Aline Strouvens
Aline Strouvens 22 July 2021
Categories Social Media

Social Tools: Our Last Resort to Keep a Semblance of Social Life and Leisure?

Yes, according to 78% of millennial and 33% of boomers from a recent survey. This past year has pushed the digital boom even further, not only in the consumption of goods but also in people’s interactions. Our relationship with social tools like social media and other digital platforms has shifted, as well as the different reasons why we use them. But how exactly have they changed?

Sam is a 29-year-old millennial. With his phone glued to his hand, he consumes content to entertain himself: videos, podcasts, and swiping are part of his day-to-day life… a daily life that has changed in the last year or so.

Sam, along with ¾ of Gen Z and millennials, has found an escape through digital content, especially YouTube! He has been more active on social networks (+64% engagement) and has even posted more (+45%).

But he and his generation are not the only ones! John & Sarah, his grandparents, just like more than 30% of the over-60s, registered on a social network to keep a social link with their relatives. They also loved YouTube and Facebook, perhaps a little late…

At Sortlist, we decided to conduct a survey with almost 1000 respondents across France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands to discover the different ways in which generations tend to interact with social media, and social tools, as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. With just over half the surveyed under the age of 35, and the rest over the age of 60, we were able to conclude these main generational differences: 

Main points

  • Social media use increased by 78% amongst millennials and Generation Z and 25% of baby boomers and over joined in the past year
  • 40% of people prefer video content over other digital formats
  • 32% of under 35s want to decrease their use of social media
  • Nevertheless, 72% of millennials and Gen Z never thought of leaving social media during the pandemic
  • Science was the highest topic of interest with 29% of posts on social platforms
  • The number 1 platform amongst millennials and Gen Z is YouTube, but Facebook for the baby boomers
  • Older generations spend on average 1-2 hours less on social media platforms than their younger counterparts
  • The majority of boomers and <35 all agreed that social media and digital tools helped them keeping a social life during the pandemic

Social Media: More Baby Boomers, Longer Millennial Hours

millenials use

78% of millennials + Gen Z increased social media use during the pandemic.

Lockdown, quarantine, isolation… we’ve never spent so much time indoors with so few people. The main things we all turned to were social tools to keep us busy. 78% of Gen Zers and millennials reported an increase in the amount of time spent on social media since the start of the pandemic, and much of it has to do with finding ways of entertaining themselves. 

25% of over 60-year-olds are new to social media platforms

Boomers join

We also found out that 25% of over 60-year-olds currently on social tools joined in this past year alone. 

To make up some form for their isolation, the vast majority of this age group turned to digital social channels to keep in touch with their loved ones. However, these numbers should not come as a surprise. Between April 2019 and April 2020, there was an increase of 300 million new social media users. In the same time period the next year, stats revealed an increase of 520 million users

User Intent: Child’s Play and Chatty Elders

Under 35s look for entertainment and visual content.

When we asked the younger generations why they use social media, the most common answer in France (33%), Germany (38%), and the Netherlands (30%) was to be entertained. However, in Spain, this was the lowest response (14%). Spaniards’ main user intent was to keep in touch with friends and family (37%). This explains the incredibly high number of 95% of Spanish people under 35 using WhatsApp…

In terms of entertainment, audiovisual content is by far the leading form of absorbing content for the under 35s with up to 62% of surveyors in the Netherlands regarding this form as their preferred digital content format. Surprisingly, although the consumption of audio content is booming with an increase of 76.2% during the pandemic, only 4% regard it as their primary choice of format. 

Over 60s Want to Keep in Touch and Prefer Written Content 

For the baby boomers and over, all countries responded that they used social media mostly to keep in contact and for their social life, with as high as 41% of them in Spain. Seems like the young and old generations on the Iberian peninsula like to chat it up…

Additionally, just like their younger generations, older Spaniards showed a preference towards video format (36%) compared to others. 

