Washington Post, higher education recruiters worry that they will get lost in the shuffle as technology begins to play more of a part in high school seniors' assessment of colleges and universities. And marketers are deeply interested in YouTube, because it's the medium that boasts one of the highest numbers of millennial viewers: almost 43 million, according to Digiday.
Millennials in fact spend almost three hours a day on YouTube, the site said, owing to factors like the staggering amount of fashion-oriented content that appears on the site.
Online, anyone can be a 'publisher.'
It is essential for content creators to develop content that is easily accessible on mobile because millenials are always on the go. Publishers also need to think about packaging that information in a way that will convince millenials to engage. This means that content needs to be meaningful and inspire interest beyond simple lists.
Social proof is another important factor for millennials. This means they are likely to explore articles and publications in which they may not have been initially interested, specifically because someone in their network shared it. Sharing, for this demographic, is key. It is not enough to simply show something to a friend. Millennials want the ability to digitally share content and have meaningful discussions about it.
How can content creators respond? By creating mobile-oriented content accessible from anywhere, easily shareable and likely to encourage discussion. Millennials don’t read just to be informed; they want to engage their own experiences, and thoughts, about what they read. In their comments, they'll then express a whole subset of feelings and sensibilities if they believe that their voices will be heard.
Expression and inclusion
Self-expression is another factor highly valued by millennials (consider the sheer volume of selfies). What millennials read and what they share is wrapped up in the cultivation of their digital identity, and this goes much deeper than selfies. Millennials care about their community, and their connection to it is important.
Here, “community” doesn't just mean where these young people live, but the social networks, Internet subcultures and media choices which reflect their personal interests and/or culture. This is a generation that really cares, and they want the things they consume to be “authentic.”
What does being "authentic" entail? According to a recent AP survey, millennials enjoy content that is relevant to their lives rather than being pushed news just because they are there. Second, they want access to the newest news which applies to their needs, and they want that access to occur on their phones or smartwatches, from anywhere.
Third, they want long-form content. Why long form? Because millennials are savvy consumers. According to a report from The Columbia Journalism Review, millennials embrace original news reporting sources. And while clickbait articles certainly are shared, millennials have shown a clear appetite for content with substance, breadth and depth. Just look at the success of sites like Medium, Wait But Why and the podcast Serial. At those sites, reader engagement is off-the-charts.
So what does this all mean for content creators? It means going deep to provide content that is smart, authentic and something readers will find to be of value. It means adopting a new perspective and teaching younger readers something new. It also means including them in the content-creation process. Engage their ideas and thoughts and give them opportunities to participate, beyond commenting and sharing.
I think there is a tendency to misdiagnose the interest millenials have in ephemeral content as meaning they have short attention spans or apathy about current events. Just because they circulate 140-character Tweets or send Snapchats does not mean that they are not interested in deeper, more substantive ideas.
It just means that they are open to a wide variety of ways of expressing their response to things they read. It also reflects their impermanent sense of self-identity -- millennials want the ability to change, evolve and grow. They do not want to be tied down to one particular idea or concept, so content creators should figure out ways to deliver content that allows for that flexibility.