Reaching the Generations on Social Media

As a student worker for the Harding Univeristy office of Communication and Marketing office (UCM), I directly work for the Director of Digital Media Hannah Owens, helping manage social media content for Harding University Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

We have a three social media student workers, one for each platform. I began my first semester managing Facebook, but now I manage Instagram. Switching from writing Facebook posts to writing Instagram posts was a significant change in tone and messaging, even though both messages were coming from the same brand.

When you try to talk to all generations, you talk to none of them.
— Lizz Kannenberg, director of content at Sprout Social

Entrepreneur published an article by the Director of Content at Sprout Social Lizz Kannenberg on May 12, 2017, titled “Close the Generational Gap with a Smarter Social Content Strategy.” Kannenberg refutes the belief that social media use is plateauing by stating that social media usage rose 21 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 15 new people using social media every second! Because of this growth, it is vital that companies pay attention to “generational nuances."

“These incredible numbers are both a blessing and a curse for brands: The more potential consumers using social, the more variations in usage and preferences to address with one comprehensive social strategy,” Kannenberg said.

She breaks down three generations this way:

“Nobody puts Baby Boomers in the corner.”

This is not a technophobic generation. In fact, this is the fastest growing demographic on social media, with 82.3 percent of the generation on at least one social media platform. Baby Boomers spend the most time online, consuming about 20 hours of online content a week and find themselves mostly on Facebook, with Pinterest and YouTube as second choices. As far as content, Baby Boomers enjoy images and slower-paced videos that are infiltrated with information, especially on world news, politics and entertainment, and are most often online during the late morning.

“Gen X: The middle child”

Just like a middle child, Generation X is often the “forgotten generation,” even though they spend more time on social media (7 hours a week) than any other age demographic. Their buying power should make them a primary target of brands through content like blogs, infographics and video. Like Baby Boomers, they are most commonly on Instagram, but they are secondarily on YouTube and Instagram and can be found online late in the evenings.

“Millennials -- ever heard of ‘em?”

Millennials, now the largest living generation in the U.S. and the largest generation in the American workforce, are the first truly digitally native generation, but they are the hardest generation to appeal to on social media. They are highly selective with the content they engage with because they have “seen it all.” They are primarily searching for information and entertainment dealing with technology, sports and comedy and are sensitive to overly-branded content. They can spot an ad from a mile away, and are twice as likely to pay attention to user-generated content (UGC) than an advertisement. They are on Facebook and Instagram, and most active in the late evenings.

As a brand, Harding University has to identify which generations they hope to reach with each platform and message. Currently, we primarily write to parents and alumni on Facebook and students on Twitter and Instagram, and we use Meltwater and Sprout Social to help us determine the most advantageous times to post content.

But what about Twitter? What about Generation Z? Social media is constantly changing with every update, but we must remember that what we are interested in is not always what our audience is most interested in. Spending the time to think twice about my social media audience and their demographics could make the work I am already doing anyway much more effective.