Gen XYZ: Digital Media Consumption Across The Generations

Our perception of the world has changed dramatically since the advent of digital media, and it has become woven into the very fabric of our lives.  

Long gone are the days when Instagram was merely used as a photo editing app, or Facebook was to keep in touch with family abroad. In particular, we can see a big difference between each generation regarding digital media consumption; identifying these is crucial to the success and longevity of a business. 

Often, we stereotype generations and how they participate in the online paradigm. Are Boomers still wondering why their device knows they’re in a Starbucks? Or is Gen Z keeping up with TikTok's latest dance trend? 

However, with 4.6 billion users online - over half the world's population - it is no longer a young person's game. With a phone and a sense of curiosity, anyone can join the ride we've all signed up for. 

Gen Y, also known as Millennials, are generally categorized as those born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s. From the notorious Myspace days, or dial-up internet, Millennials didn't just grow up with the internet; they watched it being born. Although intimately familiar with digital media, Gen Z is in fact the generation more famously known as the "digital natives''. 

Gen Z refers to those born between the mid- to late-1990s and the early 2010s, who grew up with the internet, social media networks and mobile devices as part of their daily lives. Now emerging into adulthood and workplaces, this generation has ushered in a new frantic digital culture, continuously demonstrating how to thrive in this new environment. 

Constantly forced to keep up or get left behind, Gen X is sandwiched between Boomers and Millennials, typically referred to as those born between 1965 and 1980. Despite stereotypes, various studies show that Gen X could be the most connected generation out of them all.

This article will dive into how Generations X, Y and Z connect, consume and cultivate digital media online.

Connecting In The Digital Age: 

The power of social media lies in its ability to connect millions of people simultaneously, regardless of their location. Yet, as we progress further into this digital era, we find ourselves completing tasks from the comfort and solitude of our devices. In our daily lives, we have grown accustomed to communicating online, from using applications such as Slack in our professional lives to joining chat rooms on Twitch in our personal time - we have seen a revolution in how we communicate. 

As human beings, we naturally crave interactions and deep connections. Each generation seeks connections differently, whether we use social media to connect with friends and family or join online communities to support our favorite influencers or brands. 

Despite not having grown up with digital media, recent reports show that 72% of Baby Boomers prefer Facebook because it allows them to connect with friends and family. Like Baby Boomers, Gen X share these above interests; however, only 24% share on social media, as they prefer not to broadcast their personal life.  

Across many of the top social media platforms today, we have seen a large shift in the content being favored largely towards influencers, celebrities and brands; giving consumers a direct insight into the highlight reels of their life. While millions of young users use the apps exclusively to keep up with celebrity gossip, fashion trends, and new products, a large portion of Gen Z and Y voiced their desire for the social media platforms to remain for socializing and connecting with friends.

During the rat race to win the attention of millions of users, Instagram adjusted its algorithm to display more videos from unfollowed "suggested" accounts, causing an uproar from social media celebrities, such as the Kardashians and Jenners, demanding they “make Instagram Instagram Again.” They added, “Stop trying to be TikTok. I just want to see cute photos of my friends.” 

After the post received major attraction and reshares, the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, announced they would be toning down the algorithm.

Naturally, applications look to evolve by providing users with more opportunities to use their platform in various ways. In 2021, Twitter Spaces was introduced, allowing users to have live audio conversations on the platform. This was a direct response to the dramatic rise of Clubhouse and a way to encourage discussions to come to life. Ultimately, the goal was to help individuals or brands create stronger connections with their audiences. 

With 38.5% of Twitter users aged 25-34, Millennials are more inclined to use Twitter Spaces to interact and communicate with celebrities, influencers, and brands with real-time audio discussions. 

Social media is a powerful tool for engaging your audience, growing your brand, and encouraging sales. It is, however, crucial that companies are using the right content on the right platforms, keeping up with the ever-changing algorithms and trends. 

Digital Advertising: Building Brand Bonds

Top social media platforms are seeing their ad reach soar to all-time highs, with no signs of slowing. Hootsuite's research found that Facebook's global advertising audience has increased to 2.17 billion, and Instagram's reach via feed ads is 1.38 billion. TikTok ads reach 1 billion adults monthly, growing faster than Facebook's audience. 

