Top 8 Tips for Museums and Nonprofits to Engage Millennials in 2012

Last week, Tina Wells wrote an article titled, Top 10 Generation Y Trends for 2012. Her predictions draw upon topics that research has already discovered to be true of Generation Y: our public service motivation, social connectedness, and technological savvy, to name a few. And thankfully, she graciously leaves out some of our more… well… negative qualities identified in the workplace and beyond.   Her article provides insight to logical next-steps for how organizations can best connect with Millennials in 2012. Actually, nearly all of these things were even true throughout 2011.  Here’s How Tina’s predictions translate to the ZAM (zoo, aquarium, museum) and greater nonprofit world.  If organizations can move forward in these arenas, 2012 Just might be the year for Millennials and museums

 

1. Tap into our conscious consumption by selling your Admission. Wells points out that Millennials are still consuming- but we consume products that support philanthropic causes. Gone are the days of covering up good deeds and “disguised” learning. Helping out philanthropic causes is cool in our book. If your zoo or aquarium is rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing animals, tell us. If your museum is bringing informal art lessons to areas of our community that are underserved, let us know.  Studies have shown that we care about “doing good” and are the most  socially aware consumers in society to date.  This is good news for nonprofits that offer admission, as those funds funnel back and often help fuel the organization’s philanthropic initiatives. Remind us of this to attract potential Gen Y visitors.

 

2. Capitalize on the experience of visiting the museum or being involved with the nonprofit. Millennials care about positive and unique experiences. Wells argues that, “ the real winners in Millennial marketing will understand how important it is to this demographic to have ‘once in a lifetime experiences.’” Marketers don’t need to sell life-altering, move-to-Africa-for-three-years experiences to capitalize on this. It’s simply a matter of understanding what makes up the unique experience of visiting a museum or cultural center. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s extremely successful Share the Love campaign realized that quite often, it’s the experience of visiting the aquarium and who you are with that matters most. The key motivator for visitation was a shared experience with loved ones. This campaign appealed to all generations through several methods, but the bottom line of this campaign may be critical for connecting with Millennials: sell the experience. Show Gen Y why this particular time and place is unique and important and what it means to them, personally.

Combine this with the tip above and you’re advocating a product in which Millennials see innate value (a unique experience) and reinforcing that this unique experience supports the public good (a consumption motivator).  Museums that do this effectively will rule the school in 2012.

 

3. In marketing communications with Millennials, get to the point and do it quickly. Instanity  (a term that Tina Wells coined) refers to Gen Y’s “insane focus on having everything now.” Technology has come a long way in the last ten years and processes that took hours then (or weren’t possible) are almost instantaneous now- like snapping a photo and sharing it with the world via social media. Also, Millennials have segmented engagement, meaning that there are seemingly a million tidbits of information fighting for folks’ attention. When communicating critical messages to Gen Y, content is still king, but make that content known and make it known quickly. “The incredible story of our 18th century XYZ” isn’t going to cut it as an engaging story or link title, and is not likely to get much traffic. Tell stories, but make sure that they are timely, organic, and accessible in tone.

 

4. Create exhibits that are technology-based and aim for social initatives. Here’s why: First, Millennials generally have a severe and permanent case of “Technoholism.” As Wells points out, we are “completely consumed by technology.” Technological endeavours are more natural life occurences to Millennials than they are rare feats of intelligence and innovation. (Remember: the oldest among us were hooked up to America Online by middle school). We expect technology and we are generally pretty good at using it- especially to connect with our friends and curate experiences (see point #5).

Second, we are consequently better at using technology as a general group than our elders. Also, Teens and Tweens are “swapping up” their gadgets with their parents, who are less crazed about having the latest and greatest new tech items, Wells reports. If you are developing a new exhibit using the latest technologies, please keep the Millennial audience in mind.

 

5. Let everyone be a curator (and understand that your own curator is less important). Curators are no longer the celebrity rockstars of the museum world… the visitors now hold that title. This shift from revolving around the business to revolving around the consumer has taken place throughout the business world, but the role of (and even the word) “curator” has experienced a particularly speedy evolution over the last year. Millennials have played a big role in this cultural shift… and this generation’s “Warholism” is likely to keep rocking the boat. Wells explains that Millennials know that fame is easily attainable in this day and age. Moreover, Wells predicts that Millennials will be continually less intrigued by celebrities over time. What does this mean for museums? Having knowledgeable, academically-celebrated staff may be extremely important for content accuracy and other functions… but for this over-educated generation, your celebrated curator’s “celebrity” isn’t the key to increasing reputation. That key is in appealing to us personally and lending control and content creation to the people.

 

6. Take audiences behind the scenes physically and virtually to show Millennials “how the cake is made.” This tip has been tried and tested over the last few years and is more a current and lasting reality than a prediction for the future. Taking audiences behind the scenes with engaging content is a common best-practice for organizations on social media. But it’s a good best practice off-line, too. According to Tina’s article, Gen Y is more interested in the process of making a cake than, say, buying a cake. Would we buy-in to the process of “visiting the museum or cultural center” or putting exhibits and programs together? Signs point to “yes.” And this will likely be an easier task for museums than other businesses that can show “behind the scenes” (“Our office dog Rex says ‘Good Morning!’”) but cannot as easily take audiences there (“Come see this Duchamp in person now that you’ve seen the process of acquisition”).

 

7. Put your collection online and make resources sharable. The Millennial culture is not about “owning” information as much as “renting and sharing” information. Wells uses Spotify to illustrate this Gen Y trend.  She points out that Millennials are committed to the music that they love, but they don’t want to buy it. They’d rather rent it and share it with their friends. There may be a lesson here for museums as guardians of private content.  Information is more valuable to this generation when it can be shared. From the point of the museum, this isn’t a bad thing. Sharing museum content often means sharing inspiration and an educational resource that aids in fulfilling the museum’s mission.  From a marketing perspective, it means improving the museum’s reputation as a credible source for information.

 

8. Tap into our desire for “profitable purpose” by making it personal to get donations. We’re public service motivated and we’re likely to respond to face-to-face requests for donations from nonprofits.  This point wraps up many of the points above.  “Millennials want to feel a personal connection to the brands they’re supporting,” Wells reports. These potential donors don’t want to just give their money (when engaged), we want to give our hearts. This sounds simple, but it means that nonprofit organizations will need to be aware of the needs and desires of this generation and work hard to appeal to them by connecting to potential Gen Y donors and engaging them personally through experiences, interactions, and effective storytelling. Oh- and for smaller gifts, let us give them online. 

 

*The photo above is based on a picture by Lance Iversen of Generation Y professionals enjoying the popular Nightlife program at the  California Academy of Sciences

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 4 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

4 Responses to Top 8 Tips for Museums and Nonprofits to Engage Millennials in 2012

  1. greglandgraf

    I like a lot of these notions. I’m not entirely convinced that they’re so generationally based, however. Is going behind the scenes only interesting for Gen-Y, for example? I doubt it. The association seems more likely to me that the tools for creating and distributing behind-the-scenes views are so much more prevalent now.

     
    • colleendilen

      Thanks for the comment, Greg. I think you are excatly right; these items are NOT only critical for engaging members of Generation Y, they are critical for remaining relevant within the context of the world right now. As you mention, behind-the-scenes content is indeed likely important for all potential donors and visitors right now– especially since studies are showing that investing in/consuming products from “trustworthy companies” is extremely important to the current consumer. I think that many of these are, indeed, a matter of prevalence right now.

       
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