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The generational divide on social media: Is age really just a number?

Since its launch in the late 1990s, the concept of social media and its uses have evolved at pace and scale.

What began as a small number of online platforms designed to connect friends and family (who can remember Friends Reunited?) has evolved into something almost unrecognisable over the past two decades. Not only have multiple new platforms been developed, but existing social media platforms are constantly evolving, starting new trends, and rolling out new features.

From the household names that have stood the test of time, like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn, to the modern day disruptors, like TikTok and BeReal, today there are countless social media applications to choose from — each with their own unique selling points, target demographics, and identities.

In this article, we explore social media use across the different generations, where your key demographics are spending time online, and how you can use the generational divide to your advantage.

An overview of the generations

Let’s start by breaking down the generations by the years they span, and what technology use has looked like for them.

  • Generation Alpha (Gen Alpha): anyone born after 2010. This generation are considered ‘digital natives’ and have never known a time before social media’s popularity.

  • Generation Z (Gen Z): born between 1997 and 2013, a recent study suggests that Generation Z watches approximately 7.4 hours of video content per day.

  • Millennials: a generation that grew up during great technological change, Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996.

  • Generation X (Gen X): born between 1965 and 1980, Generation X were the first generation where members grew up with personal computers.

  • Baby Boomers: born during the mid twentieth century baby boom, between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are considered ‘lifelong learners’ when it comes to technology.

Where does each generation ‘live’ on social media and how do they use it?

Starting with the youngest generation, Gen Alpha can be found primarily on social platforms that prioritise video content, whether that be short-form or long-form. A study completed by Eminence1 saw 44.2% of this generation present on TikTok and 23.6% active on Instagram. Utilising these platforms for watching video content, enjoying their favourite influencers, reality stars, and celebrities.

Gen Z much like Gen Alpha are especially interested in video content for entertainment purposes. The results of Morning Consult’s survey2 highlighted that YouTube was the most used social platform by Gen Zers with 88% engaged in the platform. Closely followed by Instagram (76%) and TikTok (67%). This generation is influenced by brand values, are conscious of the information they provide to them, and want their time to be filled, not wasted. According to a recent study, they make up the largest percentage of Twitter users, at more than 38%, while making up less than a quarter of LinkedIn’s total ad audience.It is also worth noting that a high majority of Gen Zers spend four or more hours a day on social media.

For Millennials, social media provides a platform for ‘everything’. This generation uses social media on a daily basis to post, learn, connect, and shop. For them, social media is the fastest way to connect with brands, discover new things, and ultimately learn which brands to trust. However, they are typically becoming more time aware of the hours they spend scrolling through their phone. When it comes to connecting with businesses on social media, millennials are most likely to do this through Facebook (70%), Instagram (64%) and Twitter (33%)3. And, for B2B marketers, it’s critical to know that 60% of LinkedIn’s total ad audience is made up of 25-34 year olds. This generation is also the most likely to buy from a brand after seeing an advert, promotional video or reading positive reviews.

Gen X and Baby Boomers are considered to be predominantly present on Facebook. With 74% of Gen X active on the platform4, and 70% of Baby Boomers engaged on the social channel5. In contrast, only 15% of 35-54 year olds and just 2.8% of over 55s make up LinkedIn’s ad audience — even combined, that’s a less than a third of the LinkedIn audience size for millenials.7

Gen X use social media to conduct research and expects exceptional customer service with more than a third (34%) of them reporting feeling associated with a brand when they are understood as a consumer. While Daily Inforgraphic’s survey6 saw 82% of Baby Boomers using Facebook or other social channels to keep in touch with family and friends.

It is important to recognise that social media networks are built in different ways. There are those that are built around people, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin, and those that are built around passion, such as TikTok. We must ask ourselves: is this because of the continuous evolution of social media and the way people behave on the platforms?

What are social media platforms doing to tackle the generational divide?

Today, social media spaces enable you to share everything from the biggest moments of your life to the smallest of memories. However, over the years, they have also made changes to bridge the gap between generational opinions and important privacy policies.

Facebook, for example, removed visibility of sexuality, religion and politics from personal profiles to limit the chances of people forming opinions based on someone's views and identity. As the years have progressed and changes towards social media have been made, people don’t want to be seen as a series of data points but in reality want to be seen as individuals with unique interests.

At The MTM Agency, we understand that marketing professionals are often at the hands of the tools they use. As platforms continue to change, update, and evolve, what can we do behind the scenes to ensure our strategies are working in each generation’s favour?

  • Hire a diverse team

Ensuring your marketing team is made up of a diverse group of individuals is crucial to your success. Diversity and inclusion in marketing ensures better representation in the media, encourages multiple perspectives, fosters better creativity and ultimately delivers more successful campaigns.

  • Measure everything

The only way to truly understand the success of your social media marketing campaign is in the results. Whether it’s quantitative or qualitative, learn what worked, what didn’t, and use this to inform your next campaign.

  • Establish a set of brand values that transcends the generational divide

A brand’s core values should be clearly outlined and understood by each team member and reflected in every piece of marketing material. No matter how old you are, what decade you grew up in, or where you like to spend time online, it's shared values and experiences that create audiences, not shared age groups.

  • There are exceptions to every rule

While understanding the generational divide is a key step in ensuring your marketing is successful, we must remember that every person is different and won’t always accurately reflect the stats about their demographic. Always keep an open mind and be willing to be agile in your marketing plans!

  • Utilise the right technology

Whether you’re a digital native or a lifelong learner, a high-quality marketing tech stack is vital. By putting the right technology in place for your team, they’ll benefit from streamlined processes, easier integration, better metrics and enhanced user experience.

What should you be doing to tackle the generational divide on social media?

When it comes to targeting different generations on social media, you first have to recognise which generations are your target audience and how they use and behave on social platforms.

Secondly, think outside the box when it comes to the platforms you use, content you post, and facilitating two way conversations. Focus less on what your brand offers and more on what communities it can build and become a significant part of. Afterall, the key to social media success is tapping into your audience's real interests and not just their characteristics — no matter who you are targeting.

Want to level up your social media marketing? Speak to our experts to find out how we can accelerate growth for your business.

  1. Generation Alpha : what tools to reach children and teenagers of the future

  2. Gen Z Is Extremely Online

  3. How different generations use social media: A complete guide

  4. How to Market Content to Generation X in 2022

  5. How to target your content to speak to baby boomers

  6. How Baby Boomers Use Social Media

  7. LinkedIn statistics and trends