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The generational marketing playbook: How to engage every age group on social

Demographic data is a key building block in defining your target audiences on social media. Incorporating generational marketing insights into your strategies can greatly influence how people connect with your brand, from the awareness stage all the way on to advocacy.

Building relationships across age demographics starts with an up-to-date understanding of how each generation interacts with social media networks and content. To help, our team at Sprout Social regularly conducts research on how audiences are responding to emerging trends in social media.

The data included in this guide involved an analysis of the following generations:

  • Generation Z (survey respondents ages 18-24)
  • Millennials aka Generation Y (survey respondents ages 25-40)
  • Generation X (survey respondents ages 41-56)
  • Baby Boomers (survey respondents ages 57-74)

As social adoption surges across all age groups, understanding how different generations use social media is more important than ever. This guide outlines everything you need to know about the social media behaviors and expectations of each generation, so you can tailor your efforts for maximum impact.

Section 1

What is generational marketing?

Generational marketing is a strategic approach that involves segmenting audiences by age groups and targeting them based on the values and experiences that resonate with their generational cohort.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean creating individual label-specific (e.g., Baby Boomers, Zillennials, Generation Alpha) marketing strategies. Instead, it means tailoring specific aspects of your existing strategy so that it feels relatable to your target audience.

Every generation witnesses a range of defining moments and trends, whether they be cultural, political and now, even digital. In turn, these generational markers can significantly impact how these groups react to specific messaging.

Section 2

Why a generational marketing strategy is important for your brand

Will everyone born within the same fifteen-to-twenty-year period share the same interests, hobbies or shopping habits? Of course not—that would make our jobs way too easy. While generational cohorts aren’t entirely monolithic, they can still be helpful for marketers to understand. Here’s why:

They inform a stronger market message

Have you ever come across a marketing effort that felt like it was speaking directly to you? The kind that makes you pause and think, ‘Wow, they really get me’?

A screenshot of an X (formerly known as Twitter) post from FanDuel. The post says includes a screenshot of a scene from The Office. In it, Michael Scott says, “No question about it. I am ready to get hurt again.” The image is paired with the caption, “Looking at my fantasy football team heading into NFL Sunday.”

Chances are, every aspect of that initiative was informed by extensive amounts of data—including generation-specific market research. These insights help teams understand what will resonate with their target audience, from design choices to TV references. It’s a vital ingredient in the recipe for great messaging, helping set the foundation for campaigns that drive stronger connections.

Generational marketing strategies help brands craft unique messages that speak directly to each generation’s values, preferences and experiences. They create meaningful connections that inspire and drive brand loyalty.

They allow brands to maintain relevance.

As time passes, the individuals within your target audience will age, and new generations will emerge as potential consumers. These new generations bring unique experiences that influence their interests and preferences—and those are often considerably different from those who came before.

Generational marketing plays a key role in maintaining an up-to-date understanding of your customers. It’s a framework that will help you understand how different age groups perceive and interact with brands.

Age demographic data may not be the bedrock of your strategy, but it can ensure your messaging evolves in harmony with the changing expectations of your target buyers. In doing so, you secure your brand’s continued relevance and resonance with your audience.

They support market expansion

Generational marketing strategies don’t just serve to help your brand maintain relevance with its current target audience. They can also provide a structured approach for reaching entirely new age demographics.

Consider this: Say you work for a makeup company that discovers an unexpectedly strong presence of Gen X consumers purchasing your products and talking about them online. Rather than navigating this audience without any prior insight, you could use generational data to provide basic intel into their preferences and what might appeal to them.

This data serves as a starting point for informed experimentation, allowing you to craft targeted marketing initiatives that will eventually help you identify what exactly resonates with your emerging demographic.


Section 3

Why social data is critical when marketing to different generations

Most generational marketing data tends to be broad, often overlooking the diverse identities and preferences that individuals within a specific generation may embody. To truly understand what resonates with your unique audience, you need social data.

Social platforms serve as the optimal channels for testing messaging and creative approaches, allowing marketers to quickly gauge what’s working with their target audience. This ripe testing ground supports the exploration of various hypotheses and concepts, unveiling the core values and concerns of specific audiences that span across generations.

