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Close the Generational Gap with a Smarter Social Content Strategy When you try to talk to all generations, you talk to none of them.

By Lizz Kannenberg Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

There's a common assumption that social media adoption has plateaued as we approach the mid-2010s, but in fact, 15 brand new people start using social for the very first time every second. And as of January 2017, approximately 2.8 billion people around the world are using social media. That's up 21 percent from last year with no signs of slowing down. These incredible numbers are both a blessing and a curse for brands: The more potential consumers using social, the more variations in usage and preferences to address with one comprehensive social strategy. But, brands can begin to tailor content to relevant audiences by finding similarities among large groups of consumers and addressing their wants and needs from the brand on social. Looking at generational differences in usage and preferences is a strategic place to start.

Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

The notion that social media is only for millennials is ancient history. As the 2017 Q1 Sprout Social Index proves, more and more members of the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations are hopping on board as they discover the many benefits of connecting and communicating on social with friends, family and even their favorite brands. In the case of marketing to different age groups, knowledge of the generational nuances that influence their audience's purchasing behaviors, decisions and habits is paramount to creating a smart social content strategy.

Nobody puts Baby Boomers in the corner.

Over the years, Baby Boomers have often been unfairly, and incorrectly, stereotyped as "technophobes" -- afraid and unwilling to adapt to the emerging digital and social information age. On the contrary, this generation is more connected online than ever before. It's the fastest growing demographic on social media, with an impressive 82.3 percent of the generation active on at least one social network. Brands would be wise to learn a little bit more about Boomers' interests, preferences and engagement habits on social.

For one, we know that Baby Boomers like online content. In fact, they spend more time (20-plus hours per week) consuming online content than any other generation. So, where can you reach them? The social platform they spend the most time on is Facebook. After that, a smaller percentage does spend time on YouTube and Pinterest, but don't bother with Instagram -- they're not fans. In terms of format, they respond best to images and slower-paced videos, packed with information. Save the memes and GIF-style videos for millennials. Live videos and videos with loud music don't appeal to Boomers. Their favorite topics of interest include world news, politics and entertainment. They're also cognizant of the life stage they're in, and they don't like being referred to as old or growing old. A good tip is to avoid words like "senior citizen," "retiree," or the "Golden Years." Create content relevant to their life stage, not age.

Related: No Time for Marketing? You Only Need 15 Minutes a Day.

In addition to engaging content, consider promotional efforts. Growing up in a time when saving money was important means coupons or deal-based offerings will go far with this particular generation.

Once you've nailed down the best type of Boomer-specific content, schedule your posts to go live late in the morning (9 a.m.-11:59 a.m.), when they're most active online.

Gen X: The middle child

For many years Generation X was referred to only as the "post-Boomer" generation, living in the shadow of their parents and without a clear generational identity. They're often referred to as the "Forgotten Generation" -- sitting in the middle of millennials and Baby Boomers in more ways than just chronologically. As a generation, they can be a tough nut to crack. They didn't grow up with the internet like millennials, but adopted it quickly and fully as young adults. Now they spend more time on social media (abou 7 hours per week) than any other generation. That fact, coupled with their incredible buying power, means brands would be smart to try and learn as much about their interests and online behavior as possible.

Related: The Social Media Analytics Showdown: What You Can Track and How

A few things to keep in mind when reaching out to Gen X: They prefer using social to consume content like entertainment, world news and technology. Their preferred formats include blogs, images/infographics, ebooks and case studies. They also seem to demonstrate a proclivity toward digital video: 78.7 percent of Gen Xers download or stream video online at least once per month. Like Baby Boomers, they also appreciate promotional content. In fact, they're more likely than the other two generations to follow a brand for contests (41 percent) and deals and promotions (58 percent).

They'll head to Facebook for most of this content as it's their preferred social network. Smaller percentages of them are also on YouTube and Instagram. Want to increase your chances of them seeing your efforts? Post anywhere from 8 p.m. to midnight, the time they're most active online -- quite the opposite of Baby Boomers.

Millennials -- ever heard of "em?

There's been a lot of talk about millennials in the media. They've recently surpassed Baby Boomers to become the largest living generation in the U.S., and have topped Gen X as the largest generation in the American workforce. And as the first truly digitally native generation, you may think they're the easiest age group to appeal to on social. But you'd be wrong.

Because millennials have grown up with the internet, they're highly selective about the online content they consume. They've "seen it all," so to speak, so you have to make sure what you are creating is fresh, new and unique. According to the Sprout Social Index, millennials are looking for entertainment and information on social. They prefer topics like technology, sports and comedy to world news and politics.

Related: Profitable or Popular? Make Hashtags Work for You.

Another important fact about this generation is that millennials detest inauthenticity, so be careful not to create overly-branded content. User-generated content (UGC) from their peers or influencers feels more genuine – in fact, they're twice as likely to trust UGC content (47 percent) than sponsored content (25 percent). They're also much more likely to engage with and share pop-culture memes and GIFs on social than their generational counterparts.

Once you've created the highly engaging, authentic content millennials crave, take it to Facebook and Instagram, where millennials spend most of their time on social. And be sure to post it anywhere from 8 p.m. to midnight when, like Gen Xers, they're most active online.

When you talk to all of them, you talk to none of them.

It's incredibly important for brands to identify who their main audience is across various social networks, and how to best reach them -- or else they risk creating content that falls on deaf ears. Tools that provide social analytics can shed light on which networks each generation is most active, what type of content is receiving the most engagement and much more. That data, paired with a better understanding of each age group, will help brands develop a smarter cross-generational content strategy.

Lizz Kannenberg

Director of Content at Sprout Social

Lizz Kannenberg is the director of content at Sprout Social, a leading provider of social media solutions for business. A career social strategist and creative lead for social content, Kannenberg strives to create relevance between communicators and audiences through useful information and resonant stories. She has developed and executed social content campaigns for CPG, automotive, alcohol/beverage, government and lifestyle clients by creating credible, compelling conversations between brands and communities.

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