Recently I led a research project about Millennials for Metro and MailOnline. It was launched at Advertising Week Europe as ‘Millennial Rules’. It won the Mediatel award for Excellence in Research Presentation.
The topic of millennials is broad, confusing and often seemingly contradictory. My pitch to win the project was based on the idea of a central hub of insight that would be the ‘go to’ destination for agencies and advertisers seeking to understand the generation. It should lessen confusion and address contradictions rather than add more of both.
The central hub that was created can be seen here. It contains nine rules for advertising to millennials, eight millennial traits, a competition for agencies, presentation slides, infographics and an expert guide. Hats off to the Metro and MailOnline teams for producing such a useful and good looking website.
You can read all about the full research methodology in the expert guide. I got to work with the Bournemouth University Faculty of Media and Communication (and met some wonderful millennial students there), CrowdDNA who partnered me for the qualitative work and the desk research and Alligator Research who I used for the quant.
Below, as a taster and content for this blog, is a section from the nine-chapter, sixty page experts guide. Such a big report is there to ensure every brief line in the slide deck can be traced back to a fuller explanation. It ensures nothing gets forgotten and research departments have all the facts, figures and findings. This particular section deals with social media.
Young people have always felt insecure about how others see them but in the millennial story it would be impossible to untangle social media from the pressure to be perfect. 34% of millennials say social media forces the to be vainer, according to Adjust Your Set.
Social media not only triggers insecurity about looks but also the fear of not getting on in life too.
“With everything we see on social media this can make us feel overwhelmed. We see constant achievements or people the same age so much further ahead in life. Seeing all this on social media sometimes can make you question yourself and doubt what you have achieved” (Older Millennial).
Millennials live lives that only yesterday’s celebrities would have recognised – always in front of a lens, always having to make what they are doing seem ‘cool’.
Any given moment could turn into a photo shoot.
They are on a quest for physical perfection. Today’s twenty- somethings are three times more likely to go to the gym than their counterparts were 30 years ago, according to Holland and Barrett. The use of protein shakes is high, exercise is personalised (meeting personal physical goals rather than being team sport focused) and lifestyles don’t allow for anything that might cause physical damage so smoking, drinking and drug use is declining amongst the young.
Yet all this work isn’t creating more overall confidence. Rather, the bar is simply set much higher. According to Holland and Barrett, only 3% of the younger generation feel extremely confident about their body shape, whereas more than 11% of those aged over 50 said they felt secure about their appearance when they were in their 20s.
Older millennials have started to grow in self-confidence and put the importance of social media into perspective.
“When I was younger I would say I was more susceptible to social media but now I am older and more experienced I am able to see the positives in my life and hold them in higher regard” (Older Millennial).
“On Instagram and Facebook people only really post when they are doing interesting or exciting things. You can get a misguided impression that they are somehow more interesting than you” (Older Millennial).
“Whilst I use Facebook, I do struggle with reading people’s declarations of their ‘perfect lives’ whilst I’m sitting at home in my pyjamas. I rarely post now and that makes me feel a lot more secure in myself” (Older Millennial).
They still take a lot of pleasure in social media and buy into the desire to show an idealised version of their life.
“Social media is a guilty pleasure. Of course there’s pressure. I feel the pressure of it to show how brilliant my holiday is” (Older Millennial)
But they see other uses for social media. Initiative reported that the older millennials are less likely to use social media as ‘Social Me’ (self focussed with emphasis on marketing themselves and boosting their profile) and more likely to see it as ‘Social We’ (a (a support network linking like-minded people and old friends)
The entrepreneurs see social media as a springboard from which they can launch their businesses. Crucially they can use it for free, be creative and make their own story part of their business.
“Social media gives you the freedom to make money for yourself and that’s what’s amazing about social media – if you want to start a business or promote anything you can do it without paying someone to do it for you. But from a social sense, I find it so stressful, same old thing, everyone trying to portray their perfect lives. But there is so much opportunity on an entrepreneurial level and that’s why I think it’s a good thing on balance” (Older Millennial).
The younger millennials we met were thoroughly bought in, immersed in both the pleasure and pain of social media. A millennial who is also a teacher told us;
“You’ve got girls taking selfies when I’m trying to teach or videoing me and putting it on Facebook. I thought I was tech savvy but I’m not. They know so much more than I do. They try and charge their phones in the classroom saying oh no I’ve only got 20% battery and I still need to get home. Their whole lives revolve around their phones” (Older Millennial).
And here’s what some of the students we met at Bournemouth University said;
“I would definitely say I’m a different person on social media – you try to be the perfect you! You only post the pictures in which you feel you look your best on to Facebook and Instagram. You are seeking social acceptance and appreciation” (Younger Millennial)
“Many people feel pressured to keep up a positive image on social media, normally an image that suggest they’re succeeding in life and this is depicted by things such as materialistic items, beauty and exotic holidays etc. If you’re not seen this way, people feel they’re seen as a failure’’ (Younger Millennial).
“On Instagram I am a reputation-conscious monster, desperate to portray a persona of ‘coolness’ and ‘attractiveness’ to those who don’t know me in person’’ (Younger Millennial).
‘Likes’ on social media are important to this group.
“Instagram is a young person’s medium, where ‘likes’ are as valuable as money and maintaining an attractive profile means everything!’’ (Younger Millennial).
“Social media is self-promotion. It is gratifying when your post gets lots of likes or retweets” (Younger Millennial).
“I know some people who have posted a photo and not had ‘enough’ likes and have then deleted it. They think if people don’t ‘like’ you online then they don’t like you at all” (Younger Millennial).
On balance, they would rather be ‘liked’ in person (girls said they would rather someone in a club said they really liked their dress than just get a like on social media) but a social media ‘like’ can theoretically happen anytime, not just when out and dressed up. This group is ever likely to be in front of a lens and ever likely to be critically appraised. There are very few hiding places.
They have adopted tactics to maximise their chances of getting a ‘like’. We heard about “Prime-Insta Time” from a student who times her use of Instagram to match the maximum number of eyeballs that will see it.
We also heard about the role of purchases in the pursuit of ‘likes’.
“I have one friend who has to put a picture on Instagram most days and if she goes shopping the first thing she does is take a photo with the new clothing she has bought’’ (Younger Millennial).
“Many Instagram users have bought things based on the ‘rep’ and number of likes they will receive and I am no exception” (Younger Millennial).
No wonder then that millennials are said to be in constant search of affirmation. Friends play an important role and their advice can be sought on potential purchases even when they’re not in the shop to see for themselves. We met millennials who said all shops should have Wi-Fi so they can send pictures of potential purchases to their friends and receive their instant answers.
But it is also important to remember the role of competition in their lives. They are competing with the very people they are seeking affirmation and ‘likes’ from.
The more competitive amongst them were posting pictures of purchases already made. They were not asking for advice on purchases to be made. It is an important distinction because it says, “here’s what I’ve done” and shows they’ve taken another step. One more step forward in the competition – one more step towards perfection.