Why millennials rely on friends’ and online strangers’ advice equally

February 13, 2012

The Generation Y conundrum

Millennials, also known as Generation Y were born roughly between 1980 and 1995, and while various entities do not share a consensus on the years that start and end the generation, a consensus is forming around consumer behavior of millennials which many outside of the generation have a difficult time understanding, thus communicating with or marketing to this demographic can be complicated.

The conundrum that has recently been researched is the notion that millennials trust strangers online as much as they trust recommendations and advice from their friends or even family, and vice versa. Generations that precede millennials often cannot connect to the idea that their trusted advice is constantly questioned by millennials going to Google or Yelp to second guess their answers – but keep reading, that isn’t exactly what happens.

A new study by eMarketer reveals that millennials very literally are influenced by people online as equally as friends and family:

Why do millennials do this?

It can be seen as rude that millennials consult Google for everything, but it is not an insult to you as a friend or as a professional giving advice, you see, this generation is the generation of research, because it was raised that way. In third grade, a millennial had to go online and find ten sources for a research paper on the Oregon Trail, and would be docked points if they chose an unreliable source and were even trained to go around Wikipedia as an unreliable source. Additionally, that third grader probably had a cell phone to text classmates and ask what they were finding, to validate their own research.

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Millennials grew up with the internet, so not only were research papers ingrained as having to be deeply researched and vetted online, but parents often required research before buying a child or teen a new product, for example, some parents asked their children why they wanted an iPhone, so the child went online and consulted forums and texted friends to get their top 10 list of what features would help them to be better students and the like. It’s not manipulation, they were taught this in third grade.

This generation used endless websites to compare colleges, research loans, housing, professors and the like and while they relied on the web, they were also taught to back up their research with personal opinions from people they know, and vice versa. If a millennial was signing up for a Meteorology course at the University of Nebraska, they would go online to what used to be and look at reviews from other students, and seeing positive reviews, would call a friend who took the class last semester. Reverse engineer the situation, and you have a highly recommended class a friend said the student would love, but seeing negative reviews online by strangers takes the class out of the running.

Advice for businesses trying to reach millennials

Personal recommendations and user-generated recommendations online have become a part of the digital natives’ DNA and they are equally valued because they have been trained to be researchers that research everything and are surprisingly well informed consumers which ends up helping quality companies seeking to connect with this generation.

When you as a professional are selling to or working with a millennial, you are not competing with ignorant strangers online, you are working with those strangers, so it is best to know what the web says about what you are selling, what your product or service is, and what millennials will find when they Google your advice – because they will, and it has nothing to do with you or your competency or quality, it is ingrained in their lifelong behavior as a means of being responsible.

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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