Research & Insights

When Millennials “Like” You, They Expect Something In Return

By Zoe Green


Tina McCorkindale, Appalachian State University
Marcia W. DiStaso, Pennsylvania State University
Hilary Fussell Sisco, Quinnipiac University

It’s likely that any organization with a Facebook page has a number of 13- to 29-year-olds, or Millennials, among its fans. Because Millennials have considerable purchasing power and influence, understanding how they interact on Facebook can help make an organization’s social media strategy more effective.

To determine how and why Millennials engage with organizations on Facebook, researchers Tina McCorkindale, Marcia DiStaso, and Hilary Fussell Sisco conducted surveys and focus groups with randomly selected 13- to 29-year-olds, both in person and online. In total, 105 individuals participated in six different focus groups, and 414 graduate and undergraduate students from three universities were surveyed online.

According to the results, here is what keeps Millennials interested in organizations that have a presence on Facebook (and what doesn’t):

Personal relevancy.

Millennials in this study are more likely to engage with smaller organizations or nonprofits with which they already have a relationship or connection. This personal connection could come from working for the organization or from a friend’s recommendation.

While these types of connections are important, the most frequently cited reason Millennials choose to “like” an organization on Facebook is a passion for the group or for its cause. Further, the more passionate a Millennial is, the more his or her engagement will go beyond just clicking “like.” The researchers found that “Millennials who were passionate about certain causes were more likely to have solid relationships with the organizations, resulting in interest and action in the form of donations, support, membership, and recruiting others.”

Enhanced networking.

Focus group participants stated that recommendations from friends gave them the most motivation to donate to a cause. Additionally, the researchers found that if “liking” an organization on Facebook helps expand a Millennial’s personal network, he or she is much more likely to become a fan.


Incentives and other benefits also lead to greater Facebook engagement. In surveys and focus groups, participants said they enjoyed benefits such as giveaways, downloadable materials, opportunities to communicate directly with the organization, as well as access to interesting content. Millennials are also more likely to “like” organization that sends them personal invitations to events.

For one study participant, receiving a pink ribbon badge in return for donating to a Breast Cancer Awareness organization on Facebook was incentive enough. Because the pink ribbon badge can be placed on many types of social media, an organization’s message can spread organically through fans who share it with their various social networks. Further, shareable incentives are “especially important because, as this study found, most Millennials start relationships with organizations or groups because they see that their “friends” have relationships with them.”

Opportunities for engagement.

Millennials also say they are interested in interacting with and contributing to Facebook pages. Organizations that equip their fans with tools to engage are more likely to see fans’ passion and willingness to spread their cause. “Organizations and groups should not underestimate their fans’ willingness to tell their story,” researchers found. Millennials wanted organizations to provide a convenient platform for communication, gaining information, and staying connected.

Direct delivery of information.

According to the study, participants paid attention to updates from organizations and groups in their news feeds, but most said they would not seek out information. Additionally, after the majority of participants became fans of an organization, they rarely or never visited the page itself.

Not all Millennial Facebook fans continue to interact with an organization over time, however. The research also offers some explanations for declining engagement:

Likes don’t last forever

Once a fan, not always a fan. In fact, 42 percent of respondents said they had actively left an organization’s group or page after joining.  One reason cited for leaving Facebook groups is what the researchers describe as the Millennials “threshold for notifications.” As they put it, “When the messages were perceived as excessive, the participants stated they deleted the messages without reading them, ‘defriended’ the organization, or even contacted someone to complain.

For example, one male talked about his experience, ‘I was getting like five messages a day from one organization and it was bothering me. I actually messaged the guy back to stop sending me the messages. I was so annoyed by that.’” The idea of a threshold can go both ways, though: Millennials also said they would leave a fan page if organizations did not engage with them enough.

Games and “fun applicationshave limited value.

Not all incentives are created equal. Specifically, respondents were not motivated to “like” an organization because of incentive games or “fun applications.” Also, although most focus group participants had received fan requests from organizations, many ignored the requests

As the research shows, Millennials appear to want to engage in long-term relationships with organizations they care about, so taking the time to properly serve them can result in a larger and more active following and a more robust social media effort.

The Journal of Social Media in Society, Volume 2, No. 1, Spring 2013 

Zoe Green is a third year English major at the University of Florida, minoring in Mass Communications and Education

Posted: December 11, 2014
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