Why Millennials Don’t Consume Mass Media … And Why That’s OK

Every semester, I ask the students in my undergraduate classes: “Does anyone read the newspaper?” No hands raised.

Every semester, I ask the students in my undergraduate classes: “Does anyone read the newspaper?” No hands raised.

“Does anyone watch the network news on TV?” No hands raised.

“Does anyone listen to the radio?” Some who commute by car raised their hands.

As someone who has two newspapers delivered to the house every day and faithfully watches the network news on TV, I was disturbed by this, smacking my forehead with a “these kids today!” exclamation. I feared that the world view brought to them by social media was very narrow and limited to the viewpoints of people who were just like them. A few of my Facebook friends have very different political views from mine (their posts sometimes annoy me), but most of those in my social network are aligned with my views. I believed that young people would have an even less diverse pool of opinions from which to draw.

So I did some research to confirm my point of view, ignoring David Ogilvy’s warning that many agencies and clients “use research like a drunkard uses a lamp post – not for illumination but for support.” What I found was illuminating.

The social networks of Millennials are not as homogenous as those of older people: “31 percent of Baby Boomers on Facebook who pay attention to political posts say the posts they see are mostly or always in line with their own views, higher than both Generation Xers (21 percent) and Millennials (18 percent),” according to Pew Research Center Journalism & Media.

A study by The American Press Institute (opens as a PDF) finds that most Millennials report that the people in their social networks have diverse views. “Contrary to the idea that social media creates a polarizing ‘filter bubble,’ exposing people to only a narrow range of opinions, 70 percent of Millennials say that their social media feeds are comprised of diverse viewpoints, evenly mixed between those similar to and different from their own. An additional 16 percent say their feeds contain mostly viewpoints different from their own. And nearly three-quarters of those exposed to different views (73 percent) report they investigate others’ opinions at least some of the time — with a quarter saying they do it always or often.”

The news is not a destination for Millennials, but rather something that’s woven into their daily social media activity. “Millennials consume news and information in strikingly different ways than previous generations, and their paths to discovery are more nuanced and varied than some may have imagined … just 47 percent who use Facebook say that getting news is a main motivation for visiting, but it has become one of the significant activities they engage in once they are there. Fully 88 percent of Millennials get news from Facebook regularly, for instance, and more than half of them do so daily.”

Of course, it’s not just Facebook … YouTube and Instagram serve the same purposes for Millennials. As marketers, we need to stay tuned-in (sorry) to how the most populous generation consumes news, social and lifestyle information simultaneously on social media platforms, and how we can best make our messages relevant there.