By leveraging social data, marketers can move beyond generalizations and tailor strategies to the nuanced preferences of their diverse audience segments.

Section 4

How Gen Z uses social media

Generation Z (also known as “Gen Z” or “Zoomers”) are extremely online. In fact, most of these digital natives have had some kind of social media presence for more than half their lives.

Findings from a Sprout Social Q4 Pulse Survey indicate that Gen Z social media usage won’t be slowing any time soon. When asked about their social media usage for 2024, 41% of Gen Z consumers say they anticipate using more social networks than they do today.

While you might assume their social media activity spans across both emerging and established platforms, the platforms making waves might surprise you. Take LinkedIn, for instance. In an interview with The Cut, LinkedIn Career Expert Andrew McCaskill confirmed that Gen Z is one of the fastest-growing demographics on the platform—contributing to an impressive 41% increase in content posted on the platform between spring 2021 and spring 2023.

What Gen Z expects from brands on social media

Gen Z is eager to interact with brands beyond the storefront, but they’re still looking for customer-centric experiences.

Data from The 2023 Sprout Social Index™ reveals that 42% of Gen Z consumers find the most memorable brands on social media to be those that actively respond to their customers. Following closely, the second most favored approach involves prioritizing direct engagement over sheer content volume.

A stat call-out titled “How Gen Z consumers feel about AI use in social engagements”. 46% feel apprehensive about companies using AI in social interactions.

Gen Z consumers also share a higher level of apprehension toward brands employing AI in their social interactions compared to their Millennial and Gen X counterparts. Their primary concerns revolve around potential drawbacks such as poorer customer service, diminished authenticity and reduced human interaction.

How your business can reach more Gen Z consumers on social

To target Gen Z, prioritize social content that sparks two-way interactions and engages them in relevant conversations. You can start by evaluating your current strategy through the lens of your customer experience. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Does your awareness content promote engagement (e.g., polls, user-generated content, quizzes, etc.)?
  • How long does it typically take your team to respond to questions or comments?
  • Do customer insights and data currently inform your content strategy? To what extent?

If customer feedback hasn’t been at the forefront of your strategy, think through what that could look like for your brand. Test new content at least twice a week, and see how those posts perform against your standard social content.

A screenshot of Sprout's Inbox Activity Report. In the report, you can see a summary of all key performance metrics for received messages and inbox actions and a change over time in inbox volume.

As for response times, Sprout users can use the Internal Engagement Report to see just how quickly their team responds to messages in the Smart Inbox. Use the report findings to set new benchmarks and identify process improvements to accelerate your time to resolution.

Gen Z marketing example break down: Cocokind

Cocokind is a California-based skincare brand that promises “clean and conscious skincare for all”. They’re serious about transparency and they use their social strategy to show it.

Across Cocokind’s social media profiles, you won’t find dance challenges or overused Gen Z slang. Instead, they focus on educational content that feels authentic to their brand.

A screenshot of the comments section of a TikTok from Cocking. In it, user SammyWammy asks if their turmeric blemish stick leaves a yellow tint. The brand responded, “Such a common question when it comes to turmeric masks! Luckily, our Turmeric Mask Stick doesn’t stain your skin. But if you choose to wear the mask overnight, make sure to protect your pillowcases as it might stain those!”

Through this strategy, Cocokind establishes their expertise beyond their products themselves, into the broader world of skincare chemistry. Whether they’re answering questions in their social media comments or creating entirely new content based on FAQs, they deliver on customer experiences that delight existing and future fans.

Section 5

How Millennials use social media

Millennials are often saddled with outdated stereotypes from their early years on social, which doesn’t give marketers an accurate picture of who they are today. They aren’t college kids taking duck-face selfies. Most are navigating early adulthood and the excitement and uncertainty that comes with it, including job milestones, parenthood and eldercare.

Seventy-two percent state that social is an essential part of their lives, the highest of all age groups. When identifying the most common ways Millennials use social media, our survey also found that:

  • 61% use social to communicate with family, friends and acquaintances
  • 51% use social to kill time
  • 47% use social to learn about new trends
  • 43% use social to get breaking news

And while their schedules are getting busier, Millennials aren’t shying away from new platforms. In fact, they’re Threads power users. Nearly half (42%) are using Meta Threads daily and 36% are using the platform weekly.

