…That aren’t simply because they are talking.
On-staff millennials can be terrific strategic assets – provided cultural organizations embrace them.
You may be tired of discussing millennials. Millennials may be tired of being called millennials. (According to Pew Research, 60% of actual, timeframe-born millennials resist being considered millennials). One might think that all this talk about engaging millennials might result in executive leaders talking to their on-site millennials about engaging millennials. But I’m picking up that this may not be happening… or perhaps leaders aren’t sure how to tap into these perspectives in the most meaningful way.
There’s plenty of data out there about how millennials think and behave – and that information is important. I share tons of it with regard to cultural organizations, and I am honored to frequently conduct workshops and speaking engagements on the topic. I often find that there’s a generational divide in the comments that I get after the sessions end:
Millennials tend to thank me for sharing data express that they are having a hard time getting leadership to pay attention to their ideas… Ideas that align with the data. Non-millennials, on the other hand, generally thank me for the data and ask if I or someone else can provide additional resources or ideas for how they can reach millennials for their, specific organization and general questions about how millennials think and behave.
Both of these follow-ups are great!
But let’s recap: The millennials seem to be frustrated that non-millennials aren’t listening to their insight regarding engaging millennials, and non-millennials seem to be seeking site-specific perspective about how they can reach millennials.
I spy an opportunity…
A handful of millennials may not reasonably speak for the nearly ninety million people born between 1980 and 2000 in the United States. Remember: On-staff millennials are not representative of potential visitors and supporters by virtue of the fact that the group is made up of people who are insiders of your organization. This group is subject to all of the blind spots that we cultural professionals carry with us every day. Opinions do not replace data. That said, it stands to reason that millennials may be better at thinking like millennials than the average non-millennial.
Here are four, overlooked reasons to seek and value the perspectives of on-staff millennials within cultural organizations:
1) They represent attendees that data shows cultural organizations need to attract.
Our industry discusses millennial engagement so much for good reason.
Lack of millennial engagement is a threat to cultural organizations. Data shows that millennials generally make up the greatest percentage of visitation to cultural organizations, but because this generation is so large, millennials are also the most underserved generational cohort. In short, this is not only the generation that we need to get through the doors, but they are also the generation that largely already comes through the doors.
In order to thrive long-term, data suggest that cultural organizations must engage new audiences. The key to doing this may be to keep engaging those who are already visiting, while also securing visitation from those who report interest in visiting, and yet still do not attend. At IMPACTS, we call these two types of attendees “high-propensity visitors.” These folks have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate and increased likelihood to visit a cultural organization. The highest percentage of high-propensity visitors in the United States (24.3%) are millennials between the ages of 25 – 34.
One of the most overlooked reasons to value on-staff millennials is the importance of engaging this generation for the cultural industry to not only thrive long-term, but to survive. Data suggest that millennials are the generation to attract, the generation that is attending, and the generation with the most attendance potential. That’s a lot. That’s unique. It’s also pretty darn inconvenient for entities that are not prioritizing millennial engagement.
No matter how you cut it (or how sick you are of the conversation), understanding millennials is important. If you have millennials on-staff, then you have potential access to the brain of these totally human people who do not, actually, speak only in emojis.
2) They know what cultural organizations need to do.
Or at least, they may have some ideas – and those ideas may lend insight into potential engagement strategies.
There are several, critical macro-trends impacting cultural organizations. Integrity, personalization, and facilitating both digital and on-site connection may be considered data-backed requirements today.
It’s not uncommon that millennial readers of this website will write to me or approach me after workshops and say something along the lines of, “I’m not surprised by the data. As a millennial, I feel like so much of this information is second nature to me.” I’m a millennial, too, and I often feel the same way.
After 20 years, AOL shut down AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) on December 15th. It was one of the first online communication platforms used by millennials. (Including this millennial!) The platform received wistful goodbyes from folks from MuseumHack founder Nick Gray to Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg wrote in a public Facebook post, “As part of the first generation to grow up with the internet, [AIM] helped me understand internet communication intuitively and emotionally in a way that people just a few years older may have only considered intellectually.”
Indeed, there may be something to the word “intuitively” when it comes to millennials understanding macro-trends facing organizations – many of which have been informed by the web.
Over 40% of those who read this website are cultural organization executives over the age of 55. To those of you who have on-staff millennials: Your inner operations are infiltrated by the target audience.
