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Learning from Millennials (Yes, Really)

This post originally appeared on the Higher Logic blog, where I’m posting an ongoing series related to Millennials and online community.   And don’t forget that Higher Logic clients can have access to our Essentials of Online Community Management program at a special discount. Contact me for details!


Ever since the Millennials started coming into the workforce about 10 years ago, we’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about them. This happens every twenty years, of course – when the new generation hits the scene, the older generations tend to freak out about “kids these days.” You can actually trace these kinds of reactions back for centuries. The older generations always conclude that the new generation is flawed, inappropriate, ill-prepared and generally making things difficult.

For the Millennials, that has come in the form of complaints about them being entitled – showing up at work and immediately wanting a promotion. Or in the association context, some association executives are dismayed when Millennials started becoming involved in association business and immediately ask to Chair a committee or sit on the Board. They are too inexperienced for that. Why aren’t they willing to put in the work and “pay their dues” like the rest of us did? They don’t get it.

More recently, however, these complaints have been giving way to some desperate attempts to gain the favor of Millennials. The oldest Millennials are in their early 30s now, which means they are not just entry-level and have become ripe as targets for association membership. And on top of that, there are 100 million of them!

This is the largest generation in the history of the United States, yet we look at our events and activities (particularly at the local level), and we don’t see them in large numbers, so we start to panic a little. Quick, market to the Millennials! Get them into our online community!

The problem is, we’re missing a step by going straight from complaining to wooing.

We forgot about the part where we learn from them. We need to spend less time talking about them or at them, and more time talking with them, learning about how they use social media today and why, learning about what shaped them growing up and learning about how they are understanding their early-career challenges in today’s digital age. We need to start inviting them to the leadership meetings where we discuss how to attract more of them.

Actually, your online community is a great venue for that, but it might require you to seed and facilitate some different conversations in order to tease out the insights. Many of you have started Young Professionals subgroups, but are you directly asking them what they are looking for in terms of leadership and deeper involvement? And why? Are you using the community to offer volunteer opportunities at a more ad-hoc level, and listening to feedback about what kinds of things Millennials might want to participate in and why?

Millennials are used to open and transparent conversation about needs. You just need to remember to ask! Once you start learning more about the Millennials in your environment, then you’ll be able to do a much better job of both bringing them in AND retaining them in an ongoing way.

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