Given millennials' dominant presence in the workforce, communicating with millennial talent is top of mind for many union leaders. But it's not just about what you communicate — how you communicate with this generation can make or break your message. So, what's the best approach? Start by looking at whether you're engaging with millennials through the right communication channels.
Millennial Communication Methods
Just like your Gen X and baby boomer members, millennials want to be informed, but they prefer to digest information somewhat differently from their predecessors. They're used to 24/7 connectivity with their friends, family, jobs and the world around them. The ease of their information-gathering — whether online, via email or through messaging and social apps — has given many of them a preference for electronic communication.
When surveyed about how they communicate with their bosses or coworkers, millennials reported a preference for online messaging software (55% of those surveyed) and email (28% of those surveyed). Another study found that millennials spend an estimated 6.4 hours on email each day, more than any other generation, and they report texting "a lot." According to a United States Postal Service (USPS) survey, only 41% of millennials review, read or sort their mail at least six days per week, compared to 57% of Gen Xers and 72% of baby boomers.
Maximizing Your Communication Channels
What do these statistics mean for unions trying to communicate better with millennial talent? Contrary to what you might believe, although millennials on average have somewhat distinctive communication preferences, you don't need to completely overhaul your current communications strategy. Adjusting your current content and best practices for the millennial audience isn't the same thing as throwing out all of your existing work.
In fact, scrapping your current strategy and channels for an age-based communication plan could backfire. Not only does the union still need to respect the preferences of older members, but just like other generations, millennials are a diverse group with a range of preferences. (The USPS survey found that 38% of millennials still like to receive newsletters from organizations as long as they aren't seeking donations.) Instead, your best bet is to build on your communication channels rather than totally replacing them. Doing so lets all members — millennials included — control how they receive information and interact with the union.
4 Best Practices for Communication Channels
Reaching millennials through their preferred communication channels while still respecting your membership's variety of preferences is a delicate balance. Here's how to achieve it:
- Consider the importance of the message you're sending. Information that requires immediate action may be best suited for text or a social app rather than email or snail mail. Although millennials admit that they check their emails on nights and weekends, they don't necessarily act or engage with the message immediately like they do with texts.
- Fit the message to the platform. If you already have a longer, detailed newsletter planned for distribution, take smaller pieces out and distribute them to all members as emails or social media posts. Everyone likes quick, easily digestible information, and this method avoids the need to create multiple messages just to reach your millennial talent.
- Be more visual. Not only will messages with visual elements translate better to social platforms and text messaging, but also, more than 64% of millennials report that they understand visual information faster, and 58% say they remember it longer. This is also likely to increase engagement with your content.
- Leverage short posts to enhance engagement. Use social media posts, text messages and emails as a setup for either in-person meetings or to draw millennials' attention to more formal communications. Share interesting data, pose questions, give reminders or invite feedback to maintain content relevance.
Everyone wants information that interests or affects them. Instead of taking the time to develop a millennial-specific communication plan, expand your use of communication channels and take advantage of what you already have at your disposal to vary your strategy.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.