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How Different Generations Use Social Media: A Complete Guide

Anna Hughes

January 13, 2022

How Different Generations Use Social Media: A Complete Guide

By now, you shouldn’t need convincing that social media is an important part of our lives. It’s no longer just a young person’s game. It’s become a bit like one of those board games that says “suitable for ages 9 to 99”.

But while the whole family is now using social media, they’re using them in different ways. It’s not as though grandma is shooting TikTok videos while the ten-year-olds update their LinkedIn profiles.

And so with that in mind, in today’s article, we’re going to be taking a closer look at how different generations use social media. You might just be surprised by what you learn. Let’s get started!

Defining the Terms


First off, let’s take a look at the terminology. Here’s a breakdown of the different generations:

Generation Comparison (1901-2024) - YouTube

Generation Alpha: People born between the early 2010s and mid-2020s.

Generation Z: People born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s.

Millennials: People born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s.

Generation X: People born between the mid-1960s and early 1980s.

Baby Boomers: People born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s.

The Silent Generation: People born between the late 1920s and mid-1940s.

The Different Generations


Now it’s time for us to take a look at how each of these different generations uses social media.

Generation Alpha


Most people think of social media usage as a young person’s phenomenon, and so it’s no surprise that generation alpha is particularly active. It’s still early for generation alpha and so it’s not as though they have the purchasing power that the other generations have, but we can still understand some of the basics.

For example, 49% of generation alpha turn to social media for purchasing inspiration, although influence is perhaps the better term as the kids then ask their parents to make purchases on their behalf. When a poll asked generation alpha what influenced them the most in terms of what they want to buy, 25% said social media, behind only friends (28%) and ranking above family (21%).

In particular, 24% of survey respondents said that they were influenced by online video, but its influence wanes as they get older and by the time that they become young teens, the figure drops to 16%. It’s replaced by social media content, which influences just under a third (32%) of young teens.

Interestingly, generation alpha is also more susceptible to social media advertising than any other form of advertising, with 57% of survey respondents saying that adverts on social media make them want to buy. Influencers also play an important role, with 55% of generation alpha survey respondents saying that they’d want to purchase a product if they saw that their favourite influencer was using it.

Generation Z


Generation Z is the generation that you’re most likely to find on social media, with 87% of them spending more time on social media channels versus the previous year. And yet despite that, they’re also the least likely to follow brands, though 79% of them say that they’d make a purchase after seeing an influencer recommendation.

One of the interesting things about generation Z is that they also want to engage with brands after the initial sale, providing feedback and even collaborating with them. That’s why they graduate to brands that are more open or that run user-generated content campaigns.

You can capture generation Z’s attention by using video content and partnering with influencers, as well as by using social listening to get a greater understanding of their challenges and concerns. It’s also a good idea to sign up to TikTok if you’re not already using it, because it’s super popular amongst generation Z and yet only 32% of businesses are using it.

Millennials


Millennials are perhaps the most misunderstood of all generations. This is especially true as they continue to age, as most of them are busy working on their careers or starting families instead of getting offended at everything they see, which is what popular culture will tell you.

In fact, millennials turn to social media for everything from entertainment to networking and product recommendations. They’re the least likely generation to unfollow a brand and are the third most active group on social media, with 72% of them reporting that their social media usage is on the increase.

In terms of where you can find them, they mostly use Facebook (70%), Instagram (64%) and Twitter (33%). They’re the most likely generation to buy a product after seeing an ad, watching a video or reading a review on social media.

Generation X


Generation X is the first generation that didn’t grow up with social media as a part of their day-to-day life, but they’re actually the second heaviest users of social media, ranking above millennials. Their usage is also on the increase, with 76% of them reporting that they used social media more this year than last year.

In fact, members of generation X spent an average of two hours a day on social media, using it for everything from seeking information to connecting with family and friends and making buying decisions. They predominantly use Facebook, followed by WhatsApp and Instagram.

Generation X is also a prime audience for brands and advertisers because they have a high amount of disposable income. If you want to get them to spend, you’re going to need to be responsive, though. 95% of people from generation X expect brands to reply to their complaints or feedback, and nearly half of them consider brands to be market leaders if they have a reputation for putting consumers first.

 

Baby Boomers


Baby boomers were fully grown adults when social media first kicked off, and so they generally use it more for the basics, such as researching brands and finding information. 92% of them use Facebook, while 63% use WhatsApp and 57% use YouTube. Two thirds of them report increasing their social media usage over the last year or so.

Another interesting quirk of baby boomers is that they tend to be more budget conscious than other generations, and so they often use social media to look for discounts and special offers. Over 20% of baby boomers reach out to businesses on social media when they have feedback, which comes second only to email.

As for why they follow people in the first place, 69% of baby boomers to do so to learn about new products or services, with 51% wanting to stay up-to-date with company news. They have an infamous hatred for irrelevant/filler content, but on the plus side, 87% of them say that they’re likely to buy a product/service if someone they trust recommends it.

The Silent Generation


Most people immediately discount the silent generation, but the truth is that 45% of people over the age of 65 are using social networking sites. The difference really comes in the way that they use them, because members of this generation are much more likely to use social media to see what other people are doing than to post themselves.

This is particularly true in a pandemic era, when older people have often needed to turn to social media to stay in touch with people when isolating to avoid infection. For brands, this can make them a little trickier to reach out to and to turn into customers as they’re less likely to actively engage with branded content, but that doesn’t mean that they’re off the table altogether.

Conclusion


Now that you know how different generations approach social media, you’re in a much better place to make sure that you’re catering to them. Of course, it’s rare for a single company to try to target every generation, and so you’re going to need to be selective.

The good news is that you can take what we’ve talked about today to update your buyer personas and to better target your audience when it comes to deciding upon the types of content you’re creating and where you’re sharing it.

Now that you’ve heard from us, we want to hear from you, so be sure to let us know which generations you target in the comments, as well as how you’ve got on. We look forward to keeping the discussion going in the comments!

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