Social media can mean very different things to different people based on factors such as their interests, their lifestyle – and often their age.

To varying extents, every generation’s social media activity has changed post-covid, with the average user reporting higher levels of posting and time spent on-platform. Having said that, there remain demographic-level differences between age groups that can help marketers make decisions on the best platforms and tactics to serve their audiences.

In this article, we’ll take you through some key trends in how different age groups are using social media in 2023 – especially the attitudes and activities that characterise each generation, and which platforms they use the most.

The age ranges used in this article are based on generational definitions from Beresford Research.

 

 

Gen Z

Birth year range: 1997- 2012

Age in 2022: 10-25

Key social platforms: Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat 

 

Behavioural trends

Gen Z’s attitude towards social media is radically different to that of older generations. Simply put: when a zoomer finds a person they trust on social media, they will tend to look to that person as a more reliable source than traditional media and sometimes even web search.

In July 2022, UK media regulator Ofcom revealed that younger zoomers in that country prefer to get their news from social media, rather than traditional news outlets.

Ofcom’s ‘News Consumption in the UK 2021/22’ report stated that Instagram is now the most popular news source among 12-to-15-year-olds, ahead of TikTok (#2), YouTube (#3), and traditional TV heavyweights ITV (#4) and BBC One/BBC Two (#5).

Clearly, the young people who are currently in the early years of their development as news followers are choosing social over traditional media such as TV, radio and print.

This trend seems to be mirrored in how Gen Z searches online. According to a.list, a Google Search exec, Prabhakar Raghavan, recently revealed that almost 40% of Gen Z believe that Google Search results are “anything but organic”, and they therefore choose to search via social media instead. In particular, zoomers seem to be seeking answers to their queries via user generated content (UGC) posted by other users on social platforms like TikTok.

Gen Z’s tendency to seek answers from individual social media users whom they recognise and trust speaks volumes of how this age group relates to digital media. They want to get their information from personally relatable and trusted sources; not from corporate sources with complicated reputations.

For marketers and brands, the upshot is that you’ll need to work extra-hard to earn Gen Z’s trust on social media. One tried-and-tested method is to partner with highly relevant influencers who hold sway with a Gen Z audience. But above all, this generation wants social media to be honest. This means your activity should be truthful and accurate, high-quality, and naturally at home as part of your brand’s output.

 

Social platform preference

In 2021, an eMarketer study  of social media preferences in Gen Z adults forecast that Snapchat would be the platform with the most monthly logged-in users of that age in 2022 (45.5mn), followed by TikTok (41.4mn) and Instagram (37.3mn).

The same report predicted that Gen Z user bases for these three platforms would converge by 2025, at which point Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram are all expected to have between 48.3mn and 49.5mn monthly logged-in Gen Z users.

Monthly log-ins are an important measure of social platform engagement – but they don’t tell us much about how a generation is actually using each platform. A recent study published by Statista asked Gen Z respondents in the UK a deeper question: “Which social media platform could you least do without?”

The Statsta survey found that 27% of Gen Z respondents name Instagram as their most important social platform, followed by WhatsApp (19%), Messenger (13%) and Snapchat (12%). This would suggest that for many zoomers, Instagram activity is especially significant.

Most studies into Gen Z’s use of social media focus exclusively on adult members of the generation. (As of 2022, the youngest members of Gen Z were only ten years old.) It will be interesting to see how reports into the age group change in the coming years, as younger zoomers come of age.

 

 

Millennials

Birth year range: 1981-1996

Age in 2022: 26-41

Key social platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

 

Behavioural trends

There’s been relatively little research into millennials’ use of social media in recent years. Many commentators have focused instead on Gen Z, who are fast maturing and have generally been less well understood by marketers; and baby boomers, who have become better appreciated as social media users.

Nonetheless, millennials still spend an average of 2hrs 34mins per day on social, according to GlobalWebIndex. Understanding how your millennial customers use this time could be important to your social media marketing strategy.

For many millennials, one reason for using social media is identity formation: curating your social media presence in order to shape how you are perceived. According to a 2022 report by Bankrate, 38% of millennials say that they make posts on TikTok and/or Instagram in order to make themselves appear successful in the eyes of others. Just as many people wear clothes that send a message about how they fit into society – “dress for the job you want!” – millennials often do the same with their social media activity.

With this in mind, you should think about how your brand can help followers to shape their identity on social media. Ways to do this include:

  • Create shareable, high-quality, values-led content that followers can share in order to establish themselves as engaged participants in the digital ‘town square’. Make this content easy to share by incorporating share buttons into your blog/webpages/app.
  • Provide visual assets such as AR filters or profile picture frames to help followers express their personality online. (This approach will appeal to some millennial audiences better than others.)
  • Reach out to prominent social media users, such as Twitter ‘blue ticks’ and Instagram influencers, by engaging with their content, e.g. by liking and commenting on their posts. This supports the user in developing their social media identity – and in some cases they will support you back.

