Facebook remains the social network of choice for three generations

Selecting the best social channel to invest in can be a difficult task for brands and businesses. It can be easy to feel pressured into embracing the newest trends, or jumping on the latest bandwagon, but a new piece of research goes a long way towards proving that sometimes it’s better to stick with what you know.  

According to the Q1 2017 Sprout Social Index, which surveyed 1,000 Millennials (aged 18-34), Gen Xers (aged 34-54) and Baby Boomers (aged 55+), Facebook is the social network of choice for 43.6% of respondents (aggregate figure). As the illustration below shows, Facebook preference is almost identical among Gen X (64.7%) and Baby Boomers (65.2%), with millennials being a bit more dispersed in their preferences but still placing Facebook in poll position. What might be surprising is that collectively, respondents found Facebook to be 29% more popular than Instagram.


Millennials, often a priority group for brands to reach, are splitting their time more evenly across different platforms, with one-third showing preference for Facebook, 22% for Instagram and 16% for Snapchat. Younger millennials (aged 18-24) identify Instagram (25%) as their favourite social media network, but with Facebook (24.4%) and Snapchat (23.3%) following hot on its heels. This presents a significant challenge for brands and businesses in terms of knowing which channel to invest in; it can often be a mistake to try and be everywhere at once.


One of the biggest quandaries for brands is understanding where social fits within the purchase funnel. The research sheds some light on this matter, discovering that 59% of Millennials, 50% of Gen Xers and 55% of Baby Boomers tend to follow a brand on social media before purchasing a product. But expectations for engaging with a brand across social vary quite significantly, with Millennials following brands for entertainment value (38%) and information (42%), while Gen Xers are more likely to follow for contests (41%), deals and promotions (58%). Baby Boomers fall somewhere in the middle and are looking for a mix of deals and promotion (60%) and information (53%).

The rate of engagement with a brand varies also. On a monthly basis, 32% of Gen Xers engage with a brand they follow. That percentage drops slightly to 30% for Millennials. When it comes to Baby Boomers, they’re mainly observers with just 14% regularly starting a dialogue or interaction with a brand. Millennials are also twice as likely as any other generation to turn to social, rather than phone or email, to communicate with a brand.  

Maintaining interest and positive sentiment across social can also be an ongoing challenge for businesses. Gen Xers are nearly 160% more likely than the other generation to unfollow a brand that says something offensive or which challenges their personal beliefs. Millennials unfollow a brand if they’ve had a bad experience (21%) or found a brand’s social marketing annoying (22%). For Baby Boomers, too much spam causes 29% to opt-out of the relationship. Brands therefore need to be clear on what their customer wants, and be sure that their content is hitting the needs of each individual demographic.

Across all three generations, 62% of respondents said they are ‘likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ to purchase a product from a brand they follow on social media. An impressive 67% of Gen Xers will likely purchase something from a brand they follow, as will 60% of Millennials and 51% of Baby Boomers. When a customer has had a positive interaction with a brand on social, 71% said they’re more likely to buy from that company. But it’s not all about conversions and sales; brands and businesses on social should be equally (and if not more so) focused on building brand and long-term loyalty with consumers.

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