How different generations use social media: A complete guide
Social media usage is on the up and up. Our Sprout Social Index™ 2021: UK & Ireland Edition report found 76% of consumers have used social media more in the past year, and 63% have bought from it. Brands caught on to this upward trend and are engaging social media users to drive awareness, clicks and sales.
Success on social media starts with defining your target audience. Consequently, understanding how different generations use social media is critical to shaping a social strategy that gets results.
In this post, we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of social media use by generation. We’ll also share some insider tips on how to impress each generation to ensure your social media campaigns are consistent hits.
Before we get started, let’s get familiar with the groups surveyed for the Sprout Social Index™ 2021: UK & Ireland Edition, which we’ll reference throughout. We surveyed 500 British and Irish consumers comprised of:
- Generation Z (survey respondents ages 18-23)
- Millennials (survey respondents ages 24-39)
- Generation X (survey respondents ages 40-55)
- Baby Boomers (survey respondents ages 56-74)
The score on Generation Z and social media
Born as social media gained worldwide popularity, most of Generation Z (also known as “Gen Z” or “Zoomers”) have never known a life without unlimited access to people or information. As the most tech-reliant group, Gen Z and social media are almost synonymous. This is the generation you’re most likely to find on social media, with 87% spending more time on social channels in the last year.
But despite increasing Gen Z social media usage, these digital natives are the least likely to follow brands on social. Gen Z prefers to build connections with their existing community and people like influencers, whose buying advice they trust over brands. So much so, 79% of Gen Zers say they would purchase after seeing an influencer recommendation.
Gen Z hasn’t adopted the same social media habits or preferences as their predecessors either. When on social media they:
- Opt for video-centered and gamified platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok.
- Expect culturally relevant and inclusive content that entertains, educates and inspires while keeping up with pop culture.
- Observe trends and often share, participate in and consume viral content.
What Gen Z consumers expect from brands on social media
From active brand conversations to personalised shopping experiences, Gen Z shoppers know what they want. They expect brands to remain receptive to their needs and help them make informed purchase decisions.
Gen Z also wants to connect beyond the point of sale, engaging, collaborating with and giving feedback to brands. They also want to feel like empowered individuals when shopping. Consequently, they gravitate towards brands who use their data responsibly to create convenient and immersive customer experiences.
What Gen Z social media usage means for your brand
To get Gen Z’s attention on social media, lead with entertainment and tweak your content to fit different Gen Z sub-segments. Then, give Gen Zers a voice to earn their trust.
Be transparent and authentic. Sprinkle in your offerings where it feels most natural in your campaigns to maintain the light-hearted feel Gen Zers love. Also, investigate Gen Z’s social media preferences to find untapped opportunities for your brand to stand out. For example, TikTok is Gen Z’s stomping ground, yet just 32% of businesses use it.
Here are few more ways you can capture Gen Z’s attention:
- Invest in video content and challenges fronted by popular Gen Z influencers.
- Partner with influencers to create content that promotes lifestyles Gen Z wants to attain.
- Deploy a social listening tool to uncover emerging trends and identify conversation topics related to your brand that can inspire polls or other interactive content.
The full scoop on Millennials and social media
Busy building careers, starting families and entering eldercare years, Millennials outshine the harsh labels attached to them. This misunderstood generation doesn’t miss a beat online. They use social media to:
- Stay connected with their personal and professional connections.
- Relax and watch entertaining content.
- Find and buy products.
Millennials are more receptive to social media marketing than their counterparts. They don’t mind following brands online and are less likely to unfollow. This generation even engages in social commerce when convenient.
Here are some important stats to note on Millennial social media usage:
- Millennials are the third most active group on social media.
- Nearly three-quarters (72%) report their social media usage has risen in the past year.
- Millennials are likely to connect with businesses on Facebook (70%), Instagram (64%) and Twitter (33%).
- Millennials are the most likely generation to buy after seeing an ad, watching a product video or reading a social media review.
What Millennials expect from brands on social media
From product discovery to job hunting, Millennials use social media to get things done. They seek easy, intuitive experiences from brands, which explains why Millennials cite convenience as the most important and compelling reason for social commerce.
This generation wants to make a difference. They expect brands to use their social platforms to take a stand on important societal issues. For example, clothing retailers have launched recycling initiatives in response to consumers’ desire to reduce their carbon footprint.
We are excited to introduce our new #PrimarkCares women’s leisurewear collection with Recover™ 💙 The collection is…
Posted by Primark on Thursday, May 27, 2021
Millennials also seek engaging experiences with brands online; they want to build relationships, give opinions and co-design future products or services. Knowing this, it’s not surprising Millennials are the only age group that favours social media over email for customer service enquiries and feedback. The vast majority (87%) agree or strongly agree that social media is the fastest way to connect with a business.
What Millennial social media usage means for your brand
To attract Millennials, streamline your customer journey and make each touchpoint painless. Use voice of the customer (VoC) data to uncover wants, needs and frustrations, and develop social media content that addresses them. Here’s how to reach Millennials and impress them:
- Develop a social-first customer service strategy using multiple social channels.
- Set up multiple social channels and stores.
- Amplify content that informs their buying decisions, whether that’s educational videos showcasing your product or service, or other customers’ reviews.
It’s also important your brand identifies the social problem(s) it wants to help resolve and publicly supports it. For example, you could:
- Adjust your offerings to reflect your values.
- Host discussions with experts.
- Work with influencers that match your brand values.
For inspiration, look to brands like Fenty Beauty and MDMflow. They’ve paved the way for inclusive beauty with expansive makeup lines and diverse model and influencer collaborations.
