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Improve Intergenerational Communication: 3 Tips to Attract & Retain Younger Members

Your future success is dependent upon building effective relationships across generational lines. Ask yourself: Am I doing what younger generations want, or what I think they want?

“Generational hazing has always been a part of our cultural narrative. We need to unite generations to focus on moving forward together.”  –Kim Lear, Keynote Speaker, #HLSF18

When Kim Lear spoke at our most recent Super Forum, she reminded us that improving intergenerational communication has never been more pertinent than now. Tech is still booming with a competitive edge, people are living longer, and younger emerging generations like Millennials and Gen Z’ers will continue to shake up the workplace (and your member base).

Your future success is dependent upon building effective relationships across generational lines, so if you want to know how to attract and retain younger members (or employees), ask yourself:

Am I doing what younger generations actually want, or just what I think they want?

If it’s the latter, it’s time to reshape your strategy. Effective communication is all about managing expectations. Delivering on their needs is key to providing value, engaging, and retaining them.

Why This Matters for Associations: The Impact of Reaching Out

Effectively reaching out to younger members can lead to big win$ in terms of improving membership retention (if you can attract them first, that is). In its 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, Marketing General reveals that:

  • 27% of individual member organizations have trouble attracting and/or maintaining younger members
  • Associations with increases in their one-year membership and five-year membership numbers are significantly more likely to have a higher percentage of millennial members

Translation: In order to experience said boosts in membership from younger people, your engagement strategy must be broader than one age group (ahem, Baby Boomers).

So, What Do Younger Generations Want? (Cue the Aretha)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T (just to get that no-brainer out of the way). Regardless of which generation you belong to, it should go without saying – your elders aren’t the only ones who deserve your respect. The sooner you recognize younger generations, like Gen Z, as the valuable, segmented market that they are, the sooner you can effectively target and deliver on their unique, individual needs, reaping the benefits of their loyalty. About your engagement strategy, though:

  • It needs to be inclusive: How can we form communication strategies and offer value that will appeal across age groups?
  • It needs to involve forward-thinking: Gen Z’s are entering the workforce – what will they want? How will their expectations change?
  • It needs to be based on research within your target audience: Have you collected behavioral data to find out what they want? What would make them feel engaged with your association? Have you ever thought to ask? 
  • It needs to be personalized: Don’t make generalizations about your target audience – that’s not an effective way to gain insight into their individual needs. Are you using behavioral data to personalize the member experience? Are you communicating with your audience in the way they prefer to be communicated with, or the way you prefer? 

1. Ditch the Generational Stereotypes (& the “Young” in Young Professional)

I’m a millennial, so as you might imagine, I’m writing this blog (from my mobile device) remotely (because I wasn’t allowed to bring my cats to work – what gives?), while Snapchatting my friend (about how I LITERALLY CAN’T EVEN wait for an opportunity to do goat yoga) – NOT.

The humor in this example of generalization is in the same vein as other stereotypes Kim shared at Super Forum, lightening the mood around the conversation. While generational hazing has been around for centuries, she was right in her diagnosis of this cultural narrative – it’s time for a new approach. She urges us to appreciate the unique perspective and contribution of each generation on our journey to more effective communication (see key takeaways here).

As Dean West from Association Laboratory put it:

“For many associations, the solution to young professional engagement appears to be obsessing about the ‘young’ in ‘young professional.’ Receptions get transformed into games because nothing says you’re respected than by suddenly having cornhole or darts at the reception.” (please note the sarcasm)

Take it from Dean, and us – don’t rush to blow your budget on a dart board. Different generations will always require different approaches, so if your membership strategy for millennials and Gen Z relies on gimmicky generational tactics you read about in the news, your strategy won’t be as effective. Use member data to strengthen communication.

Ask yourself:

Am I showing up to meet the specific needs of younger members, or just stereotyping a key member base? Am I demonstrating respect, or making assumptions?

Simply put: stereotypes are outdated and assumptions can’t be ground for your strategy. Page 4 of this resource includes a great comparison of each generation’s expectations at a glance.

2. Invest in Your Online Presence

(And not just because, like, you assume all young folks love wasting away on social media).

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“The flip side of being digital natives is that Gen Z is even more adept with technology than millennials.”

That’s right – not only do you have to find ways to communicate with the tech-savvy millennial, but there’s even more pressure to reach Gen Z digitally. Having grown up with technology, they are extremely familiar with how to use it. As for the generations coming after them? Just observe a toddler with an iPad and it’s clear this fast-paced train of expectations isn’t letting up.

Your online presence is an ever-evolving extension of your brand (and one that gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re tech-savvy, ahead of the game, and ready for growth). Launching a functional online community where members across generations can connect is a great way to demonstrate and deliver value, maximizing your engagement and retention efforts.

Resource: Are You Prepared to Master the Engagement Economy?

Listen: Young people simply aren’t jumping to join an organization with an online presence that looks like it’s from the 1970s. Your time capsule website and emails are turning them off.

So, don’t rely on clunky email newsletters and unworkable CMS systems – that’s not what they’re expecting from an association who wants their membership. Consider reworking your CMS – invest in a solid AMS/CRM – make sure additional software you add integrates – provide mobile options. The sky is the limit, but it’s important to get started.

3. Find Out What Their REAL Needs Are

Instead of relying on data from time-consuming methods like paid surveys, multiple interviews, focus or consulting groups, seek ways to harvest the data that members are willing to provide to you with clicks.

Software tools that gather behavioral data, like online communities, are extremely valuable as you seek to understand and retain your younger members.

For example, with software like marketing automation to manage and personalize your email marketing efforts, and a community platform to give your members an online space to connect, you have the structure in place to collect behavioral data.

If you know from their email clicks that younger members are consistently interested in information about mentorship programs, you have valuable data to tailor your strategy. If young members seem to participate above and beyond in community discussions about advocacy, you can get them involved. Strengthen your communication with smart member data.

Resource: 3 Reasons Why Online Mentoring Programs Attract New Members 

The Ball is In Your Court: Help Younger Members Level Up

It’s not safe to assume that the answer to these problems is creating a young professionals group. They may not want to be isolated or thought of as just “the young people.” Circle back to that R-E-S-P-E-C-T and recognize that, if you want to reach and retain those young members, you’ll need to face the truth: they likely want similar benefits to your older members, like engaging with your organization, advanced training, mentorship, volunteering, and extra experience to put on their resumes.

Sure, your young members may want and expect those things in new, digital ways – the point is, the time is now to adapt and deliver. So, let’s put generational hazing aside and start to focus on how we can collaborate effectively since retention depends on it.

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020

Gabrielle Wathen

Gabrielle is the Content Marketing Manager at Flockjay. She has a background in journalism, film, and marketing. When she’s not writing, you can find her cuddling her cats Harvey and Wilbur, traveling the world, or storytelling in any way she can. Favorite food: All things cheese. Favorite place: Black Rock City, NV.