How Arts Organizations Can Woo a Millennial, From a Millennial
First of all, let me just get it out there — I am a millennial. I grew up with the Internet. I wear big headphones. It doesn’t matter how many different situations my mom proposes — I would always rather text than call. I know where my friends are basically all the time, thanks to the various social media platforms we hold near and dear.
I’m your biggest nightmare, and potentially — your biggest super fan. I might just be one little lady with an Instragram dedicated solely to her cat, but there are 75 million others like me; millennials have more people in their age bracket than any other generation.
We are consumers — non-stop, indefatigable consumers of both information and experience. In fact, in the past year, I’ve attended over 50 live arts events, from traditional plays, to folk music festivals, to school dance pieces, to films in 4DX (shout out to Ghostbusters).
If you engage with me, or any millennial, in the right way, I’ll be your consumer. I’ll do more than just come to your shows; I’ll message my friends about my favorite character, share photos of the venue, and immortalize the funniest, saddest, most impactful moments of the night.
So buckle your seatbelt in your soon-to-be-self-driving car, and hold on tight — I’m gonna give you a few ideas about how to talk to me.
Know That We’re Not Aliens: Use Your Own Voice
First of all, you have to stop wrinkling your nose the second you hear the word “millennial.” I mean, you were a young person once, too, weren’t you? And even though you weren’t called a millennial, you were probably called something — a hippie, a beatnik, a know-it-all, a yuppie, or whatever else.
That’s all we are — another generation of people. So talk to us like we’re people. Please, please, stay away from using slang that you think appeals to us because it resembles how young people talk today. Much like other humans, we can tell when you’re trying to sound like someone you’re not.
Rather than spending your time trying to capture a particular voice that ultimately isn’t yours, focus on creating content that is compelling, inspiring, and emotionally resonant. A recent study from the Wallace Foundation revealed that while millennials are looking to the arts to provide value and transformative experiences, we also need more help to see how the arts connect to broader themes in our lives.
So instead of using a tone that comes off as stilted at best and downright offensive at worst, talk like yourself! Our limitless consumption of information means that we can tell when you’re faking it; by contrast, when you’re honest, open, and direct, we’ll listen.
Embrace the inner special snowflake so emblematic of my generation. When thinking about both what you’re putting out there, as well as how millennials can engage with it, allow yourself to take a few risks, and don’t be afraid to be different.
Consider that what may appear as a generational obsession with personal documentation could actually be a quest for moments worth experiencing. We revel not only in the moment itself, but also in the memory and dispersal of that very moment. Millennials want to do more than attend a performance — we also want to be able to talk about what we’ve experienced, both in person and via social media.*
Let’s break this down into two questions: How can your organization create moments that people want to remember, both in your programming and your marketing? Secondly, how can your organization actively encourage audiences to immortalize and share these moments?
Maybe you encourage us to check-in, use your Snapchat geofilter, or take a picture in the photobooth you put in the lobby. Maybe you hand out disposable cameras and let people take photos at free will, which you develop, post and share later (every millennial loves a good disposable camera, trust me). Perhaps you create programming intended especially for a millennial audience — and top it off with a post-show reception with free food, drinks, and an exclusive chance to meet some of the actors and musicians.
If you need some inspiration (and courage), check out how New York City Center allowed a Fall for Dance audience to capture photos and share them during the performance, or how Seattle Rep gives lets actors run the social media accounts once a week, in the “Takeover Tuesday” initiative!
Consider the Long Run: Plan Ahead
Before you tell me all these ideas too crazy, too out there, or too expensive, think about all you have to gain. Yes, there are certainly a few barriers between millennials and arts organizations, the most impactful being cost of tickets, a lack friends to go with, over-committed personal schedules, and not knowing the event is happening in the first place.*
How can you help millennials overcome these barriers? It might take some time and thought — but don’t worry, millennials aren’t going anywhere. Rather than thinking of us as a frustratingly influential group of young people, think of us as your future evangelists — patrons whose support could one day keep your organization afloat. Consider investing time and energy in events or meetings specifically meant to attract millennials, like a young patrons group. Those young patrons will grow up before you know it.
At the end of the day, we want to feel connected. I know it sounds counter-intuitive. How could the generation so in love with burrowing into our phones be just as committed to crafting meaningful, personal connections? Well, smartphones can serve as isolators, but they can also serve as community-builders.
What do you think we’re doing on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram all that time? We’re seeing what our friends are doing because we miss them. We’re reading articles from the heart-breaking to the hilarious because we want to contribute to the conversation at work the next day. We’re a generation that desperately wants to belong to and with each other. Think of all the opportunities for millennials to belong to and with the myriad of cultural organizations out there.
* (Source: Wallace Foundation - Building Millennial Audiences: Barriers and Opportunities).
Anya Richkind is a Digital Marketing Assistant at Capacity Interactive, a digital marketing consulting firm for culture and the arts. Anya's original article appeared on the Capacity Interactive blog in November 2016. All content and graphics are courtesy of Capacity Interactive. Thanks, Anya!