Key into a Millennial audience

By Rachel Podnar
Ball State University

A millennial audience isn’t a buzzword or the butt of a Saturday Night Live joke, according to Jennifer Maerz, the former editor-in-chief of Gannett’s new media project The Bold Italic

Instead, they’re developing habits that are changing the habits of generations before and after them, and newsrooms need to pay attention.

Maerz has done freelance research on the best practices to reach millennials. For her report, she interviewed people across the country from The New York Times to Buzzfeed and other regional initiatives to figure out how to reach Millennials. It’s a 40-page report, but here’s a cheat sheet.

Reflect the Millennial audience in your team.

“You’re not going to be able to reach a Millennial audience if you don’t have young people in your newsroom, and if you’re not empowering those young people in your newsroom,” she said.

Maerz also stressed the necessity of diversity in newsrooms. Millennials want to seem themselves in your coverage. She suggested small newsrooms bring in contributors for freelancing if they don’t have young or diverse voices on staff. 

A sense of voice is important.

“You can stand out by having a strong voice,” Maerz said.

She advised news organizations to think about the life stages millennials are going through, and key reporting to those life stages, using a voice they will connect with.

And not to be afraid of humor.

“I’m a big proponent of humor,” she said. “Humor was big for us at The Bold Italic.

Consider a spinoff product of a legacy medium.

Millennials may look at a larger brand and say, ‘This company doesn’t get me,’ Maerz said.

Media companies should consider starting up smaller, niche products, like an email newsletter. That doesn’t have to be like creating a full new startup, but having two to four people chose vendors, voice and tone for newsletter.

“When you have a smaller team, you can move much quicker,” she said. “You have a couple people making these decisions, you hire the people that reflect the audience you want to reach and you kind of let them go. They create learnings that can feed back into the larger organization.”

Create content people can consume on the go.

“A lot of news Millennials get, they bump into,” Maerz said. “You want to make sure your content is among the content that they’re pumping into.”

She said It’s not about how to make your homepage better, it’s about how to meet the audience where they are. For smaller organizations that can’t dedicate staff to new social media mediums like Periscope and Snapchat, leverage the social media of people on your team. If someone is already on Reddit, have them connect with the audiences you want to reach on that platform. 

“You really do have a lot of information FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out],” she said. “People want to know the talking points. They want to be able to sound smart in their social circles. How can you make your publication the hub for those people?” 

Discuss your data as a team. 

“It shouldn’t just be executives, metrics should be the common language you speak together,” Maerz said. “Anybody that creates content – the interns, freelancers, editors. You need to come together and have regular meetings and discussions so that together you can constantly be calibrating what kind of content you are creating for people.”

Events can be a great revenue stream.

Not only is it a great place to collect sign-ups for email letters, but it’s also a chance to ask them how they are getting their news, Maerz said. 

“It’s not looking at Millennials as a generation, but an attitude of innovation and experimenting that goes through everything you are doing,” Maerz said. “In the end it’s about how much can you experiment, innovate and put your audience first to be a successful organization in the long run?”

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