“How do you do fellow kids?”
With a 5 second clip of Steve Buscemi, skateboard slung over his shoulder and all, 30 Rock has unintentionally encapsulated how many brands targeting Gen Y and Z appear on social media: oblivious and out-of-place.
Young consumers are a popular yet difficult target for many major brands. We can be highly unpredictable buyers, and what’s cool and what’s not by our standards is constantly fluctuating. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times — this first generation of digital natives have completely disrupted the market. With it now being so much easier and faster to reach people with the power of mobile phones, the barriers to entry are diminishing and competition between brands is fiercer than ever. All of that, plus an innate, Millennial distrust for corporations and a lack of brand loyalty, and my generation seems to be near impossible to market to.
I’m here to tell you that we’re not, we just need some convincing. Here are my tips for using social media to reach twenty-somethings (and younger).
Take advantage of opportunities to poke fun at your competitors
The recent “IHOP/IHOb” fiasco is proof that a bit of innocent teasing can benefit all parties involved. If you haven’t heard, the International House of Pancakes decided to temporarily rebrand to the International House of Burgers in June to promote their new menu. This unique campaign immediately went viral and sparked a frenzy of jokes on Twitter.
Wendy’s wasn’t the only big brand to make quips at the newly-christened burger place, Pop-Tarts, Moon-Pie, White Castle, and Burger King, along with a swath of celebrities, also got their kicks at the name-change. While it may seem like bad business to have your brand rivals and famous figures mocking you on the internet, it worked in IHOb’s favor. “IHOb” was mentioned 1.8 million times in the span of 12 days, according to Sprinklr. The day they revealed the meaning behind the mysterious “b”, the burger/pancake joint was being tweeted about 86,000 times per hour. While Sales data for IHOb’s first month have not been released, I’d be shocked if the millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity on Twitter didn’t spark an uptick in business, even if only temporarily.
Much of the numbers mentioned above are likely thanks to the Master of Social Media Sass, Wendy’s. For years now, Wendy’s has been using Twitter to dish out jeers at their competitors. There’s something especially holy about a brand that defies its expectations and delivers a message that isn’t cut and polished like the rest. People my age love a good paradox and have totally bought into Wendy’s. We don’t look at the burger joint like they’re trying to sell us burgers, Wendy’s is just our witty friend who makes us laugh.
Don’t assume any 20-year-old intern is the expert at capturing your brand voice.
I’ll be honest, I find it hard to connect with people my age on my own channels a lot of the time — I’ve refrained from posting for days at a time because I can’t think of anything that my audience would like. As a digital native and an active user, I have a vast understanding of social media culture, and the nuances attached to each platform. but I couldn’t log into any brand account and begin posting with total success. It should go without saying that growing up using Instagram and Facebook doesn’t equate to an understanding of brand identity and marketing. Give your young employees some time to develop an appreciation for your business and its overall strategy before giving them log-in information.
Not to mention, there have been several cases of interns tarnishing a brand’s reputation in a single post. Just ask CSIS.
Get a firm grasp on cultural nuances and references.
This screenshot ended up on the front page of Reddit the same day it was posted and is the perfect example of an out of touch brand. To give some context, “Feelin’ cute, might delete later” was often used to caption ridiculous selfies of people, animals, fictional characters, and more. As you can see, the original post features a quite normal photo, and doesn’t fit within the purview of the meme. Amtrak looks just a tad out of touch, since this meme has been dead for a year and a half (decades, in social media years), but the railroad service was mostly just perceived as yet another brand with a faint attempt to reach young people.
The Subreddit r/FellowKids (appropriately named after the 30 Rock scene that I referenced earlier) is the place where people of the internet come together to make fun of brands who are trying really hard at pandering to a young audience. The mere existence of this forum is proof that young consumers can see right through marketing ploys aimed at them.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t incorporate relevant cultural references that your target audience can identify with into your strategy but do some social listening before you post that photo of Kermit the Frog drinking tea.
Don’t try to inject your brand into every post.
Point blank, it’s annoying. Brands are often heavy-handed in achieving their marketing goals, and since a lot of people my age already have a distrust for “corporate America”, bringing more to the table than a shiny new product is a must.
Apple’s Instagram is my favorite example to bring up on the topic of brand self-promotion. A quick scroll through will reveal their social media marketing strategy — sell the lifestyle, not the product. In over 200 photos, you won’t see a shot of Macbook or Apple Watch. Instead, you’ll find a collection of stories from around the world told through photos and videos that have been shot on iPhones. They’ve covered a range of emotions, like candid photos of a brother or sister, to a quote from a Saudi woman who is learning to drive for the first time. This is the sort of content that makes users feel like they’re supporting a worthwhile brand, one that cares about more than selling smartphones. Value-add isn’t a new topic in the digital marketing world, but as 20-some-year-old, all too often I see brands overestimating the value of the content they put out. If you can make your audience feel like they are truly gaining something from your content, such as entertainment, knowledge, or perspective, then you can capture nearly any age group, not just Gen X & Y.
Lastly, have a sense of humor sometimes!
This pairs well this #1 on the list. While I’m aware that I’m about to make a huge generalization here, I think it’s still fair to say that Generation Y & Z, turn to social media for entertainment. We’re there to laugh and socialize with our peers, so we can get easily bored with brands that take themselves too seriously.
How you decide to be funny is totally up to you. You can be like Wendy’s and make fun of your competitors. You can be like Old Spice and make fun of your audience. You can be like ESPN and be the near-perfect embodiment of how your audience (in this case, sports fans) banters online. The point is, you have options. Start testing them out and see what your followers are receptive to. I’ve read potential posts from my clients’ accounts aloud to my friends and coworkers to see if they find it funny or have any suggestions to make it so.
Young people are more likely to follow and engage with brands that they can relate to. You don’t need to make wisecracks all the time, but if you can humanize your brand, you’ll make it easier for leery 20-somethings to trust you
Most of these tips involve humanizing your company, and from what I’ve seen, that is the best way to get through to my generation. I know how tempting it is to have every post be polished and refined, to put your company in the best possible light, but those types of messages are hardly desirable to subscribe to for Gen Y and Z. Raw and real are great words to describe how we often use social media, which is why we appreciate when the brands behind the products we buy are, too.
Hopefully these pointers have made us youngins a little less intimidating to talk to. Happy posting!
Author: Kianna Notermann
Kianna is an independent creative marketer whose sweet spot is social media and content creation. As a photographer, she loves to work with highly visual brands that consider compelling imagery a valuable piece of their digital marketing strategy. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2017 with degrees in Communication Studies and Business and Marketing Education. In her free time, she likes to kayak, thrift shop, and travel near and far whenever she can.