By now no doubt you’ll have read our piece on why millennials seem to be disconnected from the news (and if you haven’t, don’t fret! Grab a coffee, read the article, then pop back when you’re done).

The key takeaway from that article is this: if you’re measuring millennials’ engagement of news content by how they read the digital front page, you’re not getting an accurate picture. Numerous studies have demonstrated that millennials consume information differently, so it’s probably high time we stopped taking ‘newspaper’ (digital or print) as a byword for ‘news’. As publishers it’s important to recognise that - and seek to understand what kind of content millennials are responding to, the channels they’re using, and how your brand can intersect those two things.

So, it’s about connecting content, with channel, with consumer.

Here are some ways to get that ball rolling.

1. Make it visual

Not everyone is into reading. Even devotees of print enjoy a change of format from time to time. Digital natives in particular respond well to content that’s less wordy and more image-driven. This absolutely doesn't mean it has to be less rigorous.

Check out this touching piece by The New York Times. It’s a masterclass in how to combine classic storytelling with visuals to give impact - and a fresh perspective - to a topic that’s been widely reported on. Going the extra mile with visuals can help build both reader engagement and loyalty. Stories that are visually appealing are more likely to make people remember your brand, and it’s certainly a way to stand out from the pack.

digital natives respond well to less wordy, more image-driven content

A slightly simpler, less time-consuming and costly approach doesn’t mean it needs to be less impactful. There’s some great storytelling going on in this example of a news organisation's YouTube channel (It’s in Dutch but you’ll get it once you see it!)

Of course it’s important to be recognisable in the approach. Of course it seems obvious, but if you want to dive into the world of more visual storytelling, then it needs to be something you commit to. They call it ‘building’ a following for a reason: you need to give your audience a chance to associate your brand with this approach, and ample opportunities for them to be able to consume it.

2. Write about topics that concern them

It looks like a no-brainer, but it really isn't. If you ask yourself what younger audiences are into, most people will easily come up with 10, 20 or even 50 topics. The problem is, it’s more than likely everyone else will come up with lists that look remarkably similar, and nobody ever got ahead by doing the same. In the course of our many conversations with newsrooms, one thing we’ve noticed is that it’s easy to talk about millennials. It’s less common that we hear newsrooms talking with them. You need to go to the source. Not only will your findings be more authentic, but they’ll be more specific and more nuanced.

go to the source - talk with millennials, not about them

Now’s the time to harness the power of data. Experiment with different topics, but always measure how your content performs. This is exactly what they’ve done at The Wall Street Journal. ‘Noted’, the publication’s younger-focused monthly news magazine has a tagline of “For you. With you. By you”. That mission statement is something that permeates into every aspect of their story life cycle: from the way they introduce staff (in candid posts on Instagram), to the way they actively seek out feedback from 7,000 ‘Noted Advisors’ (a group of readers from their intended demographic), right on through to the way they publish the stories themselves. It’s an approach we’re watching with interest.

3. Choose subjects your audience can relate to

This will connect them to the story more easily. A government’s response to fiscal recommendations about mortgage payment holidays during the pandemic may not be the kind of subject of interest to millennials - a generation widely acknowledged to struggle in the housing market. But that’s not to say that writing about finance isn’t something that’s relevant: the trick is to find a topic that resonates with millennials. It’s also a good time to remind you about conducting thorough user-needs analysis: with millennials - and Gen Z for that matter - it’s important to show not just tell. These readers may need educating, inspiring - as well as updating. But, if you’ve audited your audience and your brand, these things will be easier to understand.

the trick is to find a topic that resonates with millennials

Go wild. Invite a bunch of millennials to your newsroom. Give them the opportunity to create their news for one week. Give them various roles and let them play with the articles you are writing. You’ll probably be surprised what they come up with, how they talk about the various topics, what are the things that resonate with them and what is the amount of volume they produce when they discuss certain topics. Invest in understanding the generation who will be your tomorrow's customer.

4. Content is king, but context is pretty damn important, too

This isn’t about patronising your audience, it’s about recognising at which points explainers and context might be valued. There’s not much more of a turn-off than lengthy explainers that overlook basic foundational pieces of information that might be obvious if Capitol Hill has been your beat for twenty years, but for younger, less-worldly readers, a brief spot of scene setting wouldn’t go amiss (though it’s possible that older, previously disinterested readers might appreciate this approach as well. It’s your publication, you’ll know if that’s the case).

Jonathan Perelman

5. Make it interactive and use the possibilities of the platform

The audience is migrating at all times. Until about a year ago everyone was busy figuring out how to present news on Snapchat. Now, it’s Tik-Tok. These things change rapidly and publishers need to learn how to adapt alongside these channel hops.

There’s a massive upside and opportunity here though. New platforms bring new ways of interacting with the audience. What was beyond imaginable 10 years ago is commonplace now: expectations are higher. These new platforms are opportunities to interact with your audience - and find new audiences too. The possibilities are endless: from story recaps with the most important facts on Insta stories, to creating quizzes to see if people understood what they read.

And that’s just the channels. Formats are brimming with potential also: podcasts (a form that was heavily derided until only a couple of years ago) and Q&A sessions with journalists and editors now make it easy to interact with your audience - and they’re a massively popular medium.

Each of these platforms offers a different way of making a news story a two way street. It’s easier than ever to get feedback from your readers and incorporating this information with other data on story consumption news outlet posses can be a step further in the editorial strategy.

