Working across clients in social and content strategy has afforded our team an insightful view that we as strategists have never had before. Really, for the first time, we can see how different generations use content across platforms to represent themselves and make decisions.
We've found that each generation -- Boomers, Xoomers, Xers, Millenials, and Gen Z -- have fundamentally different mental models as they approach using technology. As marketers, we need to understand these crucial differences so we can shape content and the method of use to fit those distinctly different approaches.
For Boomers, we've seen some really fascinating trends that transcend ethnicity across the U.S.
Be rooted in the tangible items of the past
More than any other generation, for digital content to be seen as credible and valuable, there's nothing more important than showing a link to a mainstream, tangible source. Almost all of the top Facebook pages among Boomers (American Overlook, 12 Tomatoes, Dusty Old Things) are classified as magazines. In fact, our research has shown that Boomers are far less interested in bloggers than they are journalists attached to a publication that exists in print.
This trend can also be seen in profile pictures, as many Boomers prefer to use digital images of posed, printed pictures, as well as formally posed digital originals -- as opposed to the inside-the-car-selfies of genx, or the candids that proliferate younger generations. Videos that are packaged like, or are taken from, local news proliferate.
The best way to build credible content with this generation centers on making a strong tie to the methods and outlets this group has understood the value proposition on for many years -- even if they never actually engage with those brands in traditional ways anymore.
Linking out is better than cramming in
"Link bait" has become a really interesting term, and over time I've come to realize that it really only applies and is relevant to Gen X and younger. Those generations want content provided to them where they are. We've seen a number of platforms follow Tumblr in providing even greater ability to cater to these generations, so they can continue to look at their social stream while they do a secondary task like watch a video.
Boomers, however, like to open a new window to see expanded, even (gasp!) long articles. I'm attributing this to a notion introduced a long time ago by psychologist Erik Erikson. Basically, he identified that teen years are critical to forming identity for adulthood. These are the years we cement our accent, and, I think it's when we cement our mental model of technology.
If you think about the height of technology in 1964-66, when today's 65-year olds were 14-16, the height of mainstream technology was the console entertainment set. One piece of furniture that housed a radio, a color television, and a record player.
This seems akin to the ways Boomers use applications and web browser windows. It is highly preferred to have a few different tabs open to different travel sites than it is to only have all that information brought into one interface.
In social media, it makes so much more sense when you think about the computer as the console. To Boomers, it's not link bait when you link out to a video or article -- you're facilitating the comfort of having the news separate from the TV. But it's also important to note that as younger brains have adapted quickly to stitching together a broad array of shallow information, Boomers are adept at learning deeply across fewer sources.
On the flip side, this is why Facebook advertising becomes so important to more than 25 million daily Facebook users. Introducing new ideas in the context of trusted friends and family -- and providing ways for boomers to use content to represent themselves in the social stream, especially in healthcare -- could not be more valuable.
Content doesn't move
Another spot where Gen X and Gen Z have unfairly conditioned marketing expectations is in the movement of content across platforms. No one in those generations thinks twice about taking a screenshot of a Twitter post and putting it on Tumblr.
Boomers very rarely engage in this kind of portable thinking. The marketer must do the lift to put content, even if it is the same content, in each platform to engage boomers in those platforms. In a survey we did around social media habits of women looking for health information, it was a huge surprise to me. Just between Gen X, Xoomer, and Boomer, the percentage of women who used pPnterest dropped significantly.
I believe this ties in with another question we asked about how often these women checked back on platforms for new health information. Millennial women checked fairly frequently, say every other month. Boomer women checked social platforms or searched Google only about every two years. Boomer expectations around content are closer to a library of books than a platform of blogs.
iPad is your co-pilot
The one absolute standout technology that seems to miss boomer marketers is the iPad. At the beginning of the tablet era, a Forrester consultant had an insight that became more valuable in the years since. He projected, correctly, that the tablet is the only technology device that has not replaced another technology device.
Boomers use the iPad as a companion: to watching TV, reading a newspaper. Where we think of younger generations as the ones using their phone to look up a website they see in a TV ad, boomers quickly hit those sites from their iPads instead of the phone.
Most importantly, the marketing industry needs to shift the overall thinking of where Boomers are and how they're using technology. Piles of magazines have given way to Facebook pages categorized as magazines. Business cards are now LinkedIn connections. If you want to have impact on our largest generation as a marketer, you need to adapt to who today's seniors are, how they expect information to be delivered, and that it will be significantly different than other generations. You won't believe what happens next…