What Millennials expects from brands on social media

To make an impact with Millennials, you’ll need more than just meme templates and trending audios. Similar to their Gen Z counterparts, Millennials appreciate brands that prioritize customer responsiveness. However, they place a higher value on brands creating original content rather than direct engagement.

A stat call-out titled “Millennial consumers are more likely to prefer original content”. 40% say memorable brands prioritize original content over trending topics.

If the idea of cranking out more content is making you break into a sweat, don’t panic. Instead, explore ways to build online communities related to your product or service. It’s a win-win—your fans find support and connection, while your brand gains a constant source of highly relevant content ideas.

Millennials are navigating their careers, family life and future in unique ways compared to previous generations. Businesses can actively contribute to these significant life moments by establishing online communities where fans can connect with each other and with your brand.

How your business can reach more Millennial consumers on social

There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to creating a social media community. However, there are a few essential steps to ensuring its success.

Start by identifying the purpose behind your community. Conversations specific to your product or service will get stale after a while, so zoom out. Align your brand with high-level topics that encourage long-term discussions.

A screenshot of Sprout Social's Listening tool. In the screenshot, there are words in a word cloud like #coffee, morning and drinking. At the bottom of the page, related keywords and hashtags are listed and analyzed.

Social listening tools like Sprout can help identify broader topics of interest that relate to your brand. Analyze conversations happening with your fans, competitors and industry overall. Once you’ve identified some common threads, use that information to inform a community-specific content plan that promotes ongoing engagement.

Millennial marketing example break down: Instant Brands

Instant Brands is home to an iconic portfolio of brands including Pyrex, Corelle and of course, Instant Pot. They also manage a thriving community of over three million fans—the Instant Pot Facebook Group.

A screenshot of the Instant Pot Community Facebook Group page. The group currently has over 3 million members.

The page is home to countless archived and active discussions on all things Instant Pot. Users can find new recipes, innovative product use cases, advice and more. Discussions take place daily, providing Instant Pot fans with an endless stream of authentic, engaging content.

These conversations create real connections that keep Millennial audiences bonded with the Instant Pot brand. It elevates the humble appliance beyond the kitchen cabinet, into the hearts and minds of the families that use it.

Section 6

Generation X is sandwiched between the much larger Millennial and Baby Boomer generations. Although this group is small in size, they make up a large number of users across top social networks.

According to a recent survey from Wavemaker, 92% of Gen Xers use social media every day. They’re even the fastest-growing generation on TikTok, a platform more closely associated with Gen Z. However, just because they share the digital space with their younger counterparts doesn’t mean they seek the same content.

The survey highlighted another notable trend—influencer marketing campaigns featuring Gen X creators not only resonate 73% more with Gen X audiences but also drive a 43% increase in website visits for advertisers. Although Gen X represents a smaller generational subset, their appetite for tailored, relevant content can’t be ignored.

What Gen X expects from brands on social media

Gen X trust is hard to earn, but it’s also hard to lose. Research shows that Gen X are some of the most loyal consumers, often willing to pay a premium for products from brands they trust.

Brands hoping to earn that trust through social media can mimic many of the same strategies they use to target Millennials. The two generational cohorts have the same top four priorities when it comes to what makes a brand memorable on social media. That said, Gen Xers are more likely to appreciate brands that take content risks.

A data visualization titled “What makes a brand memorable to Gen Z consumers." The answers include: responding to customers (55%), prioritizing original content over trending topics (39%), prioritizing direct audience engagement over publishing cadence (33%), publishing timely, on-trend content (30%) and taking risks with content (28%).

This preference may stem from the fact that Gen X is less accustomed to seeing themselves in conventional marketing campaigns, making innovative content approaches more noticeable and appreciated. Brands that break away from the norm and inject creativity into their social media strategies stand to capture the attention from Gen X audiences.

How your business can reach more Gen X consumers on social

Gen X doesn’t grab headlines the same way their Millennial and Boomer counterparts do, causing them to often feel ignored by brands and marketers alike. Businesses targeting Gen X will often find that even a little acknowledgment can go a long way.

