To kick off a series marking the release of our latest Social Flagship Report, today we look at how social media usage changes across generations. The most striking trend is that while older age groups see it as a place to check in with friends, it’s more of a content hub for younger generations. Gen Z are unique in viewing social more as a place to find entertaining content rather than updates from friends. Entertainment may be less important for older generations, but they’re still looking to it for content of a different kind, with news updates just as important to them as those from friends.

The rise of social media as a content hub comes in part from a shift in how social media is accessed. With visiting social networks now a mobile-first activity for all age groups apart from Baby Boomers, dipping in and out of social media apps lends itself to passively browsing during spare time. This explains why filling up spare time is the biggest reason using social media for Gen Z and Millennials.  

Beyond these headlines, there are other trends worth highlighting. Millennials, who are young enough to have grown up with social media but old enough for most to be in full-time work, are most likely to use it for career networking (28%). The popularity of visual networks among Gen Z means that sharing photos (35%) is almost as important as staying up-to-date with news (39%).

For all these differences, there are consistencies too. News holds steady for each generation, as does the percentage of internet users who say that researching products is a main reason to use social, highlighting that a good proportion of social networkers are happy to draw on it in their purchase journey.

Social media in 2018 means many things to many people. In its early days, Facebook described itself as a “social utility that connects you with the people around you”, and older networkers still use it with that in mind. But for younger users, there are other connections at play: between the user and content creators, work contacts, and brands. In tomorrow’s chart, we will look at the role of brands in the social media landscape in more detail.

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