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When using social media to market your business, what you create and how you position your business online will be highly dependent on who you are marketing to.
Despite the common misconception that social media is a young person's game, the greater accessibility to smart devices with 4G or greater functionality means that all generations are fair game in marketing. Regardless of whether they're a zoomer or a boomer, more than 80% of people from every generation use social media at least once per day.

How you market to them, (or how you should market to them) is dependant on all of the characteristics that define these crucial segments. Users across different generations will follow different trends and to a greater extent and will also use the same platforms as their generational counterparts in completely different ways. Understanding the difference is key in developing a successful marketing strategy as such nuances in usage will impact your brand.

Read on to learn how to target demographics effectively, through understanding generational differences in social media and the implications it has for your social media marketing strategy.

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Generation Z (9-26)

Anyone born between the years 1995 to 2012 falls under the category of 'Generation Z', affectionately referred to as 'zoomers'. Gen Z forms 27% of the US population, comprising the largest and most ethnically diverse within the country. This generation can be referred to as the first true "Digital Natives". Technology is a formative part of their life and their lived experience. Unlike other generations, social media acts as their primary source of media and entertainment, having an inseparable connection to how it informs their lives and the world around them. 98% of Gen Z own a smartphone. It's also been found that Tiktok and Snapchat were the most downloaded apps across the 10 countries analyzed (The United States being one of them), indicating a preference for visual and short motion-based content.

This has strong implications for businesses as 97% of Gen Z consumers say that they use social media as a means for shopping inspiration. Naturally, this has assisted in a shift from shopping via e-commerce, to one of social commerce, with 43% of Gen Z users have already made purchases on social media platforms.

Generational Characteristics

The most effective platforms to target Gen Z are on visually stimulating platforms such as Instagram, Tiktok, and Youtube, which hold the highest engagement with Gen Z. Given Zoomers' increased preference for short-form video content, businesses should focus on this as the key marketing channel to connect with Zoomers across their marketing strategy.

McKinsey found that Gen Z are still concerned with the classic determinants of value in the products they buy, but care more than any previous generation about how these products are a reflection of themselves and the wider causes they stand for. Gen Z more than any other generation value the expression of individual identity. Personalization plays a critical role in promoting products that enable them to showcase their individuality. Identifying personal interests relevant to your product will help you, segment groups, within Gen Z.  They tend to show greater interest in products that relate to their own personal interests. 64% of Gen Z consumers expect a more personalized experience on social media based on previous interactions. 

Social media platforms such as Tiktok and Instagram allow for the algorithm to learn a user's preferences and curate relevant recommendations, however, unlike any generation before, zoomers are consciously influencing their own algorithms to provide greater exposure to content and products that interest them. To take advantage of this, brands should opt for authentic, organic content as opposed to polished traditional advertisements.  Organic content is essential for this generation.

The hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit alone has 2.3 billion views on Tiktok. Brands should take advantage of the engagement such hashtags have and create content demonstrating the benefits of products to generate greater interest from a larger group of consumers. Other personalization strategies include using social media retargeting, conducting quizzes on social media to directly engage their audience and gain market research, and conducting campaigns using social media insights. Demonstrating support social causes is also important to Gen Z. Brands which show commitment to altruism and are environmentally conscious appeal more to Gen Z.

Coupled with this, Gen Z is a generation whose activities boil down to a quest for truth and transparency, naturally leading them to be more suspicious of traditionally trusted institutions. This particularly applies to leading business institutions and marketers. This does not necessarily require businesses to have a politically correct stance on every contentious global issue. Rather, brands should opt to focus on specific causes which relate to the brand and its consumers. Companies should make sure these values are reflected throughout their whole business, not just in marketing. This is vital as 80% of Gen Z consumers do not purchase from businesses that are involved in scandals or unethical practices.

Businesses looking to capture a Gen Z audience should:

  • Make video content
  • Be present and engaged on Tiktok and Instagram
  • Take an active and consistent stance on social issues
  • Be earnest and transparent as a brand
  • If being ethical is a core proponent of your brand, make sure you commit to it

Millennials (27 to 41)

Millennials are classified on paper as the generation between 1980 to 1994. In the flesh, Millenials are a 'Buzzfeed' generation, more focussed on securing smashed avocado on toast than a mortgage. Millennials account for one quarter of the total U.S population. This generation has many complexities due to the variety of life stages across the group.  Millennials are similar to Gen Z in that 75% of millennials use social media to interact with brands and companies. 

Millennials enjoy conducting their own product research during the purchase decision making process. Despite this, they are the world's most prolific impulse buyers, with fluctuating levels of care and consideration going into making a single purchase. A survey of 227 millennials found that this group is most motivated by word-of-mouth reviews and online reviews, however, this research on their part has not been found to prevent impulse buying or spontaneous purchases. Rather, millennials plan ahead, creating a window for impulse buying, usually motivated by sales or peak periods.

