How to Build Trust With Millennials Through Social Media


By Julie Urlaub

Millennials are making decisions based on corporate social responsibility (CSR). According to findings by Cone Communications:

Build Trust

Sounds great, right? Our youth are stepping up to be leaders in building a better world. But how do these trends apply to businesses? This data sheds light on two important questions that businesses often ask:

Build Trust 2

I have found social media and sustainable business practices to be the answer to both of those questions. When you consider that Millennials often use social media to amplify messages for impact, it makes sense to build trust and engage with them on the social channels.  Cone Communications’ Millennial CSR Study notes that “although most Millennials turn to social channels to share and learn, there is also a portion that uses this medium as an avenue to participate in a direct dialogue with companies or contribute to CSR efforts.” The numbers speak for themselves: 

Build Trust 3

With these compelling statistics, it is clear that social media are an ideal way to reach the Millennial generation. Which brings us to the third question:

Build Trust 4

The first way to do this is by establishing social media proof of your responsible services and products. Social media can help build authenticity when product and service messages in the virtual world are, first and foremost, aligned with their messages and actions in the physical world. Your corporate communications and marketing messages must compel stakeholders to support your brand with information that tells them who you are offline. For many, this manifests in product packaging and service disclosures.

Furthermore, operational transparency is key to building trust among and engaging with Millennials. By operational transparency, I mean authenticity in communication and disclosure of business sustainability strategies, CSR and environmental performance results, and all the positive and negative consequences that go along with those.

Millennials have to be able to relate your sustainable business programs to something they can understand. By revealing interesting sustainability details like key metrics, CSR challenges, and innovations, corporate messaging can emotionally appeal to them in ways that personalize your corporate sustainability plan. Being transparent about sustainable practices on social media is all about presenting honest assessments of sustainable business practices in ways that are meaningful and relevant to your stakeholders.

Traditional communications channels will not cut it with this audience. The Cone Communications study mentions that although Millennials still look to product packaging as a valuable resource for CSR information, they are more likely to use social media than the average American and less likely to see traditional advertising as an effective form of communication. Millennials also want to be entertained and engaged with CSR content — this group prioritizes videos, infographics, and games when learning about company CSR commitments.

All in all, social media and business sustainability programs together constitute a valuable business opportunity for gaining the trust of Millennials. Use it to increase awareness of your business’ social ethics, environmental performance, and philanthropic deeds. Keep Millennials informed using openness and transparency as keys to establishing trusting relationships. Finally, let all of your stakeholders — customers, sup- pliers, and investors, as well as Millennials — know they are dealing with a company that acts responsibly.

This article appeared in Issue 7 | May/June 2016

Issue 7 features exciting interviews and profiles all focusing on youth and Millennials including: Sweetgreen; Radha and Miki Agrawal; Nisolo; a spotlight on the higher education system including a look at the student debt crisis and the top 15 sustainable MBA programs; and our inspiring cover story — Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez of one of the most exciting food companies in the nation, Back to the Roots.

Buy Issue