Millennials expect an experience online and in person

New habits are popping up on every Main Street in the country due to the prevalence of social media. New words – FOMO, ICYMI, and bae – are being added to dictionaries seemingly every week. The common term “clickbait” refers to sensational, alluring headlines and links that say: You won’t believe what happened nextTake this quiz to see which ‘Real Housewive’s character you are... Nine out of ten Alaskans do this in bed… 

But what if this urge to click on links led to real doors opening?

What if local restaurants, stores and museums provided click-worthy experiences, appealing to more buyers in the local community? What if eateries and businesses Downtown began thinking of themselves as providers of backdrops for Snapchats, or Instagram-ready table settings to go with tasty meals?

Pew Research Institute reported that 82 percent of 18-29-year olds use Facebook, 55 percent use Instagram, and both of those are losing ground to Snapchat, a wildly popular mobile app that rewards and fuels the drive for instant gratification by making content disappear after 24 hours.   

“Snapchat for Millennials is huge. It’s quick, its immediate, it’s now, it’s easy to do, its current,” said social media strategist Tracy R. Williams, owner of Alaska Tracy. Based in Anchorage, Williams works with companies around the state. As Williams explains, Millennials do not want phony and showy, but they do want a connection, to the business, to the employee, and to the world at large.

What does it mean for local business?

Alaska is a very young state and Millennials are reshaping it. Embracing an aesthetic that sees the world as scenery for the next selfie or six-second film may be good for the bottom line. The Millennial desire to create interesting online content in the form of Instagram posts, Snapchat shares, and Facebook status updates, can help businesses looking to attract customers.

“Social media is like a billboard. The more you are out there the more your business can be seen,” Williams said.

When YPulse, a youth culture research specialist, surveyed Millennials in April 2016, interesting trends emerged. Despite the bum rap social media often gets, YPulse found that for 51 percent of youthful social networkers, receiving likes “gives them a rush.”

According to Judith E. Glaser, CEO of Benchmark Communications and author of “Science Explains the Millennial Brain” in Entrepreneur Magazine, social sharing “stimulates the production of oxytocin,” a.k.a. the “feel-good” hormone.

Experiencing life, with the added bonus of having Instagram-pretty meals and profile-photo-worthy photo opps, is what gets a curious Millennial in the door.

This has led to a new word worth considering that’s not quite in the dictionary: experiencification. It was first coined in 1983 in a forward-thinking management book by Richard Normann (1943-2003). Normann defined the term in Reframing Business as a purchasing experience that brings the customer a personally meaningful “context, or story.”

“For example,” he wrote, “cars for most people have long since ceased to be simply objects used for functional transportation.” They are, he said, “purchased as a means of expressing personality,” or to define a person’s brand.

Millennials are looking for experiences. Anchorage is looking for Millennials. (Various economic development events have been held in recent years, with the topic of how to attract and retain talent from this generation.)

Millennials are more likely to go somewhere that will provide opportunities to generate interesting content for social media profiles. And there’s a lot of them. According to the Census Bureau, the 83.1 million young adults aged 15- to 35-years old now represent “more than one quarter of the nation’s population. Their size exceeds that of the 75.4 million baby boomers.”

A.E. Weisgerber is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New Jersey Monthly. She has interviewed Henry Kissinger, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Al Franken and many more. Follow her on Twitter @aeweisgerber.

Updated: 
10/18/2016 - 12:58pm