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Millennials And Social Media: It's More Complicated Than You Think


We're seeing the first generation of “digital natives”. They're experiencing more of their lives online than any generation before them, particularly through social networks. And “They”, as you've probably guessed, are 'Millennials'.

Millennials have increasingly become the focus for many in the marketing industry, and for good reason. When looking at recent statistics, we see that 90% of Millennials are using smartphones, 93% are accessing the internet, and 53% own tablets. Even how Millennials consume entertainment has changed, with 28% of respondents aged 18 to 34 watching original programming within 3 days after airing, mostly on their laptops or mobile devices.

But while targeting and tracking technology is rapidly evolving, the content actually created for Millennials is at times problematic. One reason for this is that the dominant narratives advanced by media, brands, and the public at large are still too simplistic. If you do some basic Google searches around “millennial social media usage”, you’ll see article titles like Instagram overtakes Facebook, YouTube and celebrities as 'most influential social marketing tool' or Survey Finds Teens Prefer Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat for Social Networks. Or there’s this survey conducted by the American Press Institute which says that in order to reach a millennial audience, focus on Facebook.

Take a quick look at Snapchat’s advertising page and towards the top, you’ll see this seemingly impressive stat:

Millennials And Social Media: It's More Complicated Than You Think | Social Media Today


Couple all of this with a prediction by Statista that by 2030, the Millennial generation will have 78 million people, and you’re looking at a very potent consumer power.

It could then be tempting for brands to take these statistics and just start throwing emojis at Millennials and devising an entire marketing strategy around Snapchat in the hope that they can attract this large consumer group. But how Millennials are using social media, and how you define a millennial, is a much more nuanced discussion than what a lot of these statistics say on the surface.

Take for instance a recent study from Ipsos of more than 1,000 people between the ages of 20 and 35. What it found was that the allure of newer social media platforms like Snapchat among Millennial groups may not be as strong as many suspect, and that not all young people are hooked on social media. We also see that within the ‘Millennial’ group, there’s a pretty wide range of ways in which different users interact with each network.

The report found that 27% of Millennials use Facebook less than once a week, and 11% don’t even have an account. Additionally, 54% don’t have a Snapchat account, and 39% aren’t on Twitter. Why do Millennials turn away from some of these platforms? The study pointed to two distinct reasons: a general lack of interest and, especially in the case of Facebook, a growing concern about their privacy.

Millennials And Social Media: It's More Complicated Than You Think | Social Media Today


As the study states, “To lump all Millennials together as one group… would be a mischaracterization, and a mistake for marketers”.

Instead of putting Millennials all in one group, you should ask yourself what specific group is most likely to engage with your brand. This applies to gender and age, but also things like if they are parents and what income bracket they fall into. For example:

  • Pinterest and Twitter are used more amongst Millennials with kids, and young parents tend to use Facebook more often than their counterparts without families
  • Millennial women are less likely to use Snapchat and Twitter and more likely to use Instagram
  • By a wide margin, Facebook hosts more active users who make under $50,000 a year and have a college degree
  • 19% of Millennials admitted that they rarely or never use their Twitter accounts, more than all other social networks listed.

As for why else some in the study don’t have a particular social media presence, privacy is a growing concern. This is particularly important if you’re looking to advertise on Facebook, as almost half of those who aren’t on Facebook said this was the main reason. Facebook also had the highest amount of people who said they used to have an account but have cancelled it.

As noted in the report:

“As the most prevalent and mature social network, the company is probably under the most pressure from various interest groups to do this, but it seems to indicate a deeper level of commitment to explaining and addressing how Facebook approaches privacy.”

Another recent survey, “Nation Under A-Hack”, wanted to look specifically at Millennials’ fears regarding hacking and cybercrime. What it found was that 55% of those surveyed would actually stay away from social media entirely “if they could start fresh”. Even more concerning - especially when you look at the additional breaches that have happened since this survey was conducted - was that 75% of those surveyed said that if major breaches of privacy continue, they were at least “somewhat likely” to deactivate their personal social media accounts.

So, what should you do?

The good news is that you’ve already taken one of the biggest steps: learning about this demographic. The biggest lesson that we can take away from these surveys is that your specific audience has to dictate your marketing efforts and that rules and that relying on a blanket strategy for such a nuanced demographic is a doomed strategy. The good news is that we actually do have the tools available to be successful if we’re willing to dig a little deeper.

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