Millennials tend to prefer traditional social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube, over faster-paced mediums Snapchat and Tiktok.

Generational Characteristics

Millennials are defined by their emphasis on experiences over products, preferring to see the world and explore life through moments and memories rather than tangible commodities.

Due to the more pronounced differences across the lifecycle of this generation, millennials can be targeted based on wide cohort effects.

Economic conditions have made concepts like homeownership a less accessible achievement for this generation, with a growing number of millennials choosing to rent instead of settling down to pay off a mortgage. On the note of settling down, millennials are having fewer children, with a greater emphasis placed on career achievement and their individual pursuit of fulfillment.

Businesses looking to capture a Millenial audience should:

  • Place greater emphasis on the experiential value of their products
  • Be sensitive to the financial status and situation of millennials 
  • Place a greater emphasis on the individual over the collective
  • Use traditional social media channels

Gen X (42 - 56)

As leaders of grunge and a generation defined by MTV, Gen X stand as the 'neglected middle child' between Baby Boomers and Millennials. They have been strong in their social media adoption, with 74% of Gen X admitting social media is an essential part of their life. Torn between traditional and digital media, Gen X enjoys a mix of both visual and textual content. Facebook and Instagram are the two most popular platforms amongst Gen X, with 9 in 10 Gen X social media users in the United States on Facebook and half of that are on Instagram. A survey conducted by CrowdTwist found that Gen X enjoys engaging with brands on Facebook. 

Generational Characteristics

As opposed to millennials, Gen X prefer to make their own assessments of products or services. Although they are initially the most skeptical, Gen X is the most loyal customer base. They are more likely to pay a premium for their services if the chosen vendor can provide a consistent and stable solution to their problems. A key way to connect to Gen X is to create educational content for your business, designed to inform and promote trustworthiness. This can include video tutorials to 'how-to' blog posts. Allowing Gen X to interact with your brand on this level will foster brand trust and loyalty.

The majority of Gen X are in the same stage of their life, with most having started their own family, with children in high school or university. Creating content on Facebook which promotes how your product can benefit their family and their overall well-being provides an effective angle to communicate the value of your product. The use of Facebook advertising can assist in doing so, with the ability to target customers by interests, behaviors, and specific life events.  

Businesses looking to capture a Millenial audience should:

  • Create informational content and prioritize thought leadership
  • Acknowledge similarities across the life stages of Gen X
  • Prioritize developing a lasting customer relationship
  • Use traditional social media platforms

Baby Boomers (57 - 75)

The name "Baby Boomers" originates from the significant rise in births post World War 2 in 1946, and then the subsequent decline after 1964. As the oldest generation on this list, they have endured many historic events which have strongly influenced their outlook on life.

Despite resistance to technology, Baby Boomers have slowly but surely adopted social media as a means of connection and entertainment. The number of Baby Boomer users on Facebook has almost doubled from 2012 to 2019, with almost 70% of respondents in a separate study during 2002 stating that they used Youtube and Facebook.

Generational Characteristics

Baby Boomers are generally a more cost-conscious consumer. Therefore, when positioning your brand to Baby Boomers, it is important to use clear and concise ads to prevent confusion.  A study by BRP consulting found that consumers could be split into two different groups, digital consumers (18-37 years old)  and traditional consumers (38 years of age and above). Both groups researched online for products. However, what they were searching for was vastly different. While digital consumers were seeking product reviews, traditional consumers were more interested in looking at the products by price.  Positioning your brand on social media as the most cost-effective product, whilst giving baby boomers access to special promotions will assist in appealing to the older audience.

Baby Boomers prefer video content, with 54% watching videos online. However, the content of these videos should be different from that of the high-impact fast-paced short videos which appeal to Gen Z. Videos for Baby Boomers should be slower-paced and have a greater focus on informative content. As this group still prefers to shop at physical stores, businesses can use social media to complement brick and mortar stores. For example, the use of Google My Business can assist Baby Boomers in locating the store on Google Maps and even becoming exposed to the store from search engine results.

Pinterest was the third most popular social media platform for the Baby Boomers. This can be accredited to the "do it yourself" mentality which permeates this generation. With strong homeownership and greater spending power, this platform can assist construction companies in targeting this group.

Businesses looking to capture a Baby Boomer audience should:

  • Create easily consumable video content
  • Prioritize your marketing focus towards more salient digital spaces like Google maps
  • Communicate value through more tangible phrasing
  • Use direct and precise key messaging

Now that you've been able to distinguish the key differences between the 4 most active consumer generations, your business should be well equipped to deliver the right product to the right consumer,  in the right place at the right time. While having these ideas should help you have a better understanding of how to go about your social media marketing strategy, executing it is another thing entirely.

If your business needs the keen gaze of a professional Marketing Eye, please get in contact with one of our leading consultants today!

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