Five Tips for Marketers From MTV's Study of Millennials' Digital Habits

It's Not Just a Medium, It's an Ingrained Part of the Younger Generation's Culture

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MTV was Facebook's No. 1 fastest-growing brand last year. As we experienced this meteoric rise in social media, we were also madly studying our audience to understand their movements and behavior in the social space, or what we came to call their "digilife."

The study that emerged from that work turned over a plethora of fresh insights into what makes this generation tick (or should I say what makes this generation click).

The insights lead, we believe, to some provocative questions for the marketers attempting to connect with this elusive crowd in its native tongue and on its digital home turf.

Here are some findings from our study, posed as a few key questions that marketers might want to consider as they strategize about how to connect to the latest version of consumers.

Does your brand follow the rules of digital etiquette?
Millennials are no different than any other generation in that they're trying to work out how to look and be cool when they're hanging out with their friends. The difference, of course, is that so much of this behavior is being navigated in a completely new, digital world. Extraordinarily nuanced codes and informal rules of behavior are emerging in social media. Overshare and you're hidden in the feed (de-friending being so overly confrontational and all). Respond too fast and too frequently and you're overeager and deeply uncool. In our "Millennials, Decoded" study, half of smartphone-toting millennials said they were "very concerned" that if they responded too quickly, they'd "look like they had nothing better to do."

Can my brand proxy for my audience?
One of the more surprising findings of the study is that if you're too personally controversial you run the risk of garnering negative attention in the social media space. Only about one-third of respondents feel that , for example, politics (36 %) and religion (35%) are appropriate for public posting online. What we observed many of the millennials doing, however, was being controversial by proxy. They rip and re-purpose content (show clips, stand-up, music videos, ads) and let that do the talking (and take the risks) for them. Over half (54%) posted video clips or articles they agreed with, "instead of posting my opinion as a status update."

Do you know your consumer and your brand well enough to be able to create content in the overlap that could serve this proxy role? Virality, we believe, is connected to this proxy role.

Does your brand curate its online identity, like a millennial?
Young people have always experimented with questions of identity. Part of the natural process of growing up is to wonder and play with who we are and who we will become. However, raised on a steady diet of reality TV, blogging and Facebook profiling, millennials have become not just seasoned self-broadcasters but master curators of their identity. Each operates a little like a one-man director, editor and special effects expert of the movie called self; each is a mogul of her own "me"dia.

The sheer speed and dexterity of this self-curation is remarkable to behold. Ninety percent told us it's important how others view them and their reputation on Facebook, so they constantly and fluidly shift between chosen identities in order to present their "best selves and lives." In our study, a full one-third of respondents said that they not just sometimes but "always modify their photos before posting online." We heard anecdotes of attending parties and events just for the photos they could post later.

What would it mean for a brand, we wondered, to be engaged in a process of constantly curating and refining its identity, especially in this online environment -- such as the simple example of the way Google is living a constant jazz riff on its homepage logo, or the more extreme case of Geico's flexible creative strategy (cavemen, gecko and googly-eyed Kash) addressing millennial humor through a variety of lenses. Or Amex's push to build equity with a younger audience with its flexible, consumer-defined Zync product without alienating or underserving the older Platinum crew. Brands are already starting to play with fluid identity in a way that 's native and natural to millennials.

How intense is your brand's feedback loop?
Is the refresh button the new cigarette? We saw in the field and in the data a very high degree of what we nicknamed 'like-a-holism,' a kind of addiction to feedback among millennials. Over 60% demand immediate feedback for text messages and almost 70% for IM/Facebook chat. And a broad majority of the millennials we studied demand same-day feedback for all digital communication platforms. Why? Maybe because 63% feel more connected when they get feedback, and 58% report a boost in confidence. And a quarter feel alone when they don't receive feedback, underlining its importance in keeping millennials in the loop.

The air that the new consumer breathes is responsive. The world doesn't just talk back, it hyper-responds, and is engaged in a powerful and intense feedback loop. Is your brand engaged in a thousand points of conversation -- listening and responding?

To tweet or to Tumble, that is the question …
Prior generations dealt with a fairly limited number of communication options: the phone call, the letter, the fax. Many Gen-Xers were already into their 20s before email became part of everyday life -- and maybe into their 30s before the BlackBerry did.

This generation, on the other hand, has a set of communication tools of staggering breadth. One of the byproducts of these choices is using each device or platform in ever-more specialized ways. For example, phone only for emergencies, IM for working together on homework. Millennials also relate digital communication to its real-life intimacy counterpart, and see it as an equal way of connecting. Mallory, 22 , told us "sending an email is like going out to dinner and Facebook is like getting coffee or just seeing someone at the store."

How nuanced is your brand in its choice of communication platform? If you have the right message but it's in the wrong medium, you may be conducting a frequency faux pas.

Digispace is like the real world, but it is also a world apart. It is a new place, a frontier one could say, where the rules and laws and ways of being are still forming. Millennials, the first natives to this new land, have disproportionate power in how this new world is shaping up. So if you want your businesses and brands to thrive there as they do elsewhere, keep your eye on the them.

Nick Shore is senior VP-strategic consumer insights and research at MTV . He is responsible for all of MTV 's research efforts across MTV , MTV2, mtv .com, mtvU and MTV Tr3s platforms.
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