As social adoption surges across all age groups, understanding how different generations use social media is more important than ever, especially for brands looking to engage with their target audience. 

Gen Z predominantly has more active users on TikTok and Instagram than the other generations, and is shown to use social media platforms to interact with brands and companies - 78% reported using social media to learn about new brands. Gen Z shoppers expect a more personalized experience online, creating a level of familiarity that mimics the in-person shopping experience. 

Millennials have reported that 72% have been influenced to buy fashion and beauty products based on Instagram posts, and 84% said they had been influenced to purchase based on UGC (user-generated content). These brands demonstrate that using short, entertaining, and less polished videos to reach your audience on social media is unbeatable. 

Unlike Gen Z and Millennials, Gen X doesn't grab headlines the same way, expecting brands' online content to educate and excite via videos, tutorials and in-depth explanations. Social media is used by 56% of Gen X consumers to discover new brands. Research shows that Gen X shoppers are the most loyal consumers, often paying a premium for brands and products they trust. 

New Ways Of Consuming The News:

Graph of social media usage in different age brackets

In this ever-growing digital paradigm, it was only a matter of time before we began turning to social media as a news source. The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report found that people are 2.5x as likely to turn to social media for news as they are to turn to physical newspapers and magazines. 

As might be expected, younger generations such as Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to turn to social media as their primary source of news, 64% as reported by Hootsuite. In comparison, Hootsuite reported that 57% of Gen X use social media as a news source, and Baby Boomers sit around 49%. 

Facebook ranks at number one among nearly half of all survey respondents as the top social media platform used as a news source, with YouTube ranking second. 

A report by U.K. media regulator Ofcom has found that Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are now the preferred mode of news consumption for British teenagers. In the past two years, TikTok has seen the largest increase in users of any news source, rising from 0.8 million UK adults in 2020 to a staggering 3.9 million UK adults in 2022, bringing it on par with Sky News websites and apps. 

Several factors contribute to these statistics, and with rising screen time among young generations today, it was inevitable that news publishing brands would join the scene. 

Recruitment Process Leaves Behind Paper Resumes: 

Finding a job has never been easier with today’s internet. LinkedIn boasts over 830 million global users, making it one of the most popular social media platforms and anointing it as “the world’s largest professional network." 

There are approximately 87 million Millennials active on LinkedIn, with 59% in the age group 25-34. Of that number, 11 million Millennials work for large corporations in decision-making positions

Progressing into their careers, Millennials are fiercely career-driven, working hard to develop a foundation of knowledge and growing a network of professional contacts. As compared to Millennials, Gen Z has a significantly lower percentage on LinkedIn, at 20%. 

Having come of age during the Snapchat and TikTok era, Gen Z has a different mindset regarding seeking new job opportunities. 

In an interview with Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky stated, “We’re seeing a lot of Gen Z join the network right now. They’re much more interested in portraying themselves through video or through a much more robust profile than maybe older generations.” 

Researching a company's corporate culture via social media is becoming a top priority for job seekers, particularly Gen Z. 

Companies have taken to Instagram and TikTok, creating accounts focused on promoting their office environment, daily lives of employees and showcasing their culture and offerings. 

Major corporations, including tech giant Microsoft, have jumped on board with this trend. The company took to Instagram and quickly gained 222K followers. This is a brilliant example of how Microsoft showcases its employees in a fun, relatable and appealing manner that is sure to inspire potential candidates. 

What’s Next For Digital Media? 

technology hand with human hand

With changes in technology and communication rapidly occurring with an ever-large impact, we can see the different ways each generation has learned, adapted and grown in the face of digital media. 

As we have become increasingly dependent on digital media, whether for entertainment or education, we are becoming more aware of the importance of navigating this world effectively. 

A company's marketing strategy for its target audience should greatly depend on how each generation consumes digital media. Using the information outlined above, as well as constantly analyzing the current trends, brands can articulate and fine-tune their content in order to obtain the highest ROI. 

The further we accelerate into the 21st century, the future of digital media and content consumption will be heavily influenced by the dominating presence of Web3 and the Metaverse, along with virtual and augmented reality. By understanding how each generation consumes digital media, brands can adapt faster to the inevitable changes our industry will face in the future. The demand for quality and engaging content will continue to evolve and change as technology advances, pressuring businesses to find new ways to create and deliver it.