Decoding Millennials & Fandom: When teens say “shipping,” it has nothing to do with boats

By Alison Hillhouse 

Generations of teens have been “obsessed” with pop culture – from fainting at the sight of The Beatles, to memorizing epic lines from The Godfather and Dirty Dancing, and stampeding malls to see 90210 heart-throb Luke Perry. But today’s tech-fueled Millennials possess new tools to take the content they are most passionate about and unapologetically look for ways to throw themselves into it.

Welcome to the world of “fandoms” – online subcultures that orbit around cult TV shows, movies, celebrities, books, comics and more. Fandoms can involve people of all ages, but tend to be dominated by teens and 20-somethings. So on the howls of last night’s Teen Wolf finale on MTV – a franchise with a huge following of its own – below is a primer on what you need to know.

What does fandom culture say about Millennials?

First, geeking out is cool! Clever GIF sets, crafting alternate endings to a plot and knowing obscure lines are social status to the Millennial generation, which prides itself on smarts and creativity. Millennials are earnestly enthused about things teens from yesteryear might have dismissed (or kept well-hidden). 

Second, fandoms are a vehicle for Millennials to exert power over “people in charge” from the ground up. For example, Dr. Who fans were able to get a crying Statue of Liberty written into an episode after fantasizing about it online.

What are popular fandoms? 
If you dig deep enough on the internet you’ll probably find a fandom for anything and anyone, but some of the biggest among MTV’s Millennial audience include:

  • TV shows: Dr. Who, Sherlock, Supernatural and Teen Wolf;
  • Books to Movies: Divergent, The Hunger Games and The Fault In Our Stars;
  • Musicians: Austin Mahone (“Mahonies”) and early ’00s bands like Linkin Park.

Where do fandoms live? 
Fandoms mostly live in social media, particularly Tumblr, and feel like a teenage girl screaming, crying and laughing hysterically all at once. Fans post animated gif sets of favorite scenes, poignant moments, funny quotes or hot characters with tags like #MyOvaries!!! (meaning: he is so hot my ovaries are exploding!).

Why is it important fans watch TV LIVE? 
Watching a TV show live is imperative so that fandom communities can participate in cultural conversations in real time – an extremely valuable source of social currency. They sit armed with “reaction GIFs” to tweet the second something reaction-worthy happens in the show, often from movies. For example, a GIF of Doc Brown looking like he stuck his finger in the flux capacitor was posted by the fandom during the mass murder scene on Game of Thrones.

What about IRL (In Real Life)? 
Fandoms also live IRL (in real life), particularly when fans engage in cosplay (dressing as characters) and attend Cons to meet other fandom members. Comic-Con has achieved a SXSW “cool” status, and other Cons are growing, e.g. LeakyCon.

How do I speak Fandom?

Fandom is a foreign language. Here are a few words to get you started:

  • Shipping: Stemming from the word relationSHIP - when fans champion the idea of two characters becoming romantically involved, often creating a morphed couple name for them like “Sterek” (Styles and Derek from Teen Wolf). Teens explain to us that some fandoms, such as the Glee fandom, put nearly 100% of their energy into shipping couples. In fact, Glee fans were actually able to convince writers to make “Britanna” (Brittany and Santana) a reality on the show (IRL…sort of).
  • The Feels: Kind of what fandom is all about. It is uncontrollable, unrestrained emotion that is so intense and multifaceted that fans cannot articulate it, so they just call it the feels. It can be caused by anything from a death or cliffhanger ending to a shared, meaningful glance between characters.
  • Keyboard Mashing: How fans articulate “the feels” online by mashing keys randomly, e.g. “adsfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdf.”
  • Canon: What actually happens in the story: the real plot line as written and produced.
  • Headcanon: Plot lines imagined by fans (canon, in their heads!). For example, when Carey Mulligan was written off Dr. Who, fans pitched the idea that she “time-travelled to the 1920s and became Daisy on The Great Gatsby.” Even though it didn’t happen in the actual story, they still accepted it as fact because it helped them continue to enjoy the show. This has now become official “headcanon” of the Dr. Who fandom.

