On the right track 

1) It turns out publishers not only appreciate the importance of the post-millennial audience, but are also reaching it.

Digiday and Arc XP surveyed 116 publishers and 114 Gen Z and young millennial consumers to see how their understanding of each other matches up. 

(The full Digiday and Arc XP report, ”The state of publisher audiences” is available for download here for more insights.)

The first thing to emerge was that publishers appear to understand the importance of their younger audience, and have come a long way in engaging with them. Nearly half (47 percent) of publishers say Gen Z makes up 41 percent or more of their digital audience, and more than half (51 percent) say young millennials comprise 41 percent or more of their audience.

2) How? By choosing the right format, the right metrics to fine-tune the process, and understanding their audiences’ values.

Firstly: those formats. There’s no denying the impact of short-form video. 78 percent of publishers said short-term video is the most effective format at engaging young audiences on their websites, and 61 percent of these audiences chose that as their top format.

3) Metrics that matter 

What you can’t measure, you can’t manage, and the old orthodoxy of click counts and chasing big numbers has given way to a more sophisticated world of social metrics (likes, comments, new followers) and subscriber conversion. Social-specific engagement metrics top our publishers’ list at 67 percent, with new subscriber rate and page views close behind at 60 percent each.

Missing the mark. There’s still work to be done on challenging publishers’ assumptions 

 4) Waiting on the wrong platform?

Some of the most interesting (and actionable) findings of the survey were the disconnects between publisher beliefs, and audience response. For example the issue of the platforms where publishers claim to find younger audiences are discovering their content, compared to where those audiences say they are to be found. 

While publishers say they see positive outcomes at scale on Facebook and Twitter, Gen Z and young millennials appear to have a very different list of go-to channels. These younger generations prefer channels like mobile apps (49 percent) and email (47 percent), which register much lower – fifth and seventh place, respectively – on our publishers’ list of most effective channels.

66 percent of publishers saw Facebook as their go-to, followed by Twitter. Yet Gen Z and young millennial respondents told us Facebook and Twitter came in at 39 percent and 32 percent, while YouTube topped the list of preferred channels at 61 percent.

According to Miki King, president of Arc XP, one answer may be in how publishers analyse the data that is telling them which channels work.

“Publishers need to focus on the consumer responses,” King said. “I think that there was a time when I would have expected Facebook to be at the top of this list [for consumers]. I largely think that the numbers you’re seeing from publishers might be because the data analysis they have has not caught up to where the consumer audience is right now.”

The good news is that this means a canny recalibration could bring even better engagement. 

5) Never stop questioning

Perhaps the most telling finding to emerge from the research is that publishers risk complacency over the need to constantly adapt strategies. 87 percent of the publishers surveyed said their current strategies are effectively attracting and engaging young millennials and Gen Z audiences.

The point here is not that publishers aren’t connecting with younger audiences, they are, but it is an ongoing process, and one that must be constantly revised as audiences morph and diverge. 

“That’s a metric that is somewhat surprising to me,” King said. “As a whole, the industry is still trying to understand how to connect with younger audiences. I think just about everyone is still cracking the code on what that looks like and I think that this question was, in many ways, easier to answer three or four years ago than it is now. I think we were at some point living in a different time where politics was pop culture, and I think that has shifted. I think we are still working through various ways of what ‘effective’ looks like.”

6) There are no easy answers

Of our publishers, 57 percent said obtaining information about Gen Z and young millennial audiences is ‘challenging’, with 44 percent citing choosing which channels to address as an issue. New tools and production times were also cited as potential headaches. It’s not a problem that’s about to go away. 

“Publishers need to come together on a quarterly or six-month basis to understand what it is that they are doing to speak to this audience today,” says King. “It’s not, ‘we launched this thing 18 months ago, and it did really well.’ That won’t cut it anymore. They need to be thinking on a six-month basis in terms of how to attract these audiences, and I think that structuring the decision-making and the conversation to include those voices is critical.”

You can read more findings in the full Digiday and Arc XP report, ”The state of publisher audiences” which is available for download here.

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