In France (42%), Germany (46%), and the Netherlands (39%), although in digital format, the older age groups showed a preference for written content.

User Intent in the Pandemic Era

Younger generations value social tools more than older generations.

It is undeniable that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our user intent, so we asked our surveyors how important social tools were to them to stay in touch with loved ones. 


For the younger generations, 18% of them said that these social tools meant everything to them or that it was important to keep in touch with family. Ironically, for the baby boomers and up, who revealed they mostly use social media or digital tools to keep in contact, only 10% of them thought these social tools mean everything to them or that it was important to keep in touch with loved ones…

This proves again how much social interactions matter for younger gens, who not only need to be entertained but also need an active social life. 

So if you have a relative over the age of 60, just know that although they may have WhatsApp, they would rather keep in touch with the good old pen and paper. 

Post, Like, Comment, Share… Repeat: The Bright Future of Digital

Up to 80% of under 35s can’t imagine leaving social media.

Not only did we increase our use or become new users, but the majority of younger generations also didn’t even think to give up social media during the pandemic. 72% responded that they had never thought about letting go of their social media usage in 2020 with results ranging as high as 80% in France and Spain. Surprisingly, in the Netherlands, only 61% of survey respondents gave a firm no. They also had the highest number of people ready to give it up (34%). 

With this many millennials not wanting to give up social media, we also found that only 3% have thought about decreasing their use. Social media seems to have a bright future ahead…

So if people are increasing their social tools’ use and are not ready to give it up, this can only mean an increased amount of engagement with content, posting, and interactions. And that’s exactly what we found. 

67% Engagement Increase: Spaniards the Most and Germans the Least 

It wasn’t for no reason that companies put more focus on their digital marketing efforts this past year. Compared to 2019, we saw an increase of 41% of demands for social media experts on Sortlist. 67% of Generation Zers and millennials admitted to engaging more with social media content since last year. This included comments, likes, participating in giveaways... etc. 

With young Spaniards leading the engagement train with 79% of participants revealing that they started interacting more this past year, young Germans were the most reserved with only 58% of them increasing their engagement. Could this be because Spain may have spent more time in lockdown than Germany? 


Lockdown: Keep Calm and Keep Posting

With an increase in engagement comes an increase in posting. 45% of our younger generations revealed they posted more content on social media this past year. 

The Spaniards continue to lead the way with 55% of surveyors agreeing that they posted more, however, the Netherlands actually had their majority of surveyors say they were posting the same amount (34%). 

But what on earth are these kids posting? 

From Selfies to Scientific Facts

In a collaboration with Meltwater, we found that the highest topic of interest online with 29% in Q1 of 2021 has been science. With that, the most likely topic to be shared on social media by Generation Zers and millennials is scientific content with almost 44%. It’s obvious that this pandemic has shifted our concerns and gazes. But how long will our scientific interest last? And will 2021 stats mirror those of 2020 or pick up where we left off in 2019?


Exclusive data from Meltwater.

Generational Platform Preferences

Facebook? Yeah, my grandma’s on that…

So we are obviously really into different social tools but what are our favourite digital platforms? Recent studies have said Facebook’s popularity continues to reign and continues as the world’s most widely used social media platform in the world with 2.797 billion monthly active users… This may be true, but from what we found in our stats, those almost 3 billion monthly users are probably baby boomers and over…

top 5

Facebook the #1 Platform for Over 65s, 5th for Under 35s

From our under 35s group, Facebook was the 5th most used platform with 64% of surveyors revealing they were currently using it. The top three platforms in comparison were YouTube (89%), WhatsApp (83%), and Instagram (82%)

Unlike millennials, our over 60s backs up the recent research. More than three-fourths (77%) of respondents revealed they were active on Facebook making it their number one used social media platform in their age groups. WhatsApp came in second with 71%, and YouTube in third with 67%. 