This is a relatively untapped space for marketers. Few brands are investing in this established, well-resourced audience, making it ripe for exploration. Marketers looking to connect with this generational cohort should consider:

  • Sharing user-generated content from Gen X creators
  • Diversifying marketing strategies with Gen X influencers
  • Requesting creative assets that showcase customers from across several age groups

The brands that let Gen X see themselves reflected in their generational marketing strategies will tap into this frequently undervalued demographic.

Gen X marketing example break down: Anthropologie

Gym Tan (@CaliforniaIsTooCasual on TikTok) knows there’s no such thing as “dressing your age”. Her style is timeless, attracting fans across ages—over 240,000 fans, to be exact.

Among her many fans is the marketing team at Anthropologie. Recently, the brand partnered with Tan and her daughter for a holiday capsule collection and social campaign, where the two modeled their selected pieces for their combined audiences.


Introducing the Gym & Mya Holiday Edit with @Anthropologie! #AnthroPartner For the past few months, we have been working on carefully curating and picking our fall and winter favorites from Anthropologie to create looks that anyone can wear and feel confident in. We made sure each piece was wearable yet offered something unique and could be dressed up or down. Officially available to shop today, we can’t wait to hear what you think and see how you style your favorites!

♬ original sound – Gym Tan

This positions the brand, whose target market is often seen as younger, to a new audience that can be found in Tan’s following.

Section 7

How Baby Boomers use social media

The majority of Baby Boomers plan on keeping their social media usage steady in 2024. Only 19% anticipate using more social networks than they do today, and 22% anticipate using fewer.

This generational cohort may have been slower to adopt social media initially, but they’re on board with the networks we know and love. Their most commonly used social platform is Facebook, followed by YouTube and Instagram.

Compare that with their usage of newer platforms like Threads, and the difference is stark. According to a Q4 Sprout Social Pulse Survey, only 14% of Baby Boomers are on the platform, signaling a slower-than-average adoption rate for this group.

What Baby Boomers expect from brands on social media

Boomers and older adults are not a monolith. Across the demographic, however, Baby Boomers share similarities in how they want to connect with brands.

Thirty-five percent of Baby Boomers use social media to discover new brands, and 48% say social enables them to interact with brands and companies online. Boomers are less likely to create profiles on new social networks, but they are open to trying new methods of communicating with businesses on the platforms they’ve already adopted.

How your business can reach more Baby Boomer consumers on social  

If Boomers make up a large percentage of your target market, refine your platform strategy based on what’s making the biggest impact with your audience.

Sprout's Post Performance Report, which shows your top performing content across all of your social channels, individually or all together.

Sprout’s Post Performance Report consolidates critical post-level data into a single space, so you can identify patterns in what resonates with a specific audience. Use filtering tools to limit your report to specific networks, so you can tailor your profile strategy accordingly.

Baby Boomer marketing example break down: Costco

Costco sells just about everything. It’s one of the few places where you can get a good deal on a living room set and a rotisserie chicken. With all that variety, nailing a cohesive social strategy on Facebook may seem like a challenging task, but it’s actually simpler than it seems.

A screenshot of a Facebook post from Costco. The post features a 180 count battery organizer called “Battery Daddy”. The post copy says, “The ultimate battery storage system is yours to pick up. Save $5 through 11/22/23.”

Costco’s approach centers on consistent visuals and clear copy, effectively reminding followers of the vast range they provide. This strategy aligns seamlessly with how posts naturally appear in a Facebook user’s feed. Consider your own Facebook browsing habits–because you’re not actively looking to shop, lengthy ad copy and flashy designs are easy to ignore. A great deal on a household essential, on the other hand, is attention-grabbing.

Brands can draw inspiration from Costco’s success by adopting a focused and to-the-point content strategy on Facebook. By keeping it simple and straightforward, they increase their visibility and memorability amidst a sea of content.

Section 8

Use social-first generational marketing insights to enrich your strategy

Social media isn’t just a young person’s game. People of all ages are participating in the billions of conversations that take place online. As adoption continues to rise, brands need to be even more intentional about who they’re trying to reach and how.

By assessing social performance across key demographic factors, companies can learn what resonates with their customer base and identify market trends that can influence how and where they show up to consumers.

Social media has revolutionized how businesses interact with customers of all kinds. For more data on where social media is today and where it’s headed, download the latest Sprout Social Index™ Report.