The bottom line: for many teens, fandom = life. As Lea, 17, explains, “I have friends and family who aren’t even into anything, like a show…I’m like how do you live? I don’t know how to not be obsessed with something.” A sentiment worth paying attention to.

This piece was originally published at Myers Business Network

Millennials on Facebook: From 2004 to 2014

By Jen Michalski

Ten years ago a 20-year-old Mark Zuckerberg had just launched his new networking site, thefacebook, for his Harvard classmates. By the end of 2004, it had 1 million users, an office in Palo Alto and Zuckerberg was on his way to becoming a Millennial icon for starry-eyed wannabe entrepreneurs.

Over the years, Facebook got a facelift.

Check out Facebook’s decade-long physical transformation:


Now, Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world with 1.23 billion users.

We asked a group of 20 Millennials to take Time magazine’s quiz, “How Much Time Have You Wasted On Facebook?" which calculates the estimated amount of time a person has spent on Facebook since first registering for an account. The Millennials we talked to reported spending around 3 to 4 days a year on Facebook (but some, as many as 17!).

Do those numbers surprise you? Sure the social media landscape is rapidly changing, with platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (take a look at our Snapchat post here) pulling our attention in many different directions, but Facebook continues to be a unique draw for young people.

Facebook Then & Now

We talked to some Millennials about what they originally used Facebook for (circa years 2007-2010), and what they’re using the site for now. Here’s what they had to say:


From habitual status updates —> the now-and-then life announcement.

The status update is one of the primary Facebook functions that has seen the most change in use for Millennials – partly thanks to Twitter’s draw. Wil, 20, says he used to post multiple Facebook statuses a day – about anything from his social plans to classes — but now he rarely posts statuses, taking his thoughts to Twitter instead.


So if Millennials aren’t posting as many statuses, what exactly are they saying when they do post? It’s become less about the day-to-day and more about announcements — the “big news,” from engagements and pregnancies, to new jobs and new homes.


From back-and-forth wall conversations —> real time, emoticon-filled chats

In the earlier years, when Millennials were first getting hooked on Facebook, the site was used as a means of frequent, ongoing communication between friends, with conversations bouncing back and forth between friends’ walls. The eventual introduction of Chat streamlined communication by saving past conversations and allowing for real time talking, without the informal wall-to-wall chatter. Ryan, who has had Facebook since 2005, said he and a friend even orchestrated a trip together solely through messages.

From “last night was great” albums —> me-in-the-moment mobile uploads

Gone are the 50 photo albums documenting spring break trips… now Millennials tend to upload single, “spontaneous” photos. Madeline, 23, says that when she’s using Facebook for photos, “… it’s usually to do a quick mobile upload of a picture I took on my iPhone or something, whereas in high school or college I would have posted whole albums of photos from vacations or other events.”

From sharing daily life updates —> sharing articles, listicles, and opinions

As Millennials are reevaluating Facebook’s place in their online lives, they’re maintaining a more calculated profile, opting to share less about themselves and more about the world around them. They’re frequently posting news, silly articles, BuzzFeed listicles, and viral quizzes – often including their individual opinions and reactions along with the link. Lauren, 24, says “I get a lot of pop culture news here… it’s usually the first place I check before the actual news so when something big happens, FB is where I hear and see it first.”

From 700 person-conversations —> curated groups

Remember the days when communicating with a large group on Facebook meant sending one message to everyone … only to get a million messages in return? Millennials are still using Facebook to communicate with a lot of people at once, but instead of message threads, they’re using groups to keep everyone and everything together. From the group for Algebra class, to the group for spring break trip plans, to the college acceptance groups, Millennials are seeking more curated groups for their communication needs. Ally, a high school senior, says she doesn’t use Facebook as often as she used to but “in the past 2 months I’ve used it more than I ever have for college acceptance groups and prom dress groups.”

