Every brand knows that to reach your target audience you need to pay attention to demographics. One way to better understand your prospects is to group them into generations, as each generation has a distinct way of behaving online. This is useful to know if you are seeking insights into how to encourage engagement on social media and increase your conversions.

To find out just how each generation behaves, Sprout Social conducted a study by surveying participants about their social media preferences and online purchasing habits. Users were divided into Millennials (18 to 34 years old), Generation X (34 to 54 years old), and Baby Boomers (55 years and over).

Social Media Platform Preferences

Facebook was the most popular of all social media platforms for users of every age. Across the three generations, 43.6 percent of users named Facebook as their favorite social network.

Nonetheless, there were some distinctions among generations. Although numbers were almost the same for Generation X (with a 64.7 percent preference) and Baby Boomers (65.2 percent), just 33 percent of Millennials named Facebook as their favorite. This was due to the high popularity of several other sites, including Instagram (with 22.2 percent) and Snapchat (with 15.8 percent).

Plus, when you split the Millennials age group further, there are even greater distinctions. Young Millennials (aged 18 to 24) prefer Instagram to Facebook, with 25 percent naming it as their favorite site. Even so, Facebook is a close second, with 24.4 percent, and Snapchat has almost as many votes, with 23.3 percent.

There are also bigger differences in preference between Generation X and Baby Boomers than is first apparent. Although both said YouTube was their second favorite social media site, Facebook is 54 percent more popular than YouTube for Generation X.

Following of Brands

Who follows?

Social media began as a way to connect friends. Since then it has grown to encompass brands, and each generation has taken advantage of this function to varying extents. For example, Sprout Social found that Millennials and Generation X follow brands twice as often as Baby Boomers. Respectively, 48.6 percent and 48.8 percent follow brands compared with just 24.5 percent of Baby Boomers.

When and why do they follow?

It is equally important to know when and why users start following a brand. All users tend to start following before they make a purchase — 58.9 percent of Millennials, 50.4 percent of Generation X, and 55 percent of Baby Boomers.

The reasons, in contrast, are quite different. For Millennials, information is most important (at 42 percent), but entertainment is in a close second place (at 38 percent). With Generation X, 58 percent are seeking deals and promotions, whereas 41 percent are looking for contests. Baby Boomers are a combination of the two — promotions are important to 60 percent and information to 53 percent.

Why do they unfollow?

Each generation also has different reasons for unfollowing a brand. For Millennials, the primary reason is due to dislike of something about the social marketing — 22 percent of the time. In close second is having a bad experience, with 21 percent.

Although Generation X users unfollow brands for the same two reasons, they are also likely to unfollow due to offensive content or something that disagrees with their beliefs — they use this reason 160 percent more than the other two generations. The biggest issue for Baby Boomers, in contrast, is spam.

Do followers matter?

Followers on social media are much more than just numbers — they lead to returns. A total of 62 percent of users said they are likely to purchase from a brand they are following. Some followers, of course, are more valuable than others: 67 percent of Generation X and 60 percent of Millennials said they were likely to make a purchase from a brand they follow compared to just 51 percent of Baby Boomers.

You can also increase the number of people willing to purchase from you by ensuring users have a positive experience with your brand. This makes the number shoot up to 71 percent overall. Good experiences have the biggest impact on Millennials, who are 6 percent more likely to purchase than the other generations.

Use of Social Media

In addition to knowing what type of audience follows brands, you need to know how they use the sites. Some users may be present but inactive, having little engagement with brands.

In total, 29 percent of all users engage with brands they follow at least once per month. This may include liking, sharing, or commenting on posts. This behavior is more than twice as common among Millennials (30 percent) and Generation X (32 percent) than Baby Boomers (14 percent).

Continuing with this trend, Millennials prefer to communicate with brands through social media over any other method. They use social media communication twice as often as Generation X and Baby Boomers.  Generation X and Baby Boomers still may turn to the telephone or email.

To Summarize

You can learn several things from the above data. For instance, when creating a strategy, taking audience demographics into account is key. This involves both choosing the right social media platforms to make the best use of your resources, and adapting your strategy on each platform to target the right generation of users.

It is clear that Facebook is an essential element for success in social media for any age group. If you are targeting Generation X or Baby Boomers, it is a good idea to mainly focus your efforts on this platform, but by no means should it be the only social site you utilize. If you want to reach a younger audience, it is particularly essential to explore marketing on social networks in addition to Facebook. Considering other characteristics of your audience in addition to age will reveal the best places to direct your efforts.

In addition, you need to remember that your audience on one platform may differ from your audience on another. Knowing the demographics of your followers on each site will allow you to better tailor your content to their needs.

One final thing to consider is the importance of gaining followers.  With the right tactics, you can turn them into customers. Bear in mind that Millennials prefer contact through social media, whereas the other two generations rely more on email and telephone interactions. Furthermore, by ensuring all communication leads to a positive experience, you will increase your number of customers still further.