2016 Trends: Millennials and Corporate Social Responsibility & Social Innovation

This week we took a look into another 2016 projected customer experience trend of incorporating social responsibility into a business model, highlighted by Richard Shapiro’s article in Customer Think. This particular projected trend centers on the influence of Millennials – an 86 million strong demographic (in fact the largest the US has ever experienced and who hold social responsibility with as much weight as previous generations held religion). Millennials as a generation, are considered universally more Fotolia_95557863_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpgengaged in social activism than any other generation in the history of U.S. They hold serious marketing gold – if organizations have positioned themselves with a model of authentic Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Millennials were born with social media DNA – they are referred to as the “sharing generation” and their beliefs, consumer habits, likes, and dislikes find their way across all social media platforms, driving trends and shaping how organizations are supported or shunned. While the idea of CSR has steadily increased over the past 3-4 years, as this generation gains more purchasing power, it will need to become, as Mr. Shapiro suggests, “a new norm business model” for all organizations.

So just how much potential impact do millennials stand to exercise in the coming year? Well, let’s take a look at some key statistics provided in the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study. Cone Communications set out to understand how the millennial’s  life-stage, gender, and other social factors impact their attitudes, behaviors and perceptions of CSR. Their research showed that an incredible 9 out of 10 millennials would switch product or service brands to organizations who support a particular caMillennials Magnifying Glass Words Young Generation Technology Suse (91% vs. 85% average in the U.S.). That is a staggering consensus and demonstrates how vital it is for organizations to rethink what it means to be authentically socially responsible.

The next question might be, how should our organization communicate our CSR with this generation?  The research shows that two-thirds of millennials use social media platforms to share and engage with and about an organization’s CSR. This is a 13% increase over other generations in the U.S. To support how important CSR is to their generation, 70%  say they are willing to work for less pay with an organization who best matches their ethical and social beliefs. This generation is also prepared to pay a higher price for goods and services based solely on how they view an organization – and interestingly, they are 66% more likely to share a product with their friends/family rather than buy it.

These statistics begin to paint a picture of a socially conscious, economically minded generation. They represent a considerable opportunity for innovation in capturing and sustaining the loyalty of this pivotal generation. The challenge for organizations who want to attract these wired, community conscious consumers, is to ensure that they develop “walk-the-talk” strategies that demonstrate an authentic connectivity to the environment and their local communities, customers and suppliers. Millennials want to be informed of how an organization is impacting the world they do business with, and they don’t want to have to dig for that data or have it delivered via channels they do not use – i.e. standard advertising. This is whereYour Culture is Your Brand written on chalkboard The Nason Group’s message of “meeting your customer where they are” offers significant value. This generation of socially conscious, social media savants requires information and content delivery via a wide variety of social media platforms. The messaging must be authentic, entertaining, engaging, and highly significant to their unique perspectives and experiences. Recent research has shown that video has the highest engagement with this generation. Infographics also rate high – and this platform is notable for its ability to deliver quick read, high-value content in an easy to share format. Whitney Dailey, Cone Communication’s senior supervisor of CSR Planning & Insights is quoted as saying “The shift from traditional advertising to social media will be game-changing moving forward as companies try to break through to this always-on audience.”

The millennial generation is not a “one bucket” demographic. There are some significant nuances in this generation that must be considered with any marketing or sales strategy. For instance, young millennials (18-24) have the highest overall commitment in loyalty with organizations who demonstrate CSR, reflected in what they purchase and the organizations for who they choose to volunteer their time. They avidly use social media to engage around an organization’s CSR at a 9% higher rate than their older peers, the mature millennial (25-34). This slightly older segment embraces CSR as important in their purchasing and lifestyle choices, however, they are less likely to hold a belief that significant social impact is made solely through their purchases. For this older segment of millennials, both male and females rely more on an organization’s reputation, how it manages its reputation, deals with crisis and overall, how the organization responds to the needs and concerns of its customers. While the younger segment is subject to activism through social media, this older segment holds a more assumptive approach and believes that a company is being responsible – until they learn otherwise –  resulting in an 11% difference in actionable mindset between the two. The older segment also prefers to receive or engage in communication centered on company websites, print and digital media and advertising and less on social media platforms. The differences between millennials in gender is also significant, with women demonstrating the highest level of loyalty to companies with authentic CSR and men showing loyalty if the opportunity presents itself.

Obtaining a millennials loyalty and engagement, along with executing robust communication strategies that keep them loyal and communicating the benefits of an organization, is key to successfully mining the economic potential of this generation. This digitally driven generation are programmed to be an organization’s CSR orator – and can increase awareness and success of a brand, its reputation, and bottom lisocial responsibilityne, or help to bury it.  It is, therefore, more important than ever before in history that each organization evaluate their approach to corporate social responsibility and look beyond the numbers for measuring success. Organizations hold the greatest power over the success of communities – and their customer’s economic well-being. Millennials want to know, more than any other generation, specific ways companies strive to make the world a better place – with 93% of them stating that they will strongly support companies who communicate their plans and share the results.

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