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How to use FOMO to snag millennial readers

September 14, 2017

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Applebee's millennial failure has some good lessons for business journalists. (Image by Mitya Ku via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Applebee's millennial failure has some good lessons for business journalists. (Image by Mitya Ku via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Millennials get a lot of attention in the media. To borrow a phrase from Homer Simpson, they’re either the cause of, or solution to, all of society’s problems. Either way, some companies have tried earnestly to win the millennial dollar, and have failed miserably.

Applebee’s, for instance, recently announced the closure of 135 locations. The restaurant chain lost millions after trying to shift its brand identity. CEO John Cywinski said they had tried to target “a more youthful and affluent demographic with a more independent or even sophisticated dining mindset, including a clear pendulum swing towards millennials.” The company’s superficial changes did little to create an experience that millennials would want to tweet about or post to Instagram.

Along the way the company isolated its loyal core customers, who felt betrayed by the Applebee’s they knew and loved. At the end of the day, not only did Applebee’s lose out on millennials, they also lost a lot of their regular customers.

The millennial generation is defined differently by different groups. The U.S. Census Bureau defines the segment as people born between 1982 and 2000. They’re a diverse bunch: More than 44 percent are part of a minority or ethnic group. Since the term “millennial” simply describes an age group, you shouldn’t use the term too broadly–when you try to describe 83.1 million different people spread out over 3.8 million square miles with one word, you run the risk of oversimplifying.

How millennials get their news, and why they want it

However, that audience represents a large number of readers, and they acquire their news in different ways than other generations. According to a Media Insight Project, this generation gets its news from social media; if something on Facebook piques their interest, the majority of survey respondents said they used a search function to learn more. Millennials also consume news for different reasons:

• Civic Motivations (74 percent)

• Problem Solving (63 percent)

• Social Engagement (67 percent)

Taking a closer look at social engagement, 67 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 consume news for the sole purpose of “talking about it with friends.” This demonstrates an essential millennial quality: FOMO, or fear of missing out. According to an Eventbrite study, 75 percent of people in this age group would choose a unique experience over a tangible product or possession.

What you can do to capture 83 million new readers

If you try to reach millennials by slipping into their slang and latching onto their fads, you’ll fail. But you can still write your business stories in a way that reaches this audience, without falling into the Applebee’s trap. The secret appears to be reporting news and creating content that engages this generation by stoking its FOMO mindset.

This series will discuss unique angles for business stories designed to lead to a discussion between engaged, socially conscious young people. And, at the same time, hold onto the traditional business news readers we can’t live without.


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