Jake Horowitz
Editor-in-chief and co-founder

On Millennials: Authenticity, Trust, Multimedia Content and Social are Key

We know young people have been called lazy, idle, indecisive, narcissistic and apathetic. Older generations decry Millennials’ use of technology and how we’ve embraced social media. They say that we don’t care about the news and that we are more focused on ourselves than on making the world a better place.

Those are nothing but stereotypes. We launched Mic in 2011 because we knew that our generation was hungry for substance. Our sense was that the media’s transition to digital would translate to a dumbing down of the content.

Millennials are the most educated generation in American history. We grew up on laptops and phones, and care deeply about being in the know. Despite common perceptions, news is part of our generation’s lifeblood — and we recognized we’re in a position to create something special. Our objective is to help the 80 million Millennials in the U.S. stay informed and make sense about what’s happening in the world.

Mic now reaches more than 19 million unique monthly visitors. We’ve developed an editorial sensibility that allows us to create original stories for and by young people. Through a mix of news and analysis, we examine the world with a generational lens that reflects the spirit of our generation: passionate, optimistic, politically-engaged and wrought with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Building Stories for Social and Mobile

How our audience accesses our stories drives how we build them. Young people consume their news through social media. Our team focuses on packaging stories for the most powerful platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn. More than 60 percent of readers arrive to Mic via a mobile device. We recently re-launched a new version of our mobile site to improve the user experience. Young people check their phones dozens of times a day, so when they have two extra minutes as they wait in line for lunch, we want to ensure they are reading a Mic story, and that the experience is seamless.

While our business is in telling stories, technology is imperative to our efforts. Mic decided early on to invest in its own technology infrastructure rather than purchase software from outside vendors. We’ve custom-built all of our product in-house, including our own article editor (CMS), because it means we can constantly refine it with updates and improve its capabilities to stay ahead of the curve.

Mic’s CMS creates articles, list-stories and is equipped with a built-in image search, saving time and productivity for our employees. Our analytics team uses it to track how our stories are performing and our editors use it to monitor unpublished stories that are in the queue. We also have a tab that allows us to see what people are talking about on various sites and on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Mic’s proprietary CMS is a real-time dashboard of all that’s happening at Mic and around the web.

Multiple Media Elements are Key to Engagement

2008 marked the beginning of the end for news outlets’ reliance on using a single medium — whether it be text, audio, or video — to tell stories. Now, places like Mic contextualize stories by incorporating digital storytelling tools from relevant tweets and Instagram photos to video and multimedia graphics. In June, we launched a data visualization team that brings stories to life with original charts, graphs, maps and interactives. More than ever, it’s essential for publishers to be creative and visually stimulating in their storytelling. One example of a story illustrative of our approach to reach young people is a piece we did on climate change — “If You’re 29 or Younger, There’s an Environmental Phenomenon You’ve Never Experienced.” This story fared well because young people want to stay informed — we approached the issue thoughtfully and through the direct lens of our readers.

In the coming years, we expect that mobile usage and social referrals in the industry will continue to rise. And as more and more low-quality “viral” sites try to take advantage of the power of social media, brand affinity will become increasingly important. People are already sick of bad videos clogging up their newsfeeds. If these pop-up sites don’t fail because of Facebook algorithm changes, they’ll certainly fail because of user backlash to empty calorie clicks.

In the long-run, trust is the most critical ingredient for success. Sharing a story on social media is equivalent to recommending it to every family member, friend and colleague. If readers aren’t proud to share stories from a particular outlet, that outlet will see its traffic plummet.

At Mic, we are incredibly optimistic about the future of storytelling. We believe that there has never been a better time to be a young journalist. But the reality is that no publisher knows exactly what platforms and devices readers will be using in a few years. All we can do is anticipate the next big thing and be positioned to adapt when it arrives. For media companies who want to engage young people, we recommend starting from an authentic place — for us that means scaling our staff with the same focus on intelligence and perspective we pride in our stories. The best way to stay true to our mission is to hire people who give voice to the stories important to their peers. Secondly, it’s key to hone in on what drives your editorial approach. For us, the question we ask for every story is “would you feel proud to share this story with friends at dinner?” Our editorial voice reflects the mindset of young people who want stay informed.

The core of what we do stems from remembering who our audience is, how they consume the news, and how we can inform them with interesting and important stories.

Jake Horowitz is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Mic (formerly PolicyMic), a leading news and media company for young people. Under Jake’s leadership, Mic’s audience has grown to more than 19 million monthly readers. Prior to co-founding Mic, Jake worked at Change.org, where he was focused on encouraging young people to take action on the issues that matter. He was also a staff member at the Carnegie Endowment in Beirut.

Next: On Millennials: Agile Content Marketing will Replace Social Media Marketing by Jeff Fromm

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