The C-Spot | Todd Jones, CEO of Teton Gravity Research, on captivating Millennials

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As TGR celebrates its 21st birthday, the extreme sports media company is at the height of its Millennialsm - even though its founders are in their 40s. The Jackson Hole-based company has grown from a rag-tag group of ski bums to one of the world’s most decorated media companies, largely due to its reach and appeal to the Millennial audience. We sat down to talk with Todd Jones about the social strategies that have proven so successful to the growth of TGR.

Aside from running the company, Todd Jones is a also a cameraman. Here, he shoots 3D aerial footage over Stevens Pass, Washington. Photo: TGR

Aside from running the company, Todd Jones is a also a cameraman. Here, he shoots 3D aerial footage over Stevens Pass, Washington. Photo: TGR

SNEWS: You and your brother Steve were in your twenties when you founded TGR more than two decades ago. How do a couple of 40-something guys with kids continue to tap into the Millennial market so strongly? Are you just young at heart or is there something more deliberate going on?

Todd Jones: Well, I think for sure we remain very young at heart, as that is the spirit of TGR and what we do. Our staff and the athletes we work with are very young as well. A lot of them fall in the textbook Millennial definition, so that certainly helps the company stay very fresh and young.

However, when I think of Millennials, I think less about the actual age demographic and more about the behavior. While I am technically aged out of the millennial demographic (at 45), our company came up during a time when technology, media, and communications were changing rapidly.

TGR was a very early adopter of the changing face of the media landscape and we embraced it out of the gate. We saw the rise of the internet, YouTube and other forms of social media as major game changers and we decided a longtime ago that we wanted to be on the cutting edge of that. We always had our issues with traditional media and who controlled the keys to the kingdom. We saw the digital universe as a place that leveled the playing field. While we still play in the traditional space, we’ve always seen it as an antiquated necessity that will loose its relevance over time, thus our commitment to the new frontier. So, yes, our focus on reaching Millennials has been very deliberate and evolved over time.

SNEWS: Your website has massive traffic and engagement (1 million unique views per month, 2+ minutes average time on site, and 3.5 million video average views per month across all channels). What advice do you have for companies that want to crack the Millennial code not only in terms of content but in how they deliver that content?

Millennial at heart: Jones at TGR's Fantasy Camp, a remote helicopter film base in Alaska. Photo: Nic Alegre

Millennial at heart: Jones at TGR's Fantasy Camp, a remote helicopter film base in Alaska. Photo: Nic Alegre

TJ: First, I would say one of the most important things in terms of reaching Millennials is mobile. This is where Millennials spend most of their time online. We have a mobile-first strategy at TGR. It baffles me when I see a site or platform that is not heavily optimized in the mobile space. Right there, you will lose a ton of engagement and traffic.

Second, you need to optimize across all platforms. You can’t just rely on mobile. Make your content work on tablet and desktop, too. Millennials go wherever they want whenever they want to consume content. Publishers and content creators no longer decide where and when for the consumer, so your platforms need to embrace that.

Remember, this all starts on social media. Millennials discover things and they are on multiple social media networks, so you can’t commit to just one. You really need to embrace all of your social channels because that’s where the audience is. This is primarily where they will find your content and ultimately share with their friends. Your content is social currency and that value rises when it’s discovered, consumed, and shared.

As far as content goes, it needs to be authentic. You can’t bullshit Millennials. They have too many options and their lines of communications are too open. They are the ones that really decide what content takes off. For the most part, content needs to be short and easily consumable. People are multitasking at absurd rates these days and they want quick hits. It’s important to have strong visuals in the form of video and photos. People are not reading long form the way they used to. You really want to give people things that they can consume in under 5 minutes, because they get bored and move onto the next screen quickly.

The Stash is a dynamic user-generated community; TGR culls out and highlights the the best content daily. Photo: Screenshot

The Stash is a dynamic user-generated community; TGR culls out and highlights the the best content daily. Photo: Screenshot

SNEWS:You have a place on tetongravity.com calledThe Stash, which is a pretty unique environment. Tell me about it: What is The Stash, how much traffic does it see, and why is it such a vibrant, dynamic place?

The Stash is an evolution of where we have come from. When we launched our website in 1996, we put a forum up where people could talk. Forums were the earliest form of social networking. While the TGR Forums remain legendary and relevant to this day, we wanted to give the users a more robust set of tools to publish stories, videos and photos that could integrate into our website as a whole. That’s what the Stash has become: Anyone with an email account can have a Stash profile. Its amazing to see the level of content that people post on a daily basis. We have a staff pick program where we scrape the Stash daily for the best stuff. That content gets moved to our homepage and pushed out through our social channels. It creates a place where users can have their own voice. I think that’s part of what makes TGR unique and appealing to Millennials: We are a collective voice that speaks to the adventure and action lifestyle. We don’t try to over control the voices of our users; rather we include them in it.

SNEWS: How many viral videos have you put out? What does it take to create a video that will go viral among Millennials? Is it something you actually set out to do, or does it just happen?

TJ: I would say we have had 50 or so truly viral videos. (“Dirt Blizzard” above hit 3 million views on our YouTube channel, and 25 million on Facebook.) Most of our content performs very well, but there are the occasional ones that just explode and go crazy. More and more we tend to know when a video has that potential and we put it through the paces we have established. There is no true formula for viral and I think if you focus on that too much you will end up disappointed. There are a lot of different things that will push something over the top including a great story, an incredible feat or visual, and something that is fresh and has not been seen or done. Even then you have to market and distribute the clips. We have developed an extensive distribution network that we push our content too, which really helps videos take off when they have the right content.

The internet and platforms like YouTube have helped really launch action sports to the mainstream. It’s really cool to see the masses take notice of all this cool stuff that’s been going on for a long time. To bring it back around, the Millennial generation has equalized the world and given the voice to the people.

The C-Spot features stimulating interviews with outdoor industry power players. If there’s a C-level personality you’d like to hear from, or if you inhabit the corner office yourself and have some stories to tell, email us at snewsedit@aimmedia.com.

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