Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
7 mins read

Reaching the ‘impossible generation’: How can publishers engage millennial audiences?

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Young people and press consumption: this topic always sparks a heated debate among those in the publishing industry – and for good reason. 

Stances on this topic vary. Some believe young people consume just as much news as their parents did – but on different channels. Others believe ‘digital’ generations just aren’t interested in news stories at all – or at least not to the extent of previous generations. 

The bottom line is, publishers know they need to find new ways to reach young people. And not just reach them – they need to turn them into engaged consumers of news.

For many, that’s difficult; for some, it’s impossible. Millennial-focused news outlet Mic, for example, had some bad news recently. Yes, that’s the company that raised quite a few bucks (some $60 million) to build a news offering aimed at getting young people to consume the news. The news now is that Mic has laid off the majority of its staff.

The ‘impossible generation’, it seems, got its name for a reason. And Mic’s fate suggests that catching their attention is a tough challenge for media outlets. 

With this challenge in mind, we’ve taken a look at what’s happening around the globe and reached out to experts and publishers who’ve found a great way of engaging a young audience, to try to uncover the formula for reaching the impossible generation.

What’s the researchers’ take on this?

First things first, what are the habits of young people when it comes to the news?

Various studies carried out by prominent institutions have given us a glimpse into this. But they don’t completely answer the question of whether younger generations are interested in the news – or, if they are, just how interested. 

For example, research by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, conducted in 2015 showed that so-called Millennials consumed news and information in strikingly different ways from previous generations. This research unveiled that up to 69 percent of Millennial got their news daily. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? 

On the other hand, reports from different corners of the world tell different stories. Let’s take the research done by scholars in Spain as an example. Research made by people at Jaume I University in Castellón in 2012 showed that just 28% of young people (aged between 16 and 30) read either online or conventional newspapers each day. Now, this does sound bad, doesn’t it?

So, if young people don’t read newspapers, nor care about online news outlets, where do they get their news? 

The answer is social media. 

The aforementioned research conducted by Media Insight Project revealed that 86 percent of Millenials saw diverse opinions through social media. However, the latest trends show a decline, especially when we’re talking about the world’s most populated social network, Facebook. 

digital news report by the Reuters Institute shows Facebook’s popularity as a place for news has declined. The 2018 report showed that only 32 percent of people aged between 18 and 24 used Facebook for news in the week prior to being surveyed. In 2016, 45 percent of the people in the same age group answered the same question positively. 

The truth is, Facebook’s news feed is being replaced by other social platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, as well as personal messaging apps, such as Whatsapp.

What do publishing experts say?

Vahe Arabian, founder of the State of Digital Publishing tells us there are fewer people reading in general. 

“They’re reading more on their smartphones, but news consumption is in decline.”

Talking about how to engage younger news readers, Vahe says that visualization of the content is key. He believes the media have to become more specialized and have a different approach to younger audiences.

On the other hand, he points out that the example of the Mic, which was created as a Millennial-first publication, doesn’t necessarily show a business model of media serving a young audience is dead. 

“The problem with The Mic was that they tried to grow too fast, and they tried to become big and become more generalized,” he says. “So, they lost the connection with their audience.” 

Vahe says the industry needs outlets that will serve underserved audiences, such as young people.

“In the past, you had magazines that were specifically for teens or for certain age people, and many of them wanted that because they had aligned values”.

What’s the recipe of those who struck gold?

The story of real success when it comes to catching the eyes of young news consumers takes us to Norway, where the country’s most-read online news website, VG, made a huge success in engaging young readers by taking to Snapchat.

Having started at the very beginning of 2017, the VG Shapchat Discover project amazed the industry last year. They did what seemed impossible – not only reaching the ‘impossible generation’, but doing it with flair.

Some of the project’s statistics really make other publishers and industry professionals wonder how they do it. Their daily edition is read by approximately 220,000 to 250,000 people in a country that has a population of 5.3 million. More than 30 percent of those readers are between 13 and 17 years old, while just over half of them are female. 

We spoke to Jonathan Falk Systad, a video journalist at VG on Snapchat Discover, to find out their recipe for success in storytelling for a younger audience.

Jonathan says the younger generation don’t sit in front of a TV to watch the evening news. Instead, they’re used to having all they need in the palm of their hand. 

“In that regard, Snapchat and Instagram, and other social media, have become a perfect way to stay updated,” he says. “They’ve become a place for news.”

We ask Jonathan how they pick and place news that will appear on their Snapchat account. He says they usually focus on a main topic of the day, and they’ve developed their own way to tell the stories.

“We’re trying to tell the story in six snaps, and we have a possibility to do several interactions with the readers within those six snaps,” he says. “It’s important to us that each snap can stand alone.”

The Strasbourg Christmas village attack was one of the most reported topics just before the end of last year. Jonathan explains how they structured that story. 

“In the first snap, we tease the story with as little text as possible. It’s like the front page of a newspaper. There’s also a teaser of what you can see on the next slide. For instance, press the next slide to see about the shooter. Press the next one to see the crime scene.”

Even though this is a very hard story, it’s finding its way to a teenage audience. Jonathan says they experiment with the types of stories they put up on Snapchat. They don’t avoid politics, but they don’t cover political stories in the same way as they would on their website, which has an older audience.

“We have to literally explain everything like we’re talking to a complete outsider, because many of our readers are exactly that,” says Jonathan.

Their audience is seeing all kind of stories across the web, many of them about foreign countries and consisting of foreign expressions. That’s why Jonathan and his team try to explain everything in detail, and especially focus on why and how these stories affect the young people who read them. 

“It would be very easy for us to write stories about Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber every day because they want to read about that as well,” he says. “But, there’s nothing more satisfying than when readers react positively to a heavy story.”

Speaking of audience, Jonathan tells us, teenagers like to read about things that concern them, and that could be anything from pop culture to healthcare, or school politics.

“If the main subject of a story is a 19-year-old girl, then that, of course, hits better than if a subject is a 50-year-old man because they can’t relate to him.”

What about the future?

Snapchat may be just a thing of the moment, but, the truth is, this social network is huge among teenagers in Norway.

Jonathan doesn’t deny that Snapchat has a very strong position in his country, but he also sees it as a global phenomenon. 

He points out that their way of thinking when it comes to news on Snapchat is transferable to other social media as well. 

That thought could be crucial for the future.

“The thing is, we’re much better prepared when migration to another social platform happens,” he says.

Jonathan further explains that this is due to the fact that the thought process of creating news stories for different social networks has many similarities, and they’ve come up with a way of thinking when it comes to tailoring news for cellphone users.

Recent experiences show us that the question isn’t will migration happen, but rather when will it happen. People from the industry should be focused on tracing indicators of these changes and preparing.

Just two years ago, 13 percent more people said they used Facebook for news. These figures change a lot in a short time. That’s a thing to think about.

by Milos Stanic

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.