Maximizing Social Media for Each Generation

By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Since interest in social media as a key marketing strategy shows no signs of waning, I thought I'd share responses I prepared when I served as a panelist during the New York Women in Communications Social Media Week event, "Bridging the Generation Gap: Reaching Baby Boomers, GenX, and Millennials." 
How can communicators effectively reach audiences of different ages through social media and other platforms? 
Target messages to different segments, not just chronological age (generation) segments. Depending on the purpose and nature of the message, consider: personal behavior style, life cycle age, career age (tenure in a particular career), learning style preferences, and industry demographics:
  • Gen Ys and young Gen Xers like humor, irony, and lots of images.
  • Boomers and Traditionalists may have less tolerance for certain kinds of humor and violence.
  • Remember the shorter attention spans and impatience of Gen Ys as well as how much they value their personal time.
What are the biggest mistakes communicators make when trying to reach multigenerational audiences through social media?
  • Not challenging assumptions about who uses social media and who doesn't and how they use it.
  • Not varying the message and format. Offer messages in a choice of media; video is becoming dominant.
  • Not varying the degree of directness of the sell. Older generations, especially, need to develop a relationship before being open to a pitch.
  • Not considering the image of celebrities and spokespeople used so that the audience relates (young, old, thin, athletic, etc.).
  • Not focusing on engagement. Gen Ys, especially, expect free samples before buying and free information, games, and contests.

Generational Definitions

Generations are defined by similar formative influences  social, cultural, political, and economic  that exist while individuals of particular birth cohorts are in their adolescent to early adult years. Given that premise, the approximate birth years for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are:

  • Traditionalists: Born between1925 and 1942
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1943 and 1962
  • Generation X: Born between 1963 and 1978
  • Generation Y/Millennials: Born between 1979 and 1998

What are the best tips for reaching a multigenerational audience online? 

  • Know your audience.
  • Vary the format and language if possible.
  • Build in ways to engage, such as contests and quizzes.
  • Provide free information to build a relationship, credibility, and trust.
  • Remember that diversity of learning styles crosses generations, as does personal style. Incorporate some of each in each message.
Do Baby Boomers use social media differently than other generations?
Yes and no:
  • They retain more separation of professional and personal information.
  • They have more privacy concerns than younger generations.
  • As much time as many Boomers spend on social media, they aren't on it as continuously as younger generations.
  • They may have different definitions of what's news (Gen Ys think whatever they do is news and worthy of an update to their world).
  • Gen Ys use social media, such as Foursquare, for invitations, checking in at venues, meeting up, and getting recognition for use. All generations use Eventbrite.
  • Younger generations feel more comfortable selling on social media.
How do different generations use social media? What do they share with their work/personal contacts?
  • We need to remember that social media is more than Facebook and Twitter. It's also LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, Foursquare, Tumblr, Instagram, blogs, podcasts, Evoca, and many more all the time  and many platforms integrate/share with each other. 
  • They share information and free advice to get followers. 
  • Gen Yers are eager to connect with Baby Boomers for business contacts. (I get lots of LinkedIn invitations from Gen Yers, including students, after networking events.)
  • Gen Y shares everything. They tend to blur the personal and professional.
What about video and YouTube usage by the different generations?
  • YouTube has the second highest level of traffic among the social media platforms. Most videos used for inspirational purposes and product pitches are short (two to five minutes, but up to ten minutes); however, there are exceptions. For example, TED talks have high traffic and are often up to sixty minutes.
  • We're seeing a lot of nostalgia/retro themes; for example, Super Bowl and other ads on TV and social media. For Boomers, it's nostalgia and familiarity; for Gen Yers, it's camp.
What's the biggest surprise about Baby Boomer and Gen Y social media use? 
  • Boomers glommed onto LinkedIn and Twitter for business quickly and became the fastest-growing generation segment on those platforms.
  • Gen Yers aren't all on Twitter. Some are even leaving Facebook for Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and other newer platforms  and, of course, YouTube.
What would you add to these responses? Are you observing changes in the way different generations use social media? Please share your observations and thoughts at or the Cross-Generational Conversation group on LinkedIn.
Read more generational articles by Phyllis Weiss Haserot. 
About the author:
Phyllis Weiss Haserot helps firms attract and retain clients of different generations and improve the working relations of their multigenerational teams, including knowledge transfer. She is president of Practice Development Counsel and a recognized expert on workplace intergenerational challenges. She is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both Thomson Reuters/West 2012). Reach her at or View her YouTube videos at her Generational GPS channel.
© 2013 Phyllis Weiss Haserot. All rights reserved.

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