What’s Stayed the Same

  • Creeping: Facebook still serves an important purpose for this generation of Internet sleuthing. Brooklyn Tech High School seniors James, 18, and Caren, 17, mention using Facebook as a means of investigating their teachers, while Lauren, a 24-year-old living in Chicago, says she used Facebook to find out more information about a cute guy she had met … and eventually started dating.
  • Keep in Touch: For those in less proximity – old classmates, relatives abroad, etc. Millennials keep in touch with friends in foreign countries via messages and photos: “It lets me touch base with people I’m not super close with but want to stay connected with, and it makes distance/time apart feel much smaller because when you see that person again, you’ve shared a few jokes recently enough that it feels like you just saw them,” says Lydia, 24.

Facebook in 2014

Millennials are finding more and more creative ways to use Facebook. Earlier this year, Facebook users colored their profiles purple in support of the American Cancer Society.


Our millennial panel pointed out a fad that recently swept through Facebook — an Art Occupy movement with this premise: “The idea is to occupy Facebook with ART, breaking the monotony of photos of lunch, selfies and sports. I will assign the name of an artist to whomever likes this post. You have to publish a piece by that artist along with this text.”

The Future of Facebook

Well, what about the next 10 years? Our Millennials think Facebook will continue to be relevant, but imagine that its popularity will fluctuate, as newer, prettier social media sites are unveiled. Nonetheless, it’s still the only spot where they can easily keep tabs on everyone they’ve ever met- some say it is like a personal version of LinkedIN, with major life updates and milestones noted.  

So Millennial: now that your Facebook use doesn’t include multiple daily status updates, or funny selfies, maybe that friend request from your Great Aunt Susan isn’t such a bad thing after all.

5 Ways Millennials Stayed Psyched for Sochi

By Stephanie Monohan

Gen Y has a lot of love for the Olympics, something we’ve examined before, but Sochi offered its own unique fun. Here are five ways in which Millennials engaged with the 2014 Winter Olympics:

1. Shipping Skaters

The fervor over figure skating is an Olympics fandom on its own level. Millennials seemed particularly excited about watching couples skating this year, and with this level of emotional intensity it’s easy to see why. Fans had fun shipping the skating partners and creating romantic narratives to match the physicality they saw on screen.

2. Documenting Viewership

People kept up on the games in their spare time and….in their not-so-spare time too. And they made sure others knew too.

3. Parties

Parties were popular, for the opening ceremony in particular, and it was common to see Millennials Instagramming social gatherings, as well as their patriotic (and not just for the U.S.A.!) outfits. 

4. Hashtags

Staying on top of trending hashtags was crucial if you wanted to be in on the conversation, especially with #SochiProblems. Americans really kept their eyes peeled for Russia to drop the ball as hosts, focusing on mistakes in the opening ceremony and cultural differences in the facilities.

5. Memes

Lest we forget! Even if you didn’t tune into the Sochi Games, it was hard to escape some of these. 

(the modern classic: Doge)

(figure skaters in action)

(Sochi’s breakout face: Ashley Wagner)

Snapchat-iquette, from the eyes of Millennials

By Alison Hillhouse,  MTV Insights

While Instagram feeds have been infiltrated by parents and grandparents, the world of Snapchat is still largely Millennial territory. Gen Xers and Boomers frequently ask us to decode Snapchat – why is it so popular? What does it entail beyond a constant barrage of selfies? 

First, Snapchat is much more than “just another app.” It lives in a unique sweet-spot for Millennials, providing a new level of intimacy while at the same time preserving a certain distance. The easiest way to think about it is falling somewhere between “real life conversation” and everyday social media feeds, which has interesting implications as to how Millennials are changing the way they communicate today.

We’ll explain more, but first, a tutorial:

Snapchat 101 – the basic mechanics: You snap a photo or short video, send it to your friend(s) and once they’ve opened, it dissolves within a few seconds… never to be seen again. You can also easily subvert the system with your phone’s “screen grab” function, and hold onto friends’ images forever (or at least until you lose your phone).

