Communicating with Millennials



Derek DeWitt, Communications Specialist for Visix, Inc.

Older people have always looked with befuddlement and frustration at those who come after them, and younger people have always had a combination of amusement and suspicion for those who came before. Same as it ever was.

What each of these groups want and expect can greatly affect how you communicate with and engage them, so it’s worth taking a look at what’s going on in each generational category. Obviously, these are generalizations, and not applicable to every single individual. Consider this map to the millennial landscape a broad guide for understanding and engaging this group as a professional communicator.


This generation (sometimes called Generation Y) has probably had more written about them than any other. Their parents, the Gen Xers don’t really understand them, and the boomers certainly don’t. Much of this, at its core, is about technology.

It’s a bit of a debate as to where exactly this generation starts and ends. The general rule of thumb seems to be those born from 1981 to 1996, another 15-year span, so they are 25-40 right now.

Millennials have been surrounded by technology their whole lives. They grew up with large TVs showing lots of cable channels, push button phones (as opposed to rotary), game consoles and personal computers. They saw the rise of the World Wide Web and social media, high-capacity digital storage media, laptops, WiFi and the introduction of mobile phones.

They make up around 35% of the current US workforce – that’s the largest single group currently working (though, taken together, boomers and Xers make up 58%). This is because most of them have finished college (with maybe a few younger ones still pursing post-graduate degrees). There’s a lot of talk that very soon millennials will comprise 75% of all workers, though there is a bit of debate about the exact percentage (since Xers and millennials are both working longer than their predecessors did, for example).

This set is well educated (39% have a BA or higher, compared to 29% of Xers and 25% of boomers), having been raised in a highly competitive environment where a BA is considered to be the bare minimum to avoid blue collar work. They are very comfortable with multi-tasking, and actually prefer to have several things going on at once. They were the first generation to have schedules as children, and thrive on achievement-oriented tasks and recognition. They maintain a sense of fun in everything they do and demand a good work-life balance. Otherwise, they’ll simply find somewhere else to spend their times and energy.

Millennials are very social and quite moral, though they think of themselves as realists. Training and gaining more skills, and more connections, is also very important to them. They cannot understand anyone ever wanting to do things “the old-fashioned way”.

Communicating with Millennials

Millennials dislike push communications like email, preferring things to be interactive in some way. Accustomed to having literally thousands of sources for news, information and entertainment, millennials bore easily, so variety is key when trying to engage them. They prefer more individualized interactions with peers (and also brands and larger organizations), and very quickly adopt new trends and platforms.

They use email but not as much as chat apps and texting. They really don’t like talking on the phone; written communication mediums that let them take time to choose their words are much more popular. Currently, they are the largest group in the US using Facebook, though their preference for short, concise communications means they are also exploring things like Snapchat and TikTok.

Videos will almost always do better with millennials than other communication formats. Many surveys show that they will almost always opt to learn something from a video than by reading a text. Podcasts are also very popular with this group. But to keep things fresh, mix up how and what you communicate. It’s just about impossible to overload them with too much information – they will simply choose what interests them anyway, so this is a case of more is better. In fact, shorter, more frequent communications are more effective than occasional, long ones. 

They’re comfortable with multi-window and split screens from watching 24-hour news, and have been using smartphones for years. Visual communication platforms like digital signage and social media are commonplace for these folks. Be sure to extend your messaging to smartphones and tablets. Incorporate social media feeds, YouTube videos and other online sources.

Sometimes derided as the “participation trophy” generation, they really do respond well to recognition of a job well done, but also personal things, like birthdays. Start using micro-recognitions to get them interested. And be sure to acknowledge their accomplishments publicly, so their peers can piggyback on congratulations.

Millennials like to play and like to compete, so fun competitions will always go over well. And gamify anything you can – this will get them not just participating but talking about it to others as well. Gamification doesn’t have to involve complicated contests or expensive prizes. Just accumulating badges or points can boost participation. Leaderboards are also a good way to show top performers.

Take advantage of the fact that millennials want to be part of the conversation, not just recipients. Encourage them to create, or even just suggest, content for your communications. Democratizing your communications process and content can go a long way to building trust and boosting participation.

And absolutely solicit feedback at every opportunity. Few campaigns are flawless the first time around. When you’re targeting millennials, be sure to get some input early in the process from that group. Does the message appeal to them? Are the text and graphics engaging? Are they likely to take the action you’re promoting? Would they share this with friends?

As you deliver your campaigns, be sure to measure success and adjust as you go. Don’t just measure reach (the number of people who received the message). Look at interactions, check for understanding, measure the response to your call to action, and continuously survey to ask if they’re satisfied with your messaging.

Bringing millennials into the conversation, versus pushing one-way communications, can boost engagement, participation and overall satisfaction. The more you hone your communications for different generations, the process will become more organic and effective.