Your marketing generation drives your view of social media

Social Media on scrabble tiles with a mobile phone open on Facebook

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Snapshot : Which marketing generation you fall into – whether Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y – affects how you see the role of social media. The age you first try something affects how open you are to it, and how much you use it. But social media has opportunities for all ages of marketers. 

A 2017 survey showed the average age of a Chief Marketing Officer is 52, which means the “average” CMO who studied at college or university probably graduated sometime between 1990 and 1993, depending on what they studied.  The likelihood being that it wasn’t marketing as this 2019 survey showed. 

(By the way, we were shocked by the statistic that less than half of people working in marketing actually have a marketing qualification. Then, we remembered some of the people we’ve worked with in the past, and it started to make more sense) 

So, those CMOs or even older marketers were at least 10 years into their careers before social media sites like MySpace and LinkedIn, appeared in the early 2000s, and the follow-up flurry of launches like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube in the mid 2000s.  

Marketing habits disrupted

That means that marketing generation had a long time to learn marketing habits that would be totally disrupted by what social media brought to the marketing game. The opportunity to connect directly with consumers, to have options beyond traditional media channels, and oh, so much new and interesting digital data about consumers.

What they like.

What they share.

And, what they do online.

All suddenly available to you as a marketer. 

You’d think all marketers would embrace those opportunities, wouldn’t you?

And yet, when you speak to people of different ages who work in marketing, who come from different marketing generations, you find really quite different views on social media and what it can do for your marketing. 

Boomer Marketers

The ‘Boomer’ marketing generation generally scowl miserably and shake their heads wearily when you ask them about social media. 

What is the world coming to, they ask, when people post pictures of what they are having for dinner? Why are people so interested in cat and dog videos? Isn’t it all a bit shallow and meaningless – where’s the purpose and the value? 

But this is a little bit like standing in the way of a runaway truck. 

Social media is now as ubiquitous and widespread as traditional channels like TV, print and outdoor. Boomer marketers have enough experience to recognise that social media plays a marketing role as a way to access and engage consumers. But they feel frustrated at how chaotic and unstructured it seems.

Marketing life was simpler

Because let’s face it, life was a bit simpler for the previous marketing generation. Boomer marketers dream back to the days when there were only a few big media players. And, as the ‘client’ they could look forward to being woo-ed with whatever was in vogue for them at the time to spend their media dollars.

Tickets to big sports events. Fancy dinners. Trips to the Cannes Awards to see what the marketing world had to offer. Those things might still exist in some areas. 

But now anyone and everyone can be a media publisher. Unlimited, unfiltered content about anything and everything you could possibly think of. Apart from the odd major event (particularly sports), the days of mass reach to your target audience through one or two media channels are long gone.

Nowadays, with social media, anyone can now share their thoughts, opinions and yes, advertising with anyone else. It’s all super targeted and super niche. And, it’s full of influencers so, the power of traditional media owners has been slowly diluted. 

It’s like when the cowboys who grew up learning to ride a horse first started seeing the motor car. Old skills you learned start to become less valuable, and there’s a whole load of new skills to learn. 

And to paraphrase the well-known expression, old marketing dogs don’t like to learn new tricks. 

Generation X Marketers

Gen X marketers at least had the advantage of still being under 35 when social media started to take off in the mid 2000s. So yes, they do remember a time when you didn’t know what that girl from school’s dog eats for breakfast. Or what that guy in finance you used to work with is watching at the movies next weekend.

But compared to boomers, they do find themselves at least able to understand how it all works. They understand the potential reach it can add to their advertising messages. The marketing generation X crew are more open to newer approaches, and less stuck on traditional approaches. 

And the good news is it’s this generation who are slowly pushing out the Boomer marketing generation into retirement, and leading the marketing agenda in businesses. 

A social dilemma

But they also do face a bit of a social dilemma. No, not that one. Because, they also have to worry about the amount of poor content that is out there in social media land. Because let’s face it the open access nature of social media means there is very little quality control on content. 

How will their brand will manage to cut-through and capture the attention of consumers with a dwell time measured in seconds. How is social media really playing part in their media planning?

Then, there’s the whole concern about privacy, security and the use of data. While, knowing more about your target audience is like marketing catnip, there are constant press headlines arguing that most consumers don’t really understand the amount of data they give away abut themselves.

Lots for the marketing generation X-ers to worry about when it comes to social media. 

Generation Y Marketers

Gen Y and the incoming millennial generation of marketers have of course no recollection of social media NOT existing. It’s as habitual to them as watching television is to the Boomers or using a mobile phone is to the Gen X-ers.

A bit like Neo in the Matrix (a clue which might hint at this author’s generation), they effortlessly sail through the world of posts and likes and new entrant channels with no more concerns than the air they breathe.

Like this.

Put that Insta filter on.



But, there’s a big difference between using social media and using social media for marketing.

Because from a pure marketing point of view,  you should look at social media as a way to build your brand identity and connect with your consumers.

That’s the thinking you should take in, and what you should look to get out of social media. 

A quick marketing generation agnostic view on social media

The way we think about social media, it’s really an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ process.

The ‘in’ is the opportunity for consumers to communicate directly to you via your social media channels and your social media content.

Savvy marketers will look at the comments and analytics from social and be able to craft new ideas and new strategies out of them.

That product that got deleted ten years ago, maybe it’s got a re-release value? That feature you thought was so great, maybe that’s not what your consumers are actually thinking?

Social media is a great way to build that direct connection with your audience.

The ‘out’ then is the media side of the equation. 

Instagram logo on a mobile phone

The figures show how high the penetration of social is, and how much time consumers are spending in that space, so as a marketer you’d be crazy not to consider it a part of your mix. It’s an important channel to reach your consumers, because it’s where they are. 

Go carefully

But go very carefully.

Consumers consider their social feeds as ‘their’ territory and ‘their’ space. While they recognise that advertising is necessary as part of getting the service for free, they’ll be quick to reject or block anything that’s just not right. 

We once heard social media for marketers as like being invited in to the front room of your consumer’s house.

You want to make sure you are polite, engaging and wipe your shoes before you go in. Otherwise, you might never be invited back.

While social media might create divisions between different marketing generations, if you are serious about marketing, it’s important to make your social media activity count.

You can read more of our thoughts on how social media works in our digital media skill guide.

Or, you can contact us if you think we can help refine your approach to social media.

And of course, you can also check out our social media activity on all the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Photo credits

Social media and facebook : Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Instagram : Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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