Social Media Marketing – Generational Differences

It’s been ages since I’ve actually stood in line in the post office, and for my return trip the other day, the line was quite long.  The gentleman next to me, a grandfather of an 11-year-old boy, struck up a light conversation to pass the time.  “Are we having any fun yet?” he stated, as I replied, “Well, if I’m not in front of the computer, I have to say yes.”  We chatted for a bit more and he asked me what I did that was so computer heavy, so I explained that I was completing my dissertation.  When he asked what my topic was, I told him the title is The Use of Social Media in Purchasing Decisions of Professional African American Women.  This older man, who had been bubbly and pleasant, had a complete attitude change, and began to berate social media.  His comments included, “Social media is making people anti-social.”  “People don’t know how to talk to one another anymore.” and “Kids these days don’t know how to do anything but electronics and computers.”

What's your opinion?
What’s your opinion?

While I wasn’t pleased with his opinion, everyone has a right to theirs so I simply smiled.  And I wasn’t going to start a debate with only 3 more people ahead of us, but it did make me think. What I found interesting was his disdain for electronic communication, a sentiment that I’ve observed with several friends and business associates of this age group over the past year.  You’ve heard the generational joke about being back in the day when people walked up hill 2 miles without shoes to go to school and up hill 2 miles to go home, but this was a bit different.  The sentiment wasn’t that today’s generations who use social media have it easy.  It was more of that social media encourages non-real-communication.  Real communication, from what I’ve gathered from the older generation, consists of phone calls, meeting for lunch or dinner and talking to each other the entire time, or dropping by someone’s house for a get together.

Now I have a 10-year old son and 12-year old daughter, who are in the “anti-social” age group.  They both can spend hours in their rooms texting, Instagramming, and playing online video games.  The video games, just so we are clear, allow players to talk to one another via headsets.  My daughter shares pictures of dogs and texts with her friends about how cute they are.  My son hunts zombies and looks for treasure, discussing strategies on how to achieve the goals.  If you think about it, my daughter could be sitting in the same room, showing snapshots of dogs to her friends and voicing her feelings about their cuteness.  Instead, she is doing the same activity yet on an electronic platform.  While I hope my son never hunts zombies in real life, he could similarly be playing a board game in the physical company of his friends, carrying on the same activity, except without the computer.  So how are these activities anti-social?  Is it because the younger generation often communicates electronically while in the physical presence of others and they appear anti-social?  If they are also electronically communicating while alone, then wouldn’t they actually be more social?

As a marketer I find this interesting when one considers how to reach a chosen target market.  With the younger generation being so electronically bound, and the older generation being less virtual, how much traditional advertising should be used for the youth and how much virtual for the older?  Depending upon the product, do we marketers even bother with the non-popular form of communication for these diverse groups?  And with the older generation, are they offended or somehow put off by advertising that encourages the viewer to “follow us on Facebook and Twitter”?

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.  What do you think about the differences with generational marketing on social media?

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