Generational Differences in Facebook Marketing

Older man and younger woman looking at a computer

Skylar Sullivan Skylar Sullivan, Marketing Coordinator

Much has been made of millennials and Generation Z abandoning Facebook in favor of sites such as Snapchat, Instagram and, more recently, TikTok. While there’s some truth to this, it’s important to understand that it’s quite a bit more complex. A recent study shows that 77 percent of 18-34 year-olds use Facebook. In fact, it seems that younger users may be rediscovering the site. This brings up some interesting questions about how businesses can understand the often confusing data regarding social media demographics.

Facebook: From Hip Newcomer to Staid Middle-aged Site
Facebook essentially took over the early social media landscape from MySpace in 2008-2009. MySpace had a relatively short reign as an internet giant and never had a chance to “mature.” It rapidly went from being a hip young site to almost irrelevant. Facebook, on the other hand, has already existed for more than 15 years and has been the leading social media platform for around 10 years.

In the digital age, it doesn’t take long for new technology to get widely shared. The internet itself, social media and smartphones were all originally embraced primarily by younger users but soon became almost universal. Facebook’s growth has slowed over the last few years. This is not surprising, as there are only a finite number of potential users. At some point, growth has to slow down.

What many observers noted, in particular, was that younger users seemed to be abandoning Facebook in favor of newer sites. In 2018, there was concern over a widespread Facebook “exodus” as Pew Research found that 44 percent of 18-29 year-olds deleted Facebook, a fairly sobering figure. One caveat to keep in mind is that many users delete apps only to reinstall them in the near future. Thus, it can be difficult to tell who is leaving permanently and who is only taking a break. The latest stats seem to support the notion that many of these younger users were only taking a hiatus from Facebook. In some ways, the site has become so big that it’s hard to ignore or even leave.

Facebook, Messenger and Instagram
From a marketing standpoint, it’s important to remember that Facebook is a lot more than just the original site that launched in 2004. For one thing, it’s also Instagram, one of the most popular sites among young users. To remind everyone of the connection, Instagram is now branded with the words “From Facebook,” seen every time one logs on. The advertising platforms are linked as well. This brand identity ensures that Instagram users are never far removed from the parent site.

The popularity of Messenger is another factor that keeps people of all ages tethered to Facebook. The latest numbers on Messenger indicate that 1.3 billion users are active on the app each month. Messenger is also an increasingly valuable tool for businesses to engage with their customers. 20 billion messages are exchanged monthly between customers and businesses.

Facebook also owns another very popular messenger app, WhatsApp. This is another platform that many businesses use to stay in touch with customers. Facebook is constantly acquiring new apps and technologies that are likely to have a major impact on the future of social media. One of the most promising of these is Oculus VR, best known as the brand behind Oculus Rift. It’s helpful to look at Facebook as a brand rather than a single site, as this points to how vast and agile the company actually is.

Facebook and Google: Still the Dominant Advertising Platforms
While we can interpret Facebook demographic data in various ways, it’s beyond dispute that Facebook is still the dominant force in social media advertising. eMarketer refers to the Facebook-Google duopoly in digital ad spending, with Amazon a fairly distant third. This indicates that most businesses, including those with the largest budgets and with access to the most comprehensive data, aren’t shifting their focus away from Facebook.

Important Generational Differences on Facebook
There will always be differences in how people from different generations approach social media. As we’ve seen, the notion of millennials leaving Facebook was probably overstated. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not worth noting some real differences. Here are some takeaways to keep in mind about Facebook demographics. Statistics in this section are from Hootsuite.

  • Facebook is still used widely by every generation. Close to 75 percent of adults in the U.S. log in daily.
  • Despite the exodus to sites such as TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, Facebook is still the number one site for teens from 13-17.
  • Seniors are actually the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook. This includes members of the Silent Generation, those born before 1945, as well as Boomers.
  • The majority of Facebook users are outside the United States, with Asia having the largest number.
  • Facebook is more popular in the U.S. with women than men. 75 percent of women use the site while only 63 percent of men use it.

The Omnichannel Future of Marketing
While it’s necessary for businesses and statisticians to compile data about Facebook and other social media platforms, you should also remember that the average user doesn’t think this way. Most people use whatever channel or platform is convenient at any given time.

Harvard Business Review reports that 73% of customers use multiple channels to shop. Similarly, people today are likely to have a variety of devices such as a laptop, smartphone and tablet. Millennials and Generation Z, who are more acclimated to social media than anyone else, are especially accustomed to switching from one channel and device to another. This is why the largest internet companies are investing in multiple devices and platforms.

Facebook figures to be the dominant social media site for the foreseeable future. Depending on your target audience, your customers may prefer Facebook or other sites. However, it’s important to see Facebook as part of a wider larger context. Social media users today are seldom loyal to a single platform. One of the main lessons of the omnichannel revolution is that it’s preferable to connect with your audience on multiple platforms than to blast your message on any single platform.