The new “Stories” feature allows you to create a public, daily feed of your activities, with photos/videos lasting a full 24 hours for friends to peruse. Some users are in love with it, some are already annoyed. As Hayley, 19 notes, “‘My Stories’ has become kind of annoying, like Facebook, where people post everything like ‘I just went to the nail salon.’”  Some also feel this function is more polished and planned than regular Snapchat, with people “trying too hard to show they are having fun at a party.”

So what do people Snapchat?

Snapchats tend to be selfies (usually awkward) or photos of “random” things accompanied by equally random captions.  One teen drew a face on a photo of an orange, and sent it along with the caption, “You are a good person.” A few teens talked about photos of themselves collapsed over homework with pained captions.  Caitlin, 22, snuck a photo of a guy with a puggle in his man-purse for her puggle-loving sister. And if you are in the heat of a Snapchat convo and can’t think of a good image to accompany what you need to say, you simply take a photo of your thigh or bedroom wall.   Artistic, well-thought-out photos are left to Instagram, where content is  more “official.”


The “Snapchat-iquette”

  1. Snapchat your crush first, text later. A group Snapchat is often an ice-breaker to one-on-one Snapchats, which are icebreakers to texting (where more “real” conversation happens). “It’s kind-of weird to text someone random, but you can Snapchat someone random and it’s seen as friendly,” Ellen, 19, explained.
  2. Don’t overdo selfies to people who aren’t your best friends.
  3. Selfies are best if they are raw, funny and awkward … unless to your crush. Millennials tell us about adjusting lighting, hair and makeup. Kayla, 17, says she used to spend eight minutes getting ready for a Snapchat to her now-boyfriend.
  4. Don’t send too many Snaps in a day, especially to a crush. You’ll look stalkerish.  One panelist capped it at “5 per day.”
  5. Be careful when you open videos in public. You have no idea what they contain.
  6. Don’t open a Snapchat immediately – again, this depends on the desired relationship you are looking to cultivate.  N/A if it’s your best friend. Definitely important if it’s your crush.
  7. Snapchat can offer a great opp to get status updates on exes, crushes and exes’ crushes. One college student notes, “I see my exes watching ‘My Story,’ which creeps me out, but is also flattering.”
  8. If you are out with other friends and Snapchatting, make sure not to send to an uninvited friend.

Why is it working?

Many reasons — the most interesting is that it’s actually a very personal form of communication. Millennials are looking for more intimate, “face-to-face” interaction in a world that’s increasingly virtual. The intimate, impromptu selfies make you “feel like you are just talking to someone.” But, Millennials also tell us that it simultaneously provides a bit of welcomed distance.

Snapchat also offers authentic, unpolished glimpses into someone’s life (or at least the impression of this… as noted above, sometimes shots are staged).

It lets you be lazy. You don’t have to think of something substantive to say or consider how it’s going to be interpreted. Snapchat helps you understand tonality much quicker than texting.  A teen said “A ‘hey’ over text can be really loaded, but if you see it over Snapchat with a photo you can tell that it’s a friendly ‘hey.’”  

And, it can even be highly resourceful. Sonali, 19, says, “Two of my friends who live on opposite sides of the country planned an entire vacation to Canada together solely through Snapchat!”

With all of the above, it’s no wonder that Gen Xers and Boomers are trying to understand what SnapChat is and why it’s so popular. The easiest way to sum it up – it’s personal, but not too personal. Welcome to the future of communication.


Everybody Hurts: Book Fandom and the Search for Realism in Young Adult Fiction

By Stephanie Monohan

When people think of Fandoms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fandom) in the Young Adult Fiction world, escapist, supernatural or fantastic stories like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent come to mind. But in the seemingly endless ocean of supernatural romances and tales of dystopian futures exists an enclave of books that explore day-to-day tragedies and real life coming-of-age as opposed to saving the world and eternal undead love. And vibrant fandoms are growing around these tragically real, sometimes existentialist books. 

