While the world often views millennials as indecisive, the opposite is actually true, according to several studies done over the past few years. The approximately 80 million people between the ages of 18 and 37 aren’t avoiding decisions; they are simply taking their time in weighing their options. In a sense, they want to get everything right and crowd source purchasing decisions before diving in and taking the plunge. After all, millennials have the highest penetration of Internet usage—93 percent. In addition, 84 percent of them are accustomed to accessing information via social media.

Their constant connectivity and dependence on social media means that they assign a high degree of trust in their friends and social networks. However, when it comes to making purchasing decisions, they rely on strangers even more. According to the January 2012 “Talking to Strangers” report released by Bazaar Voice, 84 percent of millennials reported that user-generated content on a company’s website has at least some influence on what they buy compared with 34 percent of boomers who say user-generated content has some bearing on a purchase.

Millennials also went so far as to report that there were some purchases they would not make without first reading user-generated reviews or engaging with user-generated content produced by someone who is not their immediate network. This represents a huge shift in the marketing space, one that is more reliant on consumers acting as brand ambassadors as opposed to the brands themselves acting on their own behalf. A recent study by the McCarthy Group found that 84 percent of millennials don’t like traditional advertising nor do they trust it.

Founder and CEO Tami McCarthy said the study “reinforces the dynamics of the sharing economy and how strongly this consumer group relies on online news reports, friends, social media and even company websites as trustworthy sources of information.”

While many brand marketers consider traditional advertising to be a necessity for competitive reasons, it’s even more important to pay attention to what gets millennials’ attention and wins their trust. Millennials are quickly becoming the largest generation in the United States and deliver nearly $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending power.

Why Social Media Helps Millennials Make Decisions

Millennials, known as digital natives, consider technology an imperative. These consumers are used to having multiple channels compete for their attention and dollars. This constant bombardment has made them very aware of all their options, and they are extremely pragmatic in coming to their final decisions.

These digitally dependent consumers are about three times more likely than consumers in other generations to reference social media networks when making a purchase, according to a 2014 study by Market Strategies International. Although people of all generations, including millennials, use Facebook for making decisions about purchasing, millennials use a variety of other social sites as well. For example, they are 19 percent more likely to use Instagram and 14 percent more likely to use Tumblr than any other generation.

Paul Donagher, managing director of the consumer and retail group at Market Strategies, says millennials are “more engaged, more vocal and more visual,” compared with members of other generations.

“They’re not merely passive readers —they post, pin, view and blog. And, they’re willing to experiment and go onto the next innovation in social media,” Donagher says.

What This Means for Brands

The key to winning millennial trust is for brands to figure out how to persuade millennials to deliver the brands’ messages. One way to do that is to involve millennials in the creation process of the marketing strategy. This involvement takes place in a variety of different channels, especially in the digital social space. As a result, brands must keep up-to-date with the changing preferences of millennial social media users. Take Facebook, for example. As soon as baby boomers embraced the social media site, millennials became more connected with Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

A sample from Taco Bell's Valentine's Day campaign on SnapChat. Source: Marketingland.com.

A sample from Taco Bell’s Valentine’s Day campaign on SnapChat. Source: Marketingland.com.

Taco Bell is one brand that isn’t afraid to test a variety of social platforms to remain relevant with millennials. The restaurant chain takes risks when it comes to its social presence, often investing in new platforms before other brands. For example, in 2013 Taco Bell used Snapchat to announce the return of the Beefy Crunch Burrito, even though the social site hadn’t yet become a go-to place for brands to live. Taco Bell has since delivered a variety of other content via Snapchat and had more than 200,000 followers in August 2014.

Millennials are nothing like the boomer generation who shopped in a more linear process and with the help of Consumer Reports or the Kelley Blue Book. The collision between the digital and physical space is creating a new environment where there are dozens of influencers on a millennial purchase decision. The key is to break through the noise and reach the right millennials, in the right place, with the right message.

Editor’s note: Adam Van Paris, content curator and assistant brand manager, and Cherryh Butler, content specialist, at FutureCast contributed to this post.