A leading beauty brand is removing the word ‘normal’ from 200 products, and will also ban excessive editing of photos. How important is it to see representation of women just like you in the beauty industry? @MDMFlow's Florence Adepoju and make-up artist Sasha Pallari discuss pic.twitter.com/zwN8pKFNim
— BBC Woman's Hour (@BBCWomansHour) March 19, 2021
Winning over Millennials may be challenging, but doing so can yield the best results—99% say they would refer a business to their network if they feel connected to them on social media.
The facts on Gen X and social media
Gen X didn’t spend their childhood glued to social media. But as the second most prominent generation on social media, they’ve made up for any lost time. Gen X social media has increased, with 76% reporting they used social media more this past year.
As avid researchers, savers and independence-seekers, Gen X enjoys being online, racking up nearly two hours on social media daily. They use it to search for company information, aid their buying decisions and connect with family and friends. Facebook is Gen X’s first choice platform, followed by WhatsApp and Instagram.
What Gen X expects from brands on social media
With some of the highest volumes of disposable income in the UK, Gen X knows their value as consumers and expects brands to acknowledge it. They pay close attention to brands’ customer experiences and go where they are appreciated.
- Gen Xers value responsive customer service. More than one-third (34%) report feeling connected to a business on social when that business understands them as a consumer.
- Almost all Gen Xers (95%) expect a reply to complaints or feedback they share on social media.
- Nearly half of Gen Xers consider brands to be market leaders on social when they have a reputation for putting customers first.
Gen X doesn’t like being bombarded with ads. They prefer to research alone and build connections with brands via social media and email organically.
What Gen X social media usage means for your brand
To stand out to a Gen X audience, communicate that you see and want to know them. Here are a few ways to make it happen:
- Be visible: Post often on social media to build your brand’s authority and reputation.
- Help Gen X research your offerings: Provide useful product information on your social channels and show how users can get the most out of their purchases.
- Appeal to their saving nature: Offer enticing, personalised discounts and promotions.
- Build trust: Share your brand’s values and promote first-hand customer reviews on social media to make Gen Xers feel confident shopping with you.
- Provide multiple feedback channels: Gen X is least likely to resolve a customer service issue via phone. Having unified, consistent email and social media customer care options is key.
It’ll take some time to yield results, but Gen X is worth the wait. They’re the most loyal generation and spend more (96%) with a business when they feel connected to them on social media.
The lowdown on Baby Boomers and social media
Coming from an era of Polaroid cameras, typewriters, and receiver phones, Baby Boomers were well into their adult years when social media took hold. Consequently, they prefer to stick to basics like finding information, researching brands, and interacting with others on social media. But that’s not to say Baby Boomers aren’t online. They’ve taken technological changes in stride:
- Baby Boomers use Facebook the most: 92% of those surveyed have an account.
- Out of the Baby Boomers we surveyed, 63% report using WhatsApp and 57% use YouTube.
- Two-thirds of Baby Boomers report increased social media use in the past year.
Also, Baby Boomers are budget conscious and use social media to look out for discounts and promotions. They like to feel in control of their purchase decisions by conducting thorough research.
What Baby Boomers expect from brands on social media
Baby Boomers want to be heard by brands. For example, 53% expect businesses to inform them when they’ve passed their feedback from social media to the appropriate teams.
Transparency and good customer service are also vital to this age group, with 64% saying timely customer service would make them choose one business over another.
This generation expects brands to keep them informed and provide opportunities for them to express their thoughts on a brand. For example:
- Baby Boomers’ primary motivations for liking or following companies on social are to learn about new products/services (69%) and stay up to date on company news (51%), explaining their disdain for irrelevant content.
- Most Baby Boomers (87%) are likely to buy from a brand when someone they trust recommends a product/service.
- More than two in 10 Baby Boomers reach out to businesses on social when they have feedback, second only to email.
What Baby Boomer social media usage means for your brand
Baby Boomers are the generation you’ll work hardest to keep. Not only are they least likely to shop with you after a bad experience, but they also cited the most reasons for unfollowing a business. The top answers included:
- Poor customer service
- Bad quality products
- Excessive ads
To win over Baby Boomers, provide a phenomenal customer experience and make their education your priority. Here are some more ways you can get into their good books:
- Blend new school and traditional marketing channels: For example, post Facebook video content and follow up with newspaper campaigns to meet Baby Boomers where they are.
- Spell out the benefits of shopping with you: Offer clear and honest descriptions of your products’ tangible benefits to aid their decision-making.
- Maintain a strong reviews strategy on social: To get Baby Boomers’ attention, display user generated content and positive reviews to build your brand’s social proof.
- Keep the promos coming: Give Baby Boomers an incentive to stick around by offering interesting and relevant deals they can share.
Many brands don’t put older adults and social media together, sidelining a critical part of their audience in the process. As more Baby Boomers get comfortable with social media, brands that invest in building these consumers’ trust will reap long-term dividends..
The keys to mastering generational marketing on social media
Generational marketing holds the key to turning curious visitors into raving fans. To triumph, you must understand how different generations use social media and tailor strategies to appeal to each age group.
There’s never been a better time to kickstart generational marketing.
Brands that are attentive to the specific wants and needs of different consumers can win around each demographic, uncover profitable audiences and unlock new levels of growth. Get your research hat on and take your first steps towards building optimised social media campaigns you can count on. Your future brand will thank you for it.
Ready to take your social media strategy to new heights? Learn more about how British and Irish consumers’ use of social media is evolving and how marketers can keep pace by downloading the Sprout Social Index™ 2021: UK & Ireland Edition report.
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