These touching, relatable stories about young love, loneliness, and even death are striking a chord with young readers (and many adults as well) who are looking for a bit more honesty in their fiction, but there’s something about the authors as well. Novelists like John Green, who penned Looking For Alaska and the YA sensation The Fault In Our Stars (currently being adapted into a feature-length film), and Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor & Park and the more recent Fangirl, have developed rabid fan followings due to their openness and communication with their readers, as well as their own personal histories within fandom communities.


While the glut of YA fiction reminiscent of the massive Twilight and Hunger Games franchises often feels overwhelming, there are still many teens and young adults willing to let their hearts break a little for this engrossing fiction. YA readers seem hungry for stories that speak directly to their experiences and don’t sugar-coat the realities of not only growing up, but being alive.

Much of that has to do with these authors’ understanding of fan communities and their own unique engagement with their fans. John Green, for instance, regularly updates his hugely popular video blog series vlogBrothers while also taking time to interact with his fans on his personal Tumblr page, reblogging them and offering long, thought-out responses to their questions. Rainbow Rowell incorporated her own experiences with fandom into her latest novel Fangirl, which follows a girl who turns to online fandom to cope with her real-life problems, a journey that many people who become part of fandoms may recognize. 


This kind of connection is very important to young fans in general. The Millennials we talk to frequently emphasize the importance of celebrity/creator transparency and relatability. They have come to not only appreciate zero-distancing, but to expect it. They enjoy seeing not just the behind-the-scenes, but into the lives of the people creating their favorite pop culture. Plus, when it comes to books about serious subjects, or even just about growing up, it feels like the author is imparting advice in a personal way. As one of our panelists put it, “Now famous people can be your best friend.” (Julian, 23) Overall, this kind of closeness as well as the honest, yet humorous wisdom found in these stories is resonating with young readers and possibly jumpstarting a refreshing trend in young adult fiction. 


Digital Bookending

By Alison Hillhouse

Many have fallen prey to the narrative that Millennials choose to disengage with “real-world” experiences and spend 24/7 on technology. While we knew this wasn’t the case, we were surprised to find out just how much Young Millennials are actually seeking out hands-on, tech-free maker experiences, in our recent meta-study on the younger half of this demo. Whether it’s baking, crafting, woodworking or jewelry making, they tell us of the immense satisfaction they get from these immersive, self-soothing experiences. 

But tech isn’t entirely removed from these maker experiences, as Millennials engage in what we call “Digital Bookending” – research & documenting the before & after. The making of a duct tape wallet (a hot craft right now among girls and guys) involves first watching a how-to YouTube video for instructions, then immersing yourself in the craft, and finally capping it off with an Instagrammed photo to express yourself/get credit for your work/connect with peers on a deeper level. (motivations of course vary…)

Three of our panelists tell us about their “Digital Bookending” experiences:

1)  Alondra, 17, tells of her pop-art project, in which she first “looked at cool pop art pictures online… role models and important cultural figures.” She then chose to feature her role model Jenni Rivera, a famous Mexican-American singer whose life ended on Alondra’s birthday and recently wrote a #1 NY Times best-seller. Afterwards, she posted her creation to Instagram, where 68 friends were a fan of her work:

 2)  Gabrielle, 17, tells us about her duct tape prom dress, which took a whopping 100 hours of work! She says “I’ve always loved reptiles, and couldn’t think of a more awesome theme than dragons!” To prep her for the work, she went online and watched a Project Runway episode featuring duct tape dresses. Her process was very elaborate, including hand-cut flames and a wire-framed tail. Obviously, this was not only a sensation at the prom but also afterwards on Facebook.  

3)  Deven, 17, made a “plant cell cake.” He first went on YouTube to see how other people made cell models, and “observed how they structured and positioned various parts of the cell.” Deven also Instagrammed his final “Eukaryoptic Plant Cell.”

