5 Steps to Engaging with Millennial Talent

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Millennials. Some of us market to them. Some of us recruit them. One of us says they don’t exist. That one person is Brenda Wong of Debut.

I recently had a chat with Brenda after she delivered a great talk at #smlondon LIVE! 2016, have a listen to the podcast interview on iTunes or SoundCloud. Keep reading for a summary of our chat.

What’s Debut and what do you do there?

Debut is an app that is targeted toward students and recent graduates. We partnered with a ton of Times 100 employers to connect students directly to grad schemes and other opportunities, like internships and placements. So what sets us apart from all the other recruitment apps out there is that you fill in a profile one time and then employers come to you. So they will talent spot you and then you get messages like, “Oh, Brenda, you’ve been talent spotted by EY, or Microsoft. Please open up the app to take a look at your opportunity.”

My role here at Debut is social media and community management. So it’s my job to keep you users in the app and keep people engaged. A lot of what we do actually is also creating insight articles. It’s careers resource articles that help students and recent graduates and anyone that is looking for careers advice to really feel comfortable adulting.

“Millennials don’t exist” – please explain?

It’s a bit of a controversial statement, isn’t it? Millennials is a term, of course, it exists. But what I’m really trying to put across to anybody I speak to, whether it’s an employer, or my friend, or somebody at the pub, whenever somebody uses the word millennial, they’re referring to a huge group of people. So companies tend to want to put demographics into these squares into square, circle into circle thing. But real life doesn’t work like that. So there are about 13.8 million millennials in the UK. So this is like a figure that I got from The Guardian about a year ago. And apparently, this group of people has an age range of 15 years, they come from different social classes, they come from different cultures, genders, backgrounds, sexualities. Millennials don’t exist, because it’s impossible to market to that big of a group. And if you want to try marketing to millennials, you’re just going to be wrong, because that’s impossible.


What are your 5 steps for reaching out to millennials?

  1. The first tip is echoing my whole millennials don’t exist thing. Tailor your campaigns. Researching who your target audience is and constantly updating that research is so important. So young people occupy different kinds of tribes. So you can have young people into K-Pop, or grime music, or somebody who’s obsessed with the Kardashian family. And they all fit into different tribes. You need to do your researches into whether your product is going to be applicable to them, whether they can relate to it, and then from there you make up your own specialized custom audience. Always do that.
  2. Number two, don’t jump on the negative millennial bandwagon. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen articles slamming millennials at all? The gist is that they are lazy, entitled. They can’t use things that are not touch screen example. And there was a hashtag, I think how to confuse a millennial. It was just horrible. They were like, “Put them in a phone booth and watch how confused they are.” People love to hate on millennials, but what I would suggest to brands is don’t fall for that. I think encouraging positivity and light is actually a much better approach when it comes to marketing to the millennial group. BuzzSumo that did this huge piece of research on the top 1,000 articles shared in the first half of 2016. And 70% of the articles shared had a positive sentiment. So it’s clear that people tend to share good news and stuff that is happy and positive and cheerful.
  3. Practical tip number three, jumping on current events is a good idea but only when you do it your way. So I don’t know if you’ve heard but we had a major election recently. So I was at Old Street Station, I’m based around Old Street. And there was an amazing pop-up by a company called Appear Here. They took the election and they popped up a store in Old Street. And it allowed passersby to kind of vote for who they wanted. Because obviously we don’t get to vote in the US election. But they gave cards to us and we could just put it in the box. And we had a little chat as to what’s going to happen. And you can even take away branded Hillary or Donald Trump cupcakes with you. It’s leveraging a current event and doing it in their own style, which I found really impressive.
  4. Number four, become part of their personal brand. So this is a bit of a sneaky one because we’re trying to get young people to share stuff, all the time. We want people to not only engage with it, like, and forget about it. We want them to be part of our brand journey. So you have to make things extremely visually beautiful. Make stuff worth sharing. So a great example of personal and corporate branding, of that marriage between the two, is Buffer. Buffer’s Instagram is #InstagramGold. They take beautiful images taken by their users, so they’ve got user generated content. And they mix in together stuff like a beautiful office with a Buffer sticker on the back of a laptop. So it’s like kind of subliminally inserting images into people’s minds, associating their brand with something amazing.
  5. The final one is to be open, be useful, and always give back. Successful content in a content saturated world usually has one of two things. Either a personal edge or that piece of content is truly and absolutely the most useful version of that piece. So Google can either be your enemy or your friend in this circumstance. If somebody Googles you and says, “Okay, your content isn’t very good,” the millennials see right through you. They’re digital natives. And with a few taps on their touch screen, they can completely decimate your brand. So you have to be really careful about what you put out there. And be completely honest about who you are, be transparent in your content. The best performing piece of content on Debut we’ve had so far was a piece about going back to university after you’ve graduated. And it was a very personal piece by one of our writers. And it takes the readers on a journey and actually really resonates emotionally with our readers. It’s not enough to be shiny, happy people all the time. You have to be true.

What’s a common mistake employers make with millennials?

So one example, I’m not going to name the company because we might want to work with them one day. But companies are trying really hard to recruit young people on Snapchat. I think employers really need to figure out what works for them best. Snapchat is something that young people use for entertainment. They’re not interested in applying to a job on Snapchat. So it’s stuff like that. You’re trying to jump on stuff like Instagram and Snapchat, without quite knowing what young people use it for. So if you’re not using the right social network, it’s not going to work. Things like email marketing is surprisingly very successful and efficient when it comes to marketing to young people about recruitment. Because people expect formal communication by email. They don’t expect formal communication by Snapchat.

Follow Brenda on Twitter @BrendaIsARebel.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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