6. Think mobile-first

The following can’t be stressed enough: young people spend time on smartphones. Heck, sometimes it seems like they [we] spend all their time on them. At the moment, given the circumstances and the COVID-19 pandemic, they [we] probably spend more time than ever with their phones. Making your stories ‘click’ on mobile screens will mean a lot from a user experience point of view.

There is a whole set of rules on making your stories mobile-friendly, and here are some of them.

  • Understand reader behaviour
  • Use lots of subheadings to make the text more scannable
  • Shorter paragraphs are easier to read, and look better on mobile
  • Shorter titles are more mobile-friendly

Mark Twain once said “don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do”, and this fits in perfectly. In other words, keep it simple wherever you can. Capiche?

don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do

7. Use (explainer) videos

Is video the right form? Of course it is. There was a time when the ‘pivot to video’ seemed like a punchline to a bad joke, but who’s laughing now, eh? Some things are just not as easily explained in the written word, and some ideas are just too complicated to be put into an article. Videos can be less formal and more fun - and are an easy (or easier, let’s not overstate this) way to assert your brand identity into the piece. You can communicate a lot more information in a couple of minutes of video than you might be able to with text alone - and in lots of situations, this is massively beneficial (so-called shorter millennial attention spans, anyone?). Also, in the end, people share way more videos than articles.

If the lockdown has shown us anything, it’s that mobile technology gives everyone the possibility to harness the power of video. Easy-to-use studios are often mobile-compatible - and affordable, so it’s simple to try out various ideas in a low-risk way. What many of the Covid-era phenomenons lacked in technical finesse, was more than outdone by superlative creativity - and that should be a lesson to all of us. If you’re inviting millennials into the newsrooms (or Gen Zs), maybe it’s worth letting them loose with a video explainer. You’ll probably be surprised about how they turn out!

8. Connect to influencers

There’s been a huge debate on whether influencer marketing works or not. Still while the jury’s out, what’s irrefutable is that younger people seem to like influencers and follow them. Nearly three quarters of Gen Z and millennials in the US follow influencers on social media, a study revealed.

Now, we’re not suggesting that it’s as simple as just ‘getting’ an influencer on board. Nor are we saying that you need a Jenner to make this work. Once again, it’s about participating in the conversations being had on the channels you want to use. Social media is, at its core, a conversation, and if you can strike up a chat, it’s possible they might be willing to build a relationship with you - as well as deciding whether you’re good partners for each other. Most importantly it’s about being picky. Getting in the right conversations with the right people is vital.

nearly three quarters of Gen Z and millennials follow influencers

9. Write listicles

On the web, it all comes down to how scannable your content is. If the attention of the average person lasts for 8 seconds (it could be a little less, or little more but you get the picture), and if people read on average 28% of content within a webpage, then you know why lists as a type of content work. Lists are scannable and very search-friendly which guarantees success.

And then there’s this guy: Cialdini. He created the 6 principles of persuasion. It can be distilled to this: listicles are a smart way of connecting with people because our brain wants to finish things. If you say ‘here are 13 things you should know about ‘topic’ - then chances are most people will go through the whole list because it’s finite. If you want to get into the specifics of why … just check out the principles of persuasion. It’s a fun read (and there’s even a visual explanation in the mix too).

people read on average 28% of the content on a webpage

10. Create shareable content

Captain obvious, right? It is, but there’s a harder question: what type of content is shareable? We’re gonna let you in on a little secret. Data is the key. Experiment and gather information on the story performance on different platforms (social media) for a certain period of time. Analyse the performance and create your overviews, or simply get our Story Value Engine running and receive all these insights hassle-free. What’s deemed ‘shareable’ varies from publication to publication. Replication isn’t the answer. Know your onions. And, by onions here we mean audience.

11. Filtering the Feed

Creating content that resonates with your readers is never easy, especially for this so-called impossible generation. We know there’s no one single scenario whereby all your stories go stratospheric, but it is possible to refine the selection of stories you offer to your readers - and when and where you publish them. Being smart about this can save everyone valuable time and energy and ensure that your readers get served content they’re interested in - and aren’t bombarded with irrelevant stuff at all hours of the day.

So, we might just have a couple of ideas about how to do this.

this generation is super picky

It all comes down to embracing data-informed decision making: the correct balance of editorial instinct with data.

First, analysing topics that did well in the past is a really useful exercise to understand why something’s worked (or not) - and it can help guide you to what might work next. Setting up notifications to the whole team (and not just designated ‘data recipients’) can also reinvigorate the newsroom’s relationship with data. These can inform you of what’s working, what’s not and what usually performs well. That’s not all. The right tool will let you know how to harness reader attention in real time by offering up insights about which channel is the best one for a certain story, or whether it needs more space on a homepage. Conveniently we can point you in the direction of such a tool, and the Story Value Engine that drives it…

Secondly, know that while all news consumers have preferences, millennials are super picky. Older users might like the feeling of having myriad articles and pieces of content to choose from, but millennials tend to be more specific. It’s really important that you make what they are looking for easy to find. And here, we obviously can refer you back to the first point here: there’s a ton of data available to help support your understanding of your readers - make sure you use it. Those content stickers on BuzzFeed are not just a designer's party. They serve a purpose.

A few words as we sign off...

We’ve said this article is about engaging millennials, but that’s not strictly true. Most of the stuff we’re talking about here is relevant no matter what age range - or demographic - you’re chasing. In fact, if you’d prefer a tidy nine word summation of this article, it’s this:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Know your channel
  3. Know your purpose

We’re here to help your newsroom make every story count. Give us a shout if you’d like to know more about our solution - we like to chat.

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