Brands can take advantage of “Digital bookending” by facilitating the before or after experience… whether that’s sponsoring DIY content or launching contests for Millennials to share creations. 

Millennials Speak: How This Generation Defines Itself

By Alison Hillhouse

Millennials are the most talked about generation in history – the web is overflowing with articles and studies on Millennial underemployment, Millennial tech addiction and the intricacies of dealing with Millennials in the workplace. There’s so much conversation that we now see listicles and infographs about how everyone can’t stop talking about Millennials, like CNN’s “Can we stop worrying about Millennials yet?”

That’s why we’ve dedicated this post to letting Millennials speak for themselves, about themselves. MTV Insights partnered with Survey.com to get 250 18-24 year olds across the country to text us a picture + description that reflects the hashtag: #weliveinagenerationthat. 

And here are some of our favorites…

Gay Millennials, Part 3: Running the Bases Backwards…With A Twist

By Matt Cohen,  MTV Insights


When it comes to their love lives, we have found that Millennials often “run the bases backwards” — meaning that sex comes first, and relationships come second (if at all.)  (See our previous post, “Love Stuck: The Meandering Path from Hook-Up to FBO”)  This same pattern seems to apply among Gay Millennials – but with one important twist: For Gay Millennials, it appears that hook-ups very often lead to new friendships.

While straight Millennials tell us stories of casual hook-ups who tend to go their separate ways after failing to make the transition from hook-up to relationship, we hear from Gay Millennials that hooking up often serves as a casual opener to starting a new friendship.

Jacob, 22, explains “Almost every single gay guy that I know goes through the exact same pattern: You meet someone you think is cute, you hook up with him, and if it doesn’t turn into romance, you become friends.”

“All of my friends and I hooked up with each other and then became best friends,” says Domenic, 19, who told us that hooking up with gay classmates served as a social ice-breaker of sorts during his freshman orientation week at college.  “When I got accepted to college, I joined the LGBT club for my school on Facebook…The first week of school we all slept with each other, and then we all became friends.”

Many of our panelists talk about how they have ended up with particularly “incestuous” social circles as a result of this behavior — meaning that many of their friends have dated or hooked up with each other in various combinations.  Because gay communities are typically small (particularly within the college bubble) it’s often difficult to avoid an ex or former hook-up buddy.  As a result, Gay Millennials seem to be making the best of a potentially awkward situation by viewing former hook-ups as potential new friends.

Jacob, 22, recalls “I was at a birthday party with a friend recently.  We were looking around the room, and we realized that either one of us had hooked up with almost everyone who was there and had become friends with them… It’s almost universal among everyone I know.”

Although their social circles may be fraught with complicated overlapping connections, Gay Millennials fortunately have a large pool to draw from when it comes to looking for new potential friends or romantic partners.  Whereas previous generations of gay youth congregated around local gay clubs or bars in order meet new people, many Gay Millennials now carry the proverbial gay bar with them in their pockets.  Thanks to the advent of digital tools like Grindr – the massively popular gay geo-location app which helps you find potential hook-ups in your vicinity – Gay Millennials can easily tap into a fresh network of romantic or platonic possibilities.

For those who aren’t using hook-up apps like Grindr, however, even a tool as simple as Facebook can help expand the gay social circle.  Many of the Gay Millennials we spoke to mentioned searching their Facebook networks when they first arrived at college in order to identify other gay classmates on-campus.  (With the recent introduction of Facebook’s Graph Search, this type of search is now easier than ever before.)  And even if you’re not looking for new gay friends, chances are they’ll find you as Steven, 22, explains “If you’re friends with any gay person on Facebook and you write on their wall, like 80 people will friend-request you.”


This is the third in a series of posts on Gay Millennials, in which we share our findings on the unique characteristics and experiences of this generation’s gay youth.  Check out our previous posts in this series:

Gay Millennials, Part 1: Beyond “Coming Out”

Gay Millennials, Part 2: “I’m Not Your GBF!”