5 simple ways to grab (and keep) the attention of Generation Y

Alice Hankin is a super-savvy Bristol University English Literature student who’s been doing some work experience with us this week. Her blog shares the secrets of talking to Gen Y and her tips are great for keeping the attention of lots of readers, even people as old as us!

Alice HankinGrowing up in an increasingly digital age means that young people today value and pay attention to different… zzzzzzzz…..snore.

You’ve lost your reader. Or at least, you’ve lost any reader under the age of about 25. Young people today are tech-savvy and impatient, so if you’re targeting your content at Generation Y, you need to think differently.

In July this year, The Telegraph described Generation Y as ‘Millennials, born between about 1980 and 2000,’ as ‘unsurprisingly shaped by technology.’ Here are the most important things to remember when trying to aim and optimise your content for people like me:

Underestimate the value of social media at your peril

In recent years, media consumption has dramatically increased amongst my generation. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (to name a few) are widely considered and used as essential methods of communication. And we Generation Yers see it as more than just essential; many of us are addicted to it.

In a study where students were asked to give up media for 24 hours, they had symptoms such as phantom phone vibrations, reaching for a phone that wasn’t there, and fidgeting and restlessness. The popularity of smart phones (which enable constant access to these sites) combined with social media, results in a powerful tool. If used correctly, the potential reach of content shared on social media is great.

Attracting and maintaining attention

I’ll admit I have a short attention span. I can’t get through one lecture without checking Instagram, no matter how interesting it may be. An infographic entitled ‘How Social Media is Ruining Our Minds’ produced research that indicates that the average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes to an astoundingly short 5 minutes.

“The average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes to 5 minutes.”

We are used to getting our information on Twitter in fewer than 140 characters, and we judge the quality of a YouTube video in the first few seconds. This type of behaviour is dangerous when it comes to your content. If something does not immediately stand out as different or exciting, you have no chance of capturing your desired audience.

Once you have gained our attention, innovation is vital. Updating your content on a regular basis is essential, as are reminders of any improvements made, otherwise we’ll swiftly forget it. However, be sure to make the updates useful and appealing – bombarding us with unnecessary sales emails or posts will only cause us to unsubscribe or unfollow.

The law of influence

For people like me, a brand’s reputation is key. Advertising only ever speaks highly of the product, and so it is important that other people validate it too. Word of mouth means a great deal, and if something is seen to be cool it is usually popular as a result.

The Facebook selling group ‘Wavey Garms’ is a perfect example of this. It was set up 19 months ago on a small scale and has ‘since become the go-to site for discerning what young people wear, ahead of even trend forecasters.’ Now, the site has over 70,000 users between around 16 and 30 years old. People look to the group to see what items people are selling, what is popular at the moment, and these are the wavey (cool) garms (clothes).

We are sheep; we will follow the crowd (although we hate to admit it). If something is reviewed highly, shared on social media platforms or simply discussed positively among friends, it is always beneficial.

We love freebies (and they make us spread the word)

In order to build a database of customers, it helps if your existing customers want to share your product.

The cab company Uber recently had tremendous success upon its expansion in London, thanks to this concept. When I downloaded the Uber Smartphone app, I was given a unique code. I then convinced my friends and family to download the app, gave them my code, and they received £10 off their first journey. This not only gave them a discount, but I benefited with the same discount too. The more you share, the more free cab rides you get. Genius.

The app is perfect for young people as it easily enables users to split the bill, something that is always difficult when getting a cab home with friends (particularly after a few drinks). Cabs arrive almost instantaneously, which is great for such an impatient generation.

Uber’s success demonstrates how vital it is to promote discussion. This goes to show that it is not always engagement that is required from a brand; a more likely expectation is that of material gain, such as free giveaways, discounts, or competitions. We are poor students after all! (My code is qjma1).

Be exciting, be everywhere

The vast majority of my friends have laptops, smartphones, tablets, use email, and have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and others. If I were you, I’d tailor your content for many different spheres, as each social network is slightly different, and use them all.

Do’s and Don’ts for Generation Y

  • Do be aware of what time people are likely to be online. I check my Facebook in the morning to see what I’ve missed in the night, and I go online in the evening when I’m home from university or work. Don’t post at 3 in the afternoon or it will be swallowed up.
  • Don’t always write masses of text. Articles are great but if everything looks like an essay then you’ll put off some people, even an English student like me.
  • Do mix up the kinds of content you create, whether it’s a video, images, a podcast, or something interactive like a quiz. This will maintain your audience’s engagement and keep things interesting for longer than a 5-minute attention span!


Embarrassingly, I am part of an increasingly digital generation whose motto is ‘But first, let me take a selfie.’ We epitomise everything our grandparents disapprove of: we are impatient, have short attention spans and are always on our phones. With this in mind, just remember to keep your content snappy, relevant and exciting if you want any chance of attracting the attention and business of Generation Y.

But here’s a confession; once you understand how we think, it’s really not that difficult to convince us.

Thanks Alice – great post and definitely valuable. It’s been so good to have you around this week. We’re embarrassed to admit that, even down to the selfies and the phantom phone vibrations, a lot of this applies to us too!

Does your content appeal to Generation Y? Does it need to? What other generational differences do you take into account with your content? Do leave your thoughts here.

More from the VC youth squad

(Visited 3,732 times, 1 visits today)


  1. Peter hill

    Great stuff Alice. All the things that annoy me as a parent are the things I need to watch as a businessman. It’s a great challenge to get a message across in just 140 charac…

  2. Alice Hankin

    I’m glad you enjoyed it Peter. Hopefully we will learn to be less dependent on our phones in the future!

  3. Glynis Ward

    Great article Alice. Interesting, thought provoking and made me smile. Good messages which we oldies ignore at our peril!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.