Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Parsing Generational Differences in Social Media Use

I was as surprised as everyone else I know to find that older demographic segments were adopting Facebook and Twitter until I began to think about the reasons. They include keeping up with our younger family, friends and colleagues and having time to learn to use new social media platforms. That assumes the platforms offer relevant benefits—and they do, to all generations. However, the pattern of differences in motives and usage between generations is fascinating.
It’s well summarized by this graphic from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The slideshow, below, focuses on teenagers. That’s a group we know to be Internet-savvy and social, but they have their own pattern of uses.

The slideshow is worth paging through, but here are a few of the key findings:

• 93% of US teens use the Internet. No surprise there.
o 87% of parents of teens go online (slide 4). Hopefully some of that time is spent monitoring what their teens are doing.
• 64% of teens are content creators and they solicit feedback on their content (slides 10,11). While the content may not have lasting literary or artistic merit, what does it mean that they are creating and sharing?
• 91% use social networks to keep in touch with offline friends. Here’s a quote worth considering, “Rather than replace offline relationships with online ones, social media tools work best when they augment relationships that have other dimensions.” I’m not about to downplay the dangers to teens of people they meet online, but that’s not the reason most of them go online. Have social networks largely replaced the telephone for my generation and email for more recent ones? I think so.

The report recommends (slide 20):

o Connect with teens using the tools they already know. That’s essential advice for all the generations. It’s the essential message of the pyramid.
o Make your resources infinitely sharable. Teens (and Gens X and Y) are prone to share information. Older generations, including Boomers, are active online but much less likely to share content.
o Create opportunities to collaborate. Give them opportunities to do things they like to do!

I keep coming back to my classroom mantra—developing social media strategy is really hard! The differences in usage patterns are a major reason. The Pew Internet and American Life Project is the best source I’ve found for a lot of wonderful data. Search the generational monikers on their site to find important data about your target audience. And don’t make the mistake of assuming that groups only a few years apart in age use the Internet and the social media platforms in the same way. They don’t!