Of course you know by now that Millennials represent the largest generation in U.S. history. That must be why the rest of us are obsessed with the generation born between 1980 and 2000:
So it's no surprise that I have a lot of conversations with my internal communication colleagues about how best to communicate with Millennials. The thinking goes like this: Since Millennials are the first generation to be digital natives, they must need a completely different communication approach than everyone else in the workplace. The idea is that we have to develop some combination of app, Instagram, Snapchat and video game. Maybe with some free-range kale thrown in for good measure.
That's why my colleagues are surprised when I tell them that the most effective way to communicate with Millennials is to follow the same best practices for communicating with every generation. How can that be? By this point, we're all sophisticated media consumers who suffer from information overload, crave convenience and seek authenticity. As a result, the secret sauce for cutting through the clutter with Millennials is effective across all generations.
Here, then, is a 7-step foolproof formula for communicating with Millennials and everyone else:
- Reduce the portion size of every communication you create. Just as we like to grab a quick snack and hit the road, we prefer our communication to be bite-sized: easy to access, instantly understandable and immediately crossed off our to-do list. Too much of internal communication is simply too large. It's like a big meal: complicated, heavy and time-consuming. What employees want is the communication equivalent of a few pieces of chicken and some potato wedges in a cute convenient package. And they'll take it to go.
- Don't lecture; converse. Lose that imperious, from-on-high tone and replace it with a friendly, conversational voice. You know what I mean: Write the way you'd speak to a colleague or even a friend. BFFs don't let friends use words like core competency, synergy and strategic imperatives.
- Increase participation. This is one area where Millennials are pushing the rest of us to change our game--because Millennials know that one-way communication is so 1974. Start by advising leaders to listen more--to talk less, ask more questions and then just listen. Then create high-touch forums that allow employees and leaders to interact (preferably face-to-face) in a meaningful way.
- Move from describing (words) to showing (visual). It's time to face the fact that images and visuals dominate external communication: 95% of marketers believe visual content is critical. On Facebook, for example, posts including photos generate 100% more engagement than the average post. That's why every English major (including me) needs to realize that writing is on the wane. Visuals--photos, video, infographics, etc.--are the communication method that will pack the big punch.
- Answer these essential questions: "What does this mean to me?" and "What do I need to do differently?" When I ask employees about the way change is introduced, their biggest complaint is that communication is not explicit enough. "Too often, the focus is on the big picture: what's happening at an organization-wide level," said one employee I interviewed. "That's interesting, but what I really want to know is how I'm affected. And if you expect me to take action, you need to make that clear."
- Provide how-to information that will help employees solve a problem, learn what to do in certain situations and make their lives easier. (The two key words are, of course, "how to.") I call that kind of information a "recipe," not because you're teaching people to cook something, but because you're providing tips or instructions. As information architect Richard Saul Wurman famously said, "Half of all our communication is the giving and receiving of instructions."
- Become more playful. I refuse to use that dreadful word "gamification" but there's no denying how ingrained gaming has become in our lives. Whether we spend time on a game console or not, "play" is an experience we value and often expect. The question for communicators: How do we create the same opportunities to be a part of the action, in a fun, engaging, absorbing way?