Plugged In With Purpose: How to Engage Millennials in Advocacy

How to Engage Millennials in Advocacy

Millennials: Brands may covet them, Baby Boomers may sometimes malign them, but there’s no denying the influence of this generation on today’s world. Here’s why advocacy groups need to take millennial engagement seriously:

  • Size: In 2015, the Census Bureau reported that “[m]illennials, or America’s youth born between 1982 and 2000, now number 83.1 million and represent more than one quarter of the nation’s population.” It’s worth noting that there’s no one definition of the demographic, since different organizations pick different birth years to begin and end the group.
  • Voting Power: Depending on how you define the group, all or nearly all millennials will be old enough to vote in the 2018 US elections.
  • Willing To Take Action: In research for the 2017 Millennial Impact Report, 3,000 millennials “reported taking more than 13,000 individual actions for causes and social issues.”

So how can organizations take advantage of the millennial moment? That was the focus of our webinar, Plugged in with Purpose: How to Engage Millennials in Advocacy. Our guests were Kara Pally, Senior Technology Advisor for the libertarian nonprofit Free the People, and Ben Brown, founder and Chief Executive Officer for the Association of Young Americans (AYA). Here are some key ideas that surfaced during the conversation:

Seek Them Out on Social

Millennials are comfortable supporting issues online across a variety of platforms. In Wave 1 of the 2016 Millennial Impact Report, 61% reported posting at least once in the previous week about issues that mattered to them. When asked to name “[s]ocial media platforms used in the past week to post about and/or engage with the issue you care about,” 88% named Facebook, 56% named Twitter, 49% said Instagram, and 41% said YouTube.

Lawmakers are getting the hint. Every member of the Senate is on both Facebook and Twitter, and so are all of the Cabinet agencies and the mayors of the most populous cities in the country. Governors and members of the House of Representatives each have Facebook accounts, and almost all of these policymakers are active on Twitter, as well.

If organizations want to connect to millennials, they have to be where the action is.

Find Them on the Internet

Millennials are often “keyboard warriors,” notes Kara Pally of Free the People. “They pretty much live and breathe on the Internet,” she says, and they feel like they’ve done their part after taking one quick action. “When you think about activating millennials,” she says, the action “needs to be available immediately and it should have a really low barrier to entry.”

Pally says millennials are “way less likely to do things like make phone calls, or knock on doors, or show up at local events.” Older people, meanwhile, are “definitely more likely to get up off their couch, to join local groups, to make real phone calls, and do things off of the Internet.”

Work On Their Terms

Millennials don’t want to have to wait for an organization to create a campaign or a petition before they take action. They want instant gratification, and advocacy groups can make that work for themselves by enabling a more direct connection between these young people and lawmakers.

This is a goal that is central to the work of the Association of Young Americans. Founder and CEO Ben Brown says his group has “found that our communities [ages 18-35] really do want to actually be empowered.” To that end, the organization has created a tool using Phone2Action that allows any of its members to communicate directly with local, state, and federal representatives on any issue they care about.

Leverage Current Events When Possible

Want to fire up millennials? It helps to align with what’s fresh in their feeds. Kara Pally noted that while her team frequently posts about civil asset forfeiture, it wasn’t until Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ proposed an increase in asset forfeiture that engagement significantly increased. “Creating a sense of urgency, having it be something that’s in the news cycle—that definitely does well for us,” she says.

Know Which Metrics Matter

Success on social media is a numbers game – but which numbers are worth noting?

On Facebook, Pally’s team keeps an eye on Reach and Video Views. But Pally notes that “they don’t really represent the true number of people who’ve consumed your content or reacted to it in some positive way.” Instead, Shares are a better measure of success. When millennials see a shared post from someone they know, it’s a “personal validation” that’s far more powerful than an ad.

For videos, Pally says Completion Rate is a better indicator of engagement than Views; if a Facebook video is watched for just three seconds, it counts as a View. She says the Conversion Rate is a useful metric for advocacy campaigns, because it shows where people are leaving the funnel and where a campaign might need work to encourage millennials to complete the action after taking the first step.

Choose The Right Channel

Where should engagement happen? That depends on the goal of the campaign. Ben Brown says that the AYA sees high conversion rates from direct communication channels such as texting or email, while education campaigns “generally do better on Facebook.”

“A lot of times, we just try to find the best platform for the type of content and [see] what performs best where,” says Pally. Her organization is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where they get the biggest impact. But Pally notes that while it is popular with those in their late 20s and early 30s, Facebook might not necessarily be the best place to reach younger people. She says that her 18-year-old cousin prefers Snapchat, Tumblr, and group chat via Whatsapp. “She would never click on an advocacy campaign on Facebook,” says Pally. “But she’s 18, she goes out and votes. She is [part of] the next generation of voters and activists.”

Don’t Just Post Your Own Content on Social

Advocacy organizations focused only on building their own content may be missing a big opportunity. Externally-generated content can supplement an institution’s creative efforts and engage its audience.

Pally recommends that organizations find and promote existing videos that align with their message. “If some stuff exists and it makes the point you want and it’s the young guy in his bedroom with his iPhone, cool, give him a boost,” she says. It’s a win-win situation: the creator gets more exposure, and the organization gets a compelling video.

Brown suggests that a contest—getting the most shares, likes, or followers, for instance—can also get people excited and engaged.

Millennials are an emerging political force. By engaging and empowering them online, advocacy groups can help strengthen their own causes. Going forward, these groups must continue to adapt to new technologies and preferences. After all, millennials won’t be the last generation to shake things up.

To learn more about how to engage millennials in your advocacy campaigns, please click here to view the complete webinar. Or, to learn the top social media advertising best practices that can help in targeting and engaging this population, download our free whitepaper, “Ads for Advocacy: 8 Best Practices for Social Media Ads.”

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