Social media generational differences and pandemic trends revealed

A survey has highlighted differences in social media usage between Gen Z, millennial and baby boomers, and how the pandemic has altered online habits.

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

The differences between how Gen Z, millennials and baby boomers use social media has been revealed by a study conducted by marketing agency database Sortlist.

The survey asked 990 people from France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands about their internet habits. Just over half of respondents were under 35s while the rest were over 60s.

Generational usage differences

The study found that the number one platform for younger respondents was YouTube, whereas older respondents preferred Facebook. This aligns with a second finding: younger users preferred content delivered in a video format (40%) whereas older users preferred written content. However, baby boomers in Spain actually preferred video content (36%). While the usage of audio-based content has gone up 76.2% during the pandemic, only 4% of respondents reported this as being their first choice of media format.

In terms of time spent on social media, there was surprisingly not much difference between the age groups. Baby boomers spent an average of one to two hours a day on social media. In contrast, millennials spent only one hour more on average: around two to three hours per day.

When asked why they use social media, most young people said that they used it for entertainment purposes. However, in Spain, the most common response among young people was to keep in contact with other people. This was the same as older generations who reported that they mostly used social media to keep in touch with others.

Pandemic sees increase in use and users

The pandemic has led more people to join and use social media than ever before.

This past year has seen a massive influx of social media users. Between April 2019 and April 2020, Sortlist found an increase of 300 million users. During the same period from April 2020 to April 2021, there was an increase of 520 million users. Of the over-60s age group, 25% are new to online platforms and joined within the last year.

Social media usage has also increased during the pandemic. 78% of millennial and Gen Z respondents said that they had used online platforms more during the past year than before. Nearly half of younger users reported that they posted more over the last year compared to previous years. A potential explanation for this is that a majority of all three generational groups said that online platforms helped maintain some sort of social life during the stay-at-home phases of the pandemic.

The pandemic also affected the type of content shared on social media. A collaboration between Sortlist and Meltwater, a media intelligence platform, revealed an increase in scientific content shared in the past year. In fact, scientific content made up around 44% of millennial and Gen Z’s posts. 

A decrease in the future?

When younger users were asked if they wished to leave social media, an average of 72% said that they did not want to give it up. However, around one-third of millennial and Gen Z respondents said that that would like to decrease their usage.

What remains to be seen is whether these trends will fade or if the pandemic has forever altered how we interact with online platforms.

The full study can be found and read here.

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