Between the two age groups, the younger generations are pulling towards video content much more than written content or social channels of communication. But why is that?


In recent years, YouTube has seen a vast change in user behaviour. We’ve often heard of video streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu taking over prime time television, but in reality, YouTube is just as much a part of that mix

youtube vs netflix

According to the latest Google study on YouTube’s behaviour: “YouTube reaches more adults 18+ during prime time than any cable network does.”

It is no longer an ‘on-the-go video streaming platform. 3/4 of adults reveal that they watch YouTube videos at home on their mobile devices and from both our survey groups, YouTube was more widely used than Netflix

But although the older generations also had a high percentage of YouTube users, they still showed preference towards social communication channels.

How can we explain these preferences? It all comes down to user intent. 

Your Screen Time Weekly Report is Available

We already know that people have spent more time online this past year and dabbled in many different social media channels. But just how much time are they actually spending online?

On average, each internet user is registered on 8 different social networks and 43% of them use them in a professional context.  In 2020, they also spent an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes on social media daily which is in fact two minutes more than in 2019 (+1.4%).  

time spent

French & German Youths are Always-on but not their Elders

28% of millennials and Generation Z admitted that they spend between 2-3 hours on social tools every day. Although this was the most common answer in Spain (36%) and the Netherlands (26%), the French and the Germans had more answers for ‘more than 4 hours a day’ with 30% and 34% respectively. 

For the older generations, we can observe almost a mirror image of how different generations use social media in regards to ‘time’. The most common answer, with 36% of votes, was between 1-2 hours spent on different social media platforms.

This was the most selected answer in Spain (46%) and the Netherlands (47%) but in France and Germany, the majority of their baby boomers answered that they spent less than an hour a day online with 51% and 38% respectively. The latter could be explained by the amount of value these countries think social media bring to their daily lives. 

The over 60s in France and Germany had 40% or more of people answering that social media does not add any value to their daily lives…that’s at least 25% more than the Netherlands and Spain.

Just 5 More Minutes, Mum

There is an easy answer to these disparities. Not only between the young and older generations but also between the respective countries. 

The more a person uses entertainment as their primary reason for using social, the more likely they are to spend more time on it. For the younger generations, France and Germany spent the most time on social tools on a daily basis and are also the ones who revealed they mostly use them for entertainment purposes. 


From the older generations, we can conclude that the more a person dedicates their social tools to use as a conversation channel, the less time they will spend on social media. 

32% of Under 35s Want to use Less Social Media

We previously saw that Generation Zers and millennials did not want to give up social media in the past year, but what about changing their social media habits…?

We decided to ask them whether or not they would like to decrease their social media use. With almost no surprise, France (35%) and Germany (32%) had the most respondents saying yes. Combined all together with Spain and the Netherlands, this was the most common answer as well. 

Our Millennial, Sam…

It’s undeniable that digital tools and social media have become part of our daily lives. Despite the criticism they receive, they took on a protagonist role in 2020, where their true relevance came to light: calling, seeing each other, and staying close, beyond liking, sharing, and swiping away. If Sam’s generation grew up with it and uses it for everything, John’s and Sarah’s only log in from time to time to keep in touch with their loved ones.

They’d sooner leave a comment on an old Facebook picture on Sam’s profile saying, “Is this the t-shirt I bought you for Christmas? You need to iron it! You look good, Sammyboy, don’t forget to put sunscreen on! Love you, Grandpa & Nan.”And still, being late to the Facebook wave doesn’t exclude admittance to other social clubs. Just recently, John & Sarah have started uploading funny dances with Sammyboy on TikTok.

Viral videos don’t lie; it’s clear TikTok has brought children and grandparents together in some very creative ways. As Granddad Joe would say to the Washington Post about his 4.2M followers: “I don’t do it for the fame. I do it for the tremendous fun with my granddaughter.” and that’s truly all it is, being together.

Read the study on Sortlist blog.

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