A more fundamental point about millennials is that members of the generation are getting older. [And as a millennial, it pains me to say so! – author.] The youngest are 26 years old, and many are in their forties. So, when you develop marketing personas  to target millennials through your social media marketing, don’t think avocados; think careers, and maybe even nappies.

 

Social platform preference

According to data published by Digital Media Ninja, Facebook remains the social platform used at least once per week by the highest percentage of millennials (87%), followed by Instagram (71%), Snapchat (52%) and Twitter (42%).

 

 

Gen X

Birth year range: 1965-1980

Age in 2022: 42-57

Key social platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn

 

Behavioural trends

Gen X have come to social media in greater numbers and for longer periods of the day in recent years – and it seems that many of the generation came to shop.

Between 2015-19, the share of Gen Xers who use social media to research and buy products increased by 32%. The generation’s strong commercial intent, combined with significantly greater spending power than the average millennial or zoomer, makes Gen X a key target demographic for social media commerce.

This generation may be relatively affluent and eager to shop, but much depends on whether they perceive a brand to be ‘authentic’. A reported 85% of the generation say authenticity is an important factor that helps them to choose between brands.

Another key point to consider when marketing to Gen X on social media is that this generation often goes overlooked, relative to younger generations and the baby boomers. As Danielle Wiley writes for Forbes:

“In our youth-obsessed culture, industry buzz tends to centre around cutting-edge social content trends embraced by the youngest consumers, rather than strategies that resonate with Gen X.

“While Gen X may not be as big as their older and younger counterparts, their spending power is disproportionate to their numbers. It’s well worth the effort for brands to adjust their digital outreach to connect with this generation, starting with the most important step of all: acknowledging that Gen X exists.”

 

Social platform preference

As a generation, Gen X spreads its social media use across a multitude of platforms. A recent Statista survey of the age group in the US found that their most-used traditional social platforms are Facebook (76%), Instagram (47%), Pinterest (40%), LinkedIn (40%) and Twitter (39%). The generation’s strong uptake of LinkedIn shows that Gen X isn’t just using social media to shop; they’re also using it to further their careers and businesses.

A new social app called Clapper recently launched with the overt aim of targeting Gen X users. In a nutshell, the platform is a video-sharing app like TikTok – but designed for an older audience. It’s too early to say whether Clapper will take off, but the app does seem to be gaining traction, with over 500,000 downloads from the Google Play store.

 

 

Baby boomers & older generations

Birth year range: 1946-1964 (and earlier)

Age in 2022: 58-76 (and older)

Key social platforms: Facebook, WhatsApp

 

Behavioural trends

The last time we wrote about how different age groups use social media, baby boomers were widely overlooked as a key social media demographic.

In 2022, this no longer applies, as boomers have become a highly sought-after social media audience.

The average member of this generation tends to have highly positive attitudes towards social media, relative to other age groups. According to a security.org survey, 83.9% of boomers say that social media is improving their lives, whereas only 71.6% of Gen X and 66.4% of millennials say the same.

So, while some younger people’s relationship with social has soured over the years, many baby boomers are using social platforms with gusto, forming what AdWeek called a “silver tsunami” of optimistic, tech-savvy social users. Some boomers have taken their social media activity as far as any zoomer – take the Indian ‘granfluencers’ creating content and selling promos on TikTok and Instagram for example.

Do bear in mind that while boomers are increasingly active on social media, the generation does have boundaries in terms of how brands interact with them on social platforms. As Sprout Social reports, key reasons why this age group stops following brands on social include excessive advertising and poor customer service. With this in mind, your social activity should approach baby boomers positively – but not carelessly.

 

Social platform preference

Baby boomers are relatively united in their approach to social media, with many in the age group sticking solely to Facebook. According to Statista, 83% of over-65s in the UK use Facebook. The next-most-popular comparable platform, Twitter, is used by just 4% of the age group. Meanwhile, the messaging app WhatsApp is used by 28% of over-65s.

 

How to factor age groups into your social media strategy

 

Generational distinctions can be deceiving. Sure, we can point to statistically proven trends within each age group, and these can be a good jumping-off point for strategy formulation. Knowing which ways the average zoomer or boomer is using social media, and which platforms they are using, matters.

But ultimately, your approach to social needs to be rooted in knowledge of the distinct audience groups who interact with your brand. Combining this in-depth audience knowledge with a broader appreciation of age group-level trends can be a winning formula for social media strategy.