'Talkin' 'Bout My Generation' Using Social Media

by , Feb 5, 2014, 9:28 AM
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Marketers love to evaluate demographics, and one of the most common ways they track consumers is based on age:  “Young people like this, but old people like that.”  Age is an easy way to evaluate consumers, but I don’t think it’s actually the most accurate. 

A recent finding was that age is not the main reason for generation gaps -- that’s actually life stage, which influences how consumers use social media. For example, when people move to new cities and start pursuing a career and/or having families, Facebook is a viable, if not necessary, element of staying in contact.   You don’t see your friends or family as often and the demands of the day get in the way of physical or teleconnecting.   When you live in the same city where you grew up -- or when you’re younger and still in high school -- your social network is immediate and surrounds you.  In that situation, Facebook simply isn’t quite as necessary because you’re in physical contact with your friends on a very regular basis.  As distance increases, Facebook fills a void.

The naysayer will say I just made the case for age being the deciding factor, but it’s too easy to make that assumption and discount life stage completely.  For example, I know lots of 30somethings who are still single and don’t have any kids, so hopping a plane to get together with friends is a natural and regular occurrence.  Conversely, there are 20somethings raising a family who have demands on their time comparable to many 40somethings I know.  In all of these cases, life stages are the commonality, not age.

According to a recent study from Pew, 84% of adults aged 19-29 use Facebook, with 30- to 49-year-olds coming in as the second most popular group.  63% of Facebook’s users visit the site at least once per day, with 40% visiting many times during the day.  These are not small numbers, and the fact that 19-year-olds are in that group supports the theory that this is life-stage-oriented rather than age-related.  

This means we can see life stage use with different social media networks.  Theoretically we’ll see users “graduate” to Facebook from these other platforms, which implies that the marriage of disparate social networks is intended to retain the audience from birth to death.  It’s the same strategy that large CPG brands take, as well as large entertainment companies. 

For example, a number of CPG companies offer products targeted to younger audiences all the way up to middle age, hoping to instill brand loyalty from the beginning.  Entertainment companies like Disney make it clear they want the kids at a young age with Disney Junior, up through Disney XD, into youth with Pixar, Marvel and LucasFilm, and beyond.  They want to own the user their whole lives, and the marriage of these brands makes it happen!

So is it really about age -- or life stage?  To quote a couple of famous clichés, when “talkin’ ‘bout my generation” “age ain’t nuthin’ but a number.” That’s why data is so important -- because the more you know about your consumer beyond the standard demo of age, etc., the more targeted you can become.

2 comments on "'Talkin' 'Bout My Generation' Using Social Media ".

  1. David Carlick from Carlick
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.
    Interesting, Corey, as always. We keep forgetting that the people who invented the Internet are in their 60s and 70s now. Email is still a viable 'social network' and its use has increased, not decreased, with social networking. For everyone who finds social media vital info on friends and family, there are others who tire of the tedious egoist postings of their friends and acquaintances (Look! I am at this exotic resort airport restaurant city destination!).
  2. Tom Francoeur from Communispace
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 2:32 p.m.
    Great article and very true. I was thinking about a similar topic regarding Millennials. There is a lot of hype about how different they are, but I agree with your view that the true differences are due to life stage, not age. Marketers also need to take into account the economic and technological differentiating factors experienced by each generation. Think of the consumers who came of age when television came on the scene. That created a tremendous shift in the consumer/brand relationship. Now it's part of the fabric of our lives from Millennials to the Silent Generation.

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