Guy Levine
Guy Levine 21 August 2018

Social Media Audience Characteristics: How to Reach Your Customers

Struggling to find your ideal customers online? We're here to help! Read our handy guide to reaching men, women, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z via social.

Social media is one of the most potent weapons in a marketer’s arsenal. A staggering 3.2 billion people – equivalent to 43% of the world’s total population – use some form of social networking platform. So unless your ideal customer profile has an aversion to the internet – like those American survivalists who live off-grid and stockpile tinned food in preparation for the apocalypse – you’ll be able to reach them via social.

Yet the huge user base also presents challenges for marketers. For reasons of location, price, culture and more, your product or service is probably only relevant to a tiny proportion of the total user base.

Fortunately, each network has its own audience characteristics, which makes it a little easier to establish where your time, effort and money should be invested. Read on to find out more (and if you still need some support, we’re experts at laser-targeting your audience through social media).

Gender in marketing: A consideration

First off, unless your product or service is only relevant to men or women, it’s best to leave gender out of your marketing messaging.

New rules around the use of harmful gender stereotypes in UK advertising – like stupid men making a hash of simple household chores while being watched by a tutting woman – are poised to come into effect this year, following an Advertising Standards Authority consultation.

However, some products and services are naturally more relevant to men or women. If this applies to your brand, here’s some handy advice on reaching your audience:

Best for reaching women

It’s worth noting that social media can be a particularly effective tool at driving sales in female audiences. According to Influence Central, 86% of women consumers agree that social content has become a “chief source of online research” when thinking about making a purchase.

Most of the major social networks skew slightly toward women. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest all have more female than male users.

Without wishing to fall into the gender stereotyping trap, this indicates that women tend to favour image-led content – a view shared by Elizabeth Scherle, president and co-founder of product review and discovery platform Influenster. She told AdWeek that women still prefer social posts involving photos, despite the ever-growing prevalence of GIFs and videos.

Best for reaching men

The above obviously doesn’t mean that Facebook is ineffective for reaching men. Despite the ongoing fake news furore and Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal, Mark Zuckerberg is still very much the king of social media. Four of its properties – Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram – rank among the world’s 10 biggest networks by number of active users:

However, some social networks do skew toward men – most notably LinkedIn (54% men vs 46% women) and YouTube (55% men vs 45% women).

If you’re in a suitable industry – like financial services, media and automotive – and you can cut through all the broetry, LinkedIn can be a really effective platform to reach your male customers.

Interestingly, while Pinterest has traditionally been female-dominated, the times they are a-changing. Men now represent the largest growing audience segment on the platform, accounting for 40% of new sign-ups.

Best for reaching Gen X

With all the fuss about engaging younger audiences, it seems Generation X – defined as people born between 1965 and 1980 – hardly get a look-in. But they absolutely should.

Two-thirds of Fortune 500 chief executives fall within Gen X, indicating the buying power and business influence of this demographic. What’s more, Gen X are responsible for establishing more than half of all US business start-ups and earn almost a third of total US income.

Facebook should be your go-to network for reaching Gen X. Just under two-thirds worship at Zuckerberg’s social altar, making the site 54% more popular than YouTube among this demographic.

This is well worth knowing, because social media is a significant purchase prompter for Generation X. Seven in ten are likely to buy from a brand they follow, compared to three-fifths of Millennials.

Best for reaching Millennials

Despite being accused of “killing” everything from bars of soap to the entire cereal industry, Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are kind of a big deal. Not only are they the largest of all age demographics, but their combined spending power is expected to reach $3.3 trillion (£2.6 trillion) in 2018.

Contrary to popular belief, Millennials aren’t exclusively interested in avocado toast, artisanal coffee and typewriters. If you’re looking to tap into this valuable market, Facebook should be your first port of call. It’s still the social network where Millennials are most likely to share content, according to BI Intelligence.

Pinterest is also worthy of attention, particularly if your products are highly visual. Four-fifths of Millennials say they turn to Pinterest for help in finding things they want to buy.

Best for reaching Gen Z

Gen Z (born from 1997 to the current day) is already believed to account for between $29 billion and $143 billion of direct spending. Fascinatingly / terrifyingly, their impact could extend even further than this, with 93% of parents saying that their Gen Z-age children have some degree of influence over their spending and household purchases.

Prising money (presumably Bitcoin) from their futuristic wallets could prove tricky. Plenty of signs indicate that Gen Z are likely to be cautious spenders who are terrified of using credit, with the Center for Generational Kinetics claiming that one in five believe debt should be avoided like the plague.

All of which suggests that marketers will need to be smart to get their hands on the almighty Gen Z dollar, building brand relationships that begin at an early age.

While Gen Z still use Facebook, a third of teens surveyed by Forrester described it as a site for “old people”. One in five said the same about Pinterest.

On the other hand, YouTube is almost universally adopted by this demographic, with 96% using the video platform. Snapchat and Instagram are also extremely popular, having seen their adoption among Gen Z climb by 28% and 17% respectively between 2014 and 2017.

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