Proven Ways Your Association Can Engage Younger Generations

It was great to be a part of Folio’s Association Media Summit, an event that aimed to help association media professionals navigate an increasingly social, mobile & digital landscape and in doing so reassess and rejuvenate their media strategies and structure. While there, I moderated a session specifically focused on helping associations to leverage their media assets & events in order to grow younger audiences - younger audiences in this situation, referring to “millennials”.

In advance, I did my research on the trends of that demographic and gained some important insight – if you missed my last blog post that recaps ways to drive millennial engagement, be sure to check it out. Although I had that context, it was enlightening to hear directly from two associations, who work in vastly different fields, about how they have adapted their campaigns and resources to reach this growing generation. The session’s two presenters were Christine Fanning, Executive Director of the Outdoor Foundation (a part of the Outdoor Industry Association, OIA), and Joanne Fiore, VP – Professional Media, Pathways and Inclusion, from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Again - two opposite ends of the spectrum!

Not surprisingly, research proved correct, and the key takeaways that our presenters highlighted aligned well with many of the important characteristics of the younger generation that I’ve discovered through research and experience. Some of those were:

  • Engage youth in strategy development – they want to be a part of the solution
  • The next generation wants to lead – empower them to do so
  • Find ways to inspire and engage – using your content, leadership opportunities, and more
  • Be more inclusive; this generation is very mindful and notices when diversity isn’t there

The OIA experienced great success in achieving those objectives while concurrently strengthening the overall brand and position of their association – their campaign aimed to re-acquaint a younger audience with nature. This includes introducing the idea that being outdoors doesn’t have to be in an extreme sense - you can just get outside for a small hike vs. having to go base jumping.

To reach the younger generation, The Outdoor Foundation created a consumer campaign called Outdoor Nation. They constructed Outdoor Nation intentionally intentionally to be student developed and led – from the beginning they brought in ambassadors, leaders, and influencers from within the college demographic to create content and activate others. The Outdoor Foundation authenticated their campaign by ensuring each school endorsed the program, and by weaving in industry support (member organizations from their association sponsored aspects of the program, including prizes and incentives throughout). All of these elements kept the program accessible, interactive, authentic, and it made Outdoor Nation a perfect mix of community and career (which plays into that work-life balance that is paramount to millennials).

As for the AICPA’s campaign – they had different end goals and employed different strategies to engage millennial and younger audiences with their publications and profession, and found that the similar tips & tricks helped to drive the success of their plan.

The AICPA realized that they needed to meet this generation where they are – and to do so, they had to employ several tactics to drive interest and engagement. Key to their effort was knowing when to create separate content for a younger audience. In order to deliver on an authentic voice, the Institute developed stand-alone channels for their student-focused content rather than tailoring their existing publication materials to squeeze into a student mold.  

This also played into how they delivered their content - originally, their organization assumed that if they are millennials, they must want all content digitally. It turned out that was inaccurate – though the younger generation likes to take in some content digitally, they find value in a print magazine and are more inclined to seek it out/glance through a piece that way; from there, they may do more digging online. In response to this, AICPA created print magazines, websites, and gamification products for different student audiences.

One of the most valuable points that AICPA really tapped into is the value of inclusion – millennials are mindful. More so than many other demographics, they notice when diversity isn’t present, so inclusion is incredibly important. The marketers at AICPA made a concerted effort to account for diversity in all of their web advertisements, and even on the covers of their journal that reaches their entire membership – on those covers, they included millennials.

Both of these associations excelled at enhancing their membership and brand recognition within their industries by focusing marketing directly to the younger generation, and empowering those members and potential members to become involved, create opportunities for them to lead, share their authentic voice, and immerse themselves in the association community.

I learned something new about millennial preferences and how they are part of the organizational growth strategy for two very different organizations. Associations can proactively impact the outcomes and engagement of future generations that touch their market space. Special thanks to Christine and Joanne for sharing their candid experiences on our panel.

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