I repeat: Your inner operations have been infiltrated by the target audience!
(And that’s a good thing.)
An overlooked reason to value on-staff millennials is because their ideas may naturally align with what potential millennial attendees want and expect. At the risk of sounding dorky: It may be in them. This is a terrific opportunity to tap into thought-fuel from these professionals who are already familiar with your own organization’s mission, goals, and objectives.
3) They aren’t only helping to reach other millennials.
As regular readers of this website know, data suggest that those trends that most strongly impact millennial audiences increasingly impact other generational cohorts as well. As it turns out, we all live in a world that has the Internet, fake news, and heigtened customer control.
Millennial talk is everybody talk – and misunderstanding this may be the biggest mistake that leaders make in the quest to increase attendance and support.
An overlooked reason to value on-staff millennials is because their ideas may naturally align with what any potential attendee may increasingly want and expect. The benefit of on-staff millennial perspectives may not be confined to engaging millennials. These staff members may have ideas to keep organizations relevant and connected to their mission and impact in today’s rapidly changing world.
At the very least, on-staff millennial perspectives may provide valuable insight when combined with those of leaders from other generational cohorts within the institution. Some of their ideas and thought processes may be new and challenging – and perhaps that is exactly why they may be helpful.
4) If entities do not better engage on-staff millennials, the industry may lose them.
Millennials are the largest generation in human history, so it’s unlikely that we’ll lose all of them in the field. There are simply so many of them. What I mean is this: There’s reason to believe that we may lose the very best of our industry’s young leaders.
We’re risking the ones who spent years studying and taking unpaid internships on the promise of helping to educate and inspire. The ones who are deep into student loan debt because their heart was in a mission… before they were even on a payroll.
There have been numerous articles and blog posts published throughout the sector recently by those among this cohort who are leaving the field. #MuseumWorkersSpeak is emerging. According to an article from the American Alliance of Museums, the top reason why they leave is low pay. However, other reasons such as poor work/life balance are also on the list.
Some of these folks have put so much time and money into their desire to work in the cultural industry that they are calling their decisions to leave “brave.” If we cannot keep the people who have invested time and money and believe in cultural causes, how will our industry realistically attract and retain anyone worth keeping?
An overlooked reason to value on-staff millennials is because they are showing the need for internal operations to evolve. Not only for the sake of millennials, but for the sake of any current or future cultural organization employee. To say, “Well, that’s just the way things work” to issues like low pay and work/life balance is to give up being a competitive employer. If cultural organizations are not competitive employers, they may have a harder time securing and retaining talent… and if the cultural workforce is not knowledgeable and talented then, well, our industry may face much bigger issues than anything we might be facing right now.
It’s worth mentioning that I am not personally an employee of a cultural organization. It’s worth mentioning this because I have none of my own dirty laundry to air on this topic…but rather an urgent concern for the future of these organizations and real disappointment over lost leaders. But then again, it’s also worth noting that I am sewn from the same thread as my peers and others working hard for cultural missions – regardless of generational identity. (And perhaps you are, too.)
This is a loss. And among all of the reasons to value millennial perspectives, this may be the most important.
There are plenty of ways to better engage on-staff millennials and tap into their perspectives to inform strategic direction. Here are a few no-brainers:
- Involve millennials in strategic conversations from the outset
- Promote millennials
- Ask on-staff millennials for feedback
- Value and consider the perspectives of on-staff millennials
- Create a millennial task force that meets and brainstorms new ideas
Enlisting millennials can help with innovation – sure. But that’s not always the most helpful focus for these conversations. It’s not about getting a group of millennials spiraling together to brainstorm the opportunity to build a craft brewery attached to the theater or figure out how to create a smartphone attachment so that people can sniff Monet’s water lilies through a mobile application. These ideas aren’t always helpful or lucrative. And often, they arise from folks overthinking “millennial.” Focusing on strategically integrating and incorporating macro-trends can be much more helpful than brainstorming one-off engagement strategies.
Being a millennial does not make someone an expert at engaging millennials, just as being a Baby Boomer does not make one an expert at engaging Baby Boomers. But a Baby Boomer cannot help but be a Baby Boomer. Individual millennials may be more or less representative of a “typical” millennial, but millennials have perspectives and ideas that are worth acknowledging.
Millennials (and everyone else) have perspectives and ideas that are worth respecting.
And they just might be your greatest untapped resource for becoming an organization that better engages new audiences.