No doubt social media plays an integral part in the lives of many of your customers. The Manifest 2019 Consumer Social Media Survey found that "more than 80 percent of every generation uses social media at least once per day."
But even though everyone uses social media, it turns out that each generation has different social media habits.
The Manifest study, which surveyed 627 social media users in the U.S. from various generations, found that "although more than three-fourths of Generation Zers (77 percent) and Millennials (79 percent) use social media multiple times per day, Generation Zers tend to spend more time on fewer platforms, while Millennials tend to use a more diverse range of platforms."
The study further found that "at least 40 percent of Generation Zers report using three platforms at least once a week: YouTube (89 percent), Instagram (74 percent) and Snapchat (68 percent). Conversely, at least 40 percent of Millennials report using six platforms at least once a week: Facebook (87 percent), YouTube (86 percent), Instagram (71 percent), Snapchat (52 percent), Twitter (42 percent) and Pinterest (42 percent)."
Facebook's popularity is also declining with younger generations.
"Only 36 percent of Generation Zers use Facebook at least once a week," according to the study, "compared to 87 percent of Millennials, 90 percent of Generation Xers and 96 percent of Baby Boomers."
Generational Differences Using Social Media
"In addition to the platform use varying amongst generations, so do the specific reasons for using the platforms and the content shared," says Julie Weldon, president and co-founder of O.M.E. Gear, an outdoor adventure brand.
"Our company caters to a very diverse age demographic spanning Boomers to Millennials to Gen Z," says Weldon. "We realized that Boomers tend to use social media to communicate and stay in touch, as opposed to Millennials and Gen Z, who use their social media platforms to document their lives and share their adventures. This knowledge has significantly shaped the way we do marketing."
Ted Foxworth, marketing director of the crypto trading company CryptoRocket, has found that social media has become a multifaceted marketing channel.
"Different demographic groups have fanned out across the various platforms, which forces marketers to cover more ground," Foxworth says.
"The various generations also consume social media content on a consistent scale of involvement, and the specific platforms they use reflect that," adds Natalia Wulfe, co-owner and CMO at Effective Spend, a digital marketing agency.
"The younger Gen X and Z users browse social media at 10 times the speed of Baby Boomers," says Wulfe. "Gen X and Z users are looking to consume as much content as possible, while Baby Boomers take their time, don't read as much content, but are highly engaged in what they do see. Millennials are in the middle with their browsing habits, not as engaged as Baby Boomers, but not nearly as passive as Gen X and Z."
The various social media platforms cater to the generational viewing habits, continues Wulfe.
"Facebook better serves articles and text-based content for the older population, while for the younger generations, Instagram has more visuals and TikTok [a video app] favors scrolling and short, motion-based content."
How Social Media Preferences Affect Marketing
Your marketing efforts can be especially effective if you know your target audience and the social media platform(s) they tend to use.
"Facebook has become the go-to platform for Baby Boomers, which is why our company is spending $6 million this year targeting Baby Boomers with retirement educational opportunities," says Jonathan Musgrave, owner and chief digital marketer for Steep Digital Marketing.
"If your target market is Baby Boomers, you'll find them on Facebook and Twitter," adds Jay York, senior digital marketing strategist at News & Experts, a marketing and public relations company. "Baby Boomers generally use these platforms to stay in touch with family and friends, to share their perspectives on politics and current events and for general entertainment purposes."
Though it's good to know the platforms luring the various generations, for best results, "keep in mind that social media usage by age is a moving target," says Dan Grech, founder of BizHack Academy, which provides advanced digital marketing training.
"For instance, amongst teenagers, the Chinese social media app TikTok has become very popular," says Grech. "Meanwhile, Snapchat is actually used less by 15 to 25-year-olds than Instagram, which is a change from previous years. There will always be new trends and variations in usage. The key for any marketer is to identify their ideal target audience and then stay up-to-date on which social media platforms that target audience tends to use."
Steve Robertson, CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, which specializes in youth-to-adult programming, has found that while meeting each generation on each platform is useful to his company in the short-term, it's not a good long-term strategy to optimize for one platform at a time.
Facebook better serves articles and text-based content for the older population, while for the younger generations, Instagram has more visuals and TikTok [a video app] favors scrolling and short, motion-based content.
—Natalia Wulfe, co-owner and CMO, Effective Spend
"You need to be focused on building cross-platform relevance," says Robertson. "We're living in a new economy of curation with all generations on some type of platform. No matter their age, they're engaging with social media because our world is rapidly shifting toward the digital and social spheres."
Leo Strupczewski, director of marketing for the social commerce company Curalate, agrees.
"Building a library of quality content so you can tell your brand's story and improve your e-commerce experience across generations is what matters most right now," he says.
Marketing efforts in every industry are naturally shifting because of social media trends. While industries should obviously take note, there's some risk in being overly granular in your efforts, agrees Jared Staver, founder of Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C.
"While no two prospective clients are the same, many have similar concerns," continues Staver. "Content that speaks to universal needs can be shared across platforms and consumed by Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials alike."
Generational Similarities with Social Media
The Manifest survey found some similarities between generations when it comes to social media usage. It turns out that all generations tend to prefer posting images, and video is quickly gaining in popularity.
"Attractive, vibrant images tend to get the most attention," says Foxworth. "This holds true for users on every platform, from Twitter to Instagram. The real secret, though, is understanding that images alone aren't the best possible approach. Some of the highest-performing social media marketing content involves an image and short text."
Additionally, video content is an under-underutilized way to reach all the major demographic groups at once, Foxworth adds.
"Video is the Swiss Army knife of digital marketing that's consumed by a large majority of all age groups," he says. "A short YouTube video will routinely achieve a 75 percent completion rate."
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