Dear brands, it’s you, not Facebook, scaring millennials away

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Greg Shove is the founder and chief executive of SocialChorus.

In the movie “The Social Network,” Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and the first President of Facebook, tells Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin that “You don’t want to ruin it with ads …. ads aren’t cool…It’s like you’re throwing the greatest party on campus and someone’s telling you it’s gotta be over at 11:00.”

As usual, Sean Parker was on to something.

Fast-forward to 2013 where we now see Facebook’s core demographic undergoing a massive shift. Four years ago, Millennials were swelling Facebook’s user base. Today, the fastest growing demographic is 45 to 54 year olds.

Sean Parker was almost right: Facebook was throwing the best party on campus, but now the party goers don’t stay up past 10:00 anyway.

Should Facebook and its choice to permit ads be blamed? No. The most popular digital and live social arenas (bars, concert venues, stadiums) are chock full of ads.

Young users aren’t exactly fleeing Facebook, which is still the most multifunctional social platform, but they are spending more time on Twitter, Tumblr and others to avoid parents (a common Millennial conundrum Saturday Night Live parodied last year with the “Damn it My Mom is on Facebook” skit).

But no, we cannot blame Mom, Grandpa and weird Aunt Carol for scaring away Millennials either.

“Edge Rank,” the social network’s newsfeed algorithm, is another oft-maligned culprit. Edge Rank determines feed content based on affinity, weight and time decay. Given a new post, the algorithm weighs your past engagement with the author, past interactions with types of posts (writing versus videos versus photos) and network reactions to that post to determine if it should reach your newsfeed.

What does that mean? Well, if you and your best friend frequently comment on each other’s photos, your best friend posts a photo and 15 other friends like it and post comments, it is likely to show up in your newsfeed. Thus, Facebook gives users more of what they want.

Brands, however, now compete directly with a user’s friends, family members, teammates, colleagues and acquaintances for a share of the newsfeed. Earlier this year, Facebook tweaked Edge Rank yet again so that brands had an even tougher time getting into the news feed. Brands and agencies alike panicked as the newsfeed, the holy grail of ‘high reach,’ was suddenly tougher to …well reach.

So, social media marketers have responded in two ways:

  1. They flocked to pay for sponsored stories, promoted posts or other ads that increase the chance of reaching their fans.
  2. They have engaged their fans to create and share content the audience truly wants in their newsfeed

The second option is harder for brands but more powerful: companies can leverage the love for their brand in order to stand out from the mass of sloppily veneered sales propositions (Option No. 1).

Millennials are picky when it comes to brand advertising in social networks. But here’s how overcome the ad nausea on Facebook:

1. Understand what millennials want

Gripe all you want about the narcissism of Millennials but recognize that many do have a deep yearning to be valued and influential. These aspirations often stem from unselfish goals, passionate causes and high expectations. If you assume that Millennials are simply entitled and egocentric, your social media will turn them off.

Instead, ask yourself how your social media might give Millennials a chance to be valued and respected with their audiences. When you share exclusive and exciting content and opportunities, and a Millennial shares it, that person gains credibility within his or her network because friends enjoy that post and remember who shared it. Your brand wins and your advocate wins.

2. Remember, millennials are merciless

Conversely, Millennials will be merciless with companies that fail to meet these high expectations. False promises, cheesiness and poor research will get skewered because Millennials also win social points for pointing out dishonesty and absurdity.

3. Help millennials achieve their goals

Your product or service might help people achieve their goals, but they don’t need you to tell them that. A smartphone salesman doesn’t have to tell a tech-savvy high school grad that a device has Bluetooth 4.0 and a 16 megapixel camera. Let Millennials discover your product and its features on their own.

Instead of selling to your brand advocates, educate them, excite them and inspire them—show them how they can achieve their goals with or without your product. The smartphone salesmen should be discussing the best Bluetooth headphones or photo editing apps. Demonstrate thought leadership and empathy for your customers to power advocates.

4. Engage intelligently

Nothing disenchants Millennials more than stupidity. Say something dumb, inaccurate, deceitful or offensive and you shoot revenue in the foot.

Before posting, ask yourself, “Would a Millennial be grateful if someone shared this post?” The answer should always be yes.

Post comments, pose questions and share content that you might discuss at a casual work event or a nice dinner out with friends. Assume that your audience is as smart, thoughtful, fun and interesting as your closest friends, family members and co-workers.

5. The conversation goes both ways

Millennials want to be part of the dialogue. They want their voice heard and pictures used. So leverage this. Polls and contests give followers a chance to be part of action. Polls with controversial questions are addictive because people with a strong opinion want it heard.

If your notion of dialogue is your post anchored with a click-to-purchase button, you’re missing the value of social media. If you’re doing a great job, your audience will produce the bulk of sharing and the most engaging content on your social page.


So Facebook welcomed advertisers to the party. But many take the “easy” route – buy social ads that amplify uninteresting content. Success comes when the brand produces content worth sharing – and then puts that content in the hands of its best fans and advocates. So your millennial fans become your marketing channel – which is good, since they are more trusted than the brand anyway.

Greg Shove SocialChorusGreg is the founder of SocialChorus, the leading advocates marketing company. Greg has helped brands and consumers connect online since the early days of the Internet. 2Market, a Silicon Valley start-up that he co-founded, pioneered the development of interactive shopping before being acquired by AOL in 1995.


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