August 20, 2019

10 Years of Millennial Research: Key Tech Discoveries

For young Americans today, connecting with each other has never been easier, more immediate, or more influential. Causes must be strategic about entering into these conversations, and tech plays a vital role in the design and delivery of this strategy.

Millennials and their friends consistently share and actively respond to information and opinions. To effectively and authentically take part, causes must implement responsive models that involve young cause enthusiasts (and their networks) in your issue and ultimately persuade them to join your cause.

To begin in the right direction, we look at the nation’s largest body of research on millennials: the Millennial Impact Project, a joint venture between the Case Foundation and research teams I’ve led. After a decade of research, the final report was just released: Understanding How Millennials Engage With Causes and Social Issues: Insights From 10 Years of Research Working in Partnership With Young Americans on Causes Today and in the Future.

We instinctively know that tech is powerful, and millennials, for the most part, are savvy users. But tech must be so much more than a social media strategy. Far more than a tool for monitoring and pushing out content to this audience, tech should be part of the fabric of your organization’s strategy.

To help in your planning, we’re sharing the top five tech findings from the mountain of research data, analysis, and recommendations from the Millennial Impact Project:

  1. It’s an online and offline world. At the onset of this decade-long study, we expected by now to see millennials taking actions in digital-only environments. But it hasn’t happened. Moreover, in every study, we clearly saw that activity in the offline world — activism in particular — continued to reign. Millennials don’t restrict their issue participation to either offline or online. They do both. It’s “and” not “or.”
  2. Their online actions are both small and large. When looking at the type and intensity of actions taken online (from social shares to DIY fundraising), we find the spectrum to be broad and, at times, deep. Connecting and forming relationships among peers certainly expands the profundity of an action, but we cannot discount the power in individual (digital) hand-raising, either — especially when we’re trying to build affinity and loyalty. Small public acts like “Yes, I agree” have a huge effect on a millennial who is just starting to explore how they feel about an issue, let alone act for those affected.
  3. Concurrent digital and non-digital activism reinforce and build on each other. Millennials believe in the power of activism and move toward greater actions by using their voice in addition to other assets they hold. At the same time, they believe they can be an activist in small ways that make a big impact, such as donating online and/or offline and talking to their friends about it — again, online and/or offline. Online forums can be great places for inspiring activism, and they are organized online and off. From posts to petition signing to hosting small talks in digital and non-digital environments, their activism happens all across the spectrum of participation.
  4. SEO and search queries relate to the issue, not the organization. People who care about an issue will search for information on that issue before they look for a specific organization potentially related to it. They want to help people or animals or the environment, not organizations. Your website needs to be seen as a resource for educational information and advocacy resources. Digital ads and boosted posts can drive visitors to these resources. Tech can improve your site’s organic visibility for millennials through optimization, auditing, user testing, and keyword research.
  5. Online and in-person, it’s a journey. We’ve learned that millennials are what we call “everyday changemakers.” For them, mixing online and offline cause-related actions is a daily, ongoing journey with no straight path of engagement you can plot. Rather, millennials move in and out of participation; they use tech to enhance their offline experiences, and they use their offline actions as shareable experiences and knowledge. They begin their participation simply and easily, then become more deeply engaged over time.

Tech can bridge the offline and online worlds millennials act within today rather than be a supplement for the other. As we have said time and again, expecting millennials to move along the traditional paths of passive to active engagement is a crucial mistake — which means we cannot force them to move within traditional organization structures, either.

Today, young Americans may enter a cause at almost any point on the engagement path and move back and forth along it. This means your organization must be flexible, adaptable, and highly responsive. Supportive tech underlying all these new approaches and opportunities may mean the difference between the organizations that truly stand out and those that continue to react.

Download Understanding How Millennials Engage With Causes and Social Issues: Insights From 10 Years of Research Working in Partnership With Young Americans on Causes Today and in the Future at themillennialimpact.com/latest-research.

Derrick Feldmann
Derrick Feldmann is a sought-after speaker, researcher, and advisor for causes and companies on social movements and issue engagement. He is the author of two books, Social Movements For Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change and Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement. A third, The Corporate Social Mind, will publish in early 2020. Derrick's work is regularly cited by such outlets as Forbes, Fast Company and The Wall Street Journal and as a reliable source of data on today’s cause engagement. In 2018, he led and developed the research team for Influencing Young America to Act, research on how young adults are influenced by and influence others to support social movements. During the prior 10 years, he led the research team for the Millennial Impact Project, producing the comprehensive Millennial Impact Reports on how the generation has engaged with causes from varying perspectives.