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How Businesses Can Use Content to Bridge Generation Gaps

Yvonne Dutchover
September 22, 2015
generation gaps

Each of the three adult generations — baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials — consumes content a little differently than the other two. For businesses, this makes reaching multiple audiences with the same message a bit of a challenge.

All generations use email to some extent; some have grown up with it while others learned to use it after years in the workforce. Some generations have pioneered the use of social media and thrive with its short format. Others still rely on the physical copies of newspapers and magazines that are regularly delivered to their houses. Some generations get their news via websites, blogs, video, and Twitter; others prefer to watch the evening news. You get the picture.

With all of these different channels, is it possible to reach these three audiences with a single message?

Understand where your audience likes to read their content, as well as when and how, to focus your efforts for the best results. Here are a few things to consider when creating content for different generations.

First of all, who are we talking about?

BuzzStream and Fractl surveyed more than 1,200 people from the three generations to learn more about how the groups consume content. So who are they?

  • Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 after World War II ended. The generations that follow, as well as when they begin and end, are more loosely defined.
  • Generation X is generally described as born between 1965 to 1984, though some say it ends as early as 1976 and others at 1980. The survey considered 1976 the cutoff.
  • Millennials are sometimes said to be born between 1982 and 2004, though some say the generations starts as early as 1977 and ends as early as 1995. The survey used 1977 through 1995 as its parameters.

Regardless of the years used as a cutoff, why are these generations important? Partly due to the numbers. In 2015, millennials will pass baby boomers as the largest living generation. That may lead you to assume then that millennials are therefore the largest number in every category of content consumption, but you’d be wrong (at least for now).

3 Content Qualities Each Generation Has in Common

Although there are some differences with how the three generations prefer their content, there are also some similarities.

  • To reach the largest audience, post between 8 p.m. and midnight. It makes sense that many people are reading content during this part of the evening. They’re likely finished with work, dinner and putting the kids (if they have them) to bed. It’s a moment to relax, read and be entertained.
  • Shorter is generally better. The sweet spot for content among all generations is 300 words.
  • Make sure your content is ready for mobile. Fifty-two percent of people use mobile devices as their primary means for viewing content. More than half of this number are millennials.


Generational Differences in Time Preference

Obviously, your readers may find your content at any time, across different devices and through different social networks. There are some differences across generations.

  • Boomers prefer content during the week.
  • Millennials read more content on the weekends.
  • Generation X (as in so many things) falls in the middle.


What Kind of Content Each Generation Responds To

  • Blogs rule; white papers don’t. Blog articles are the most consumed type of content. White papers, on the other hand, are the least favorite — or the least consumed, at any rate — across the board.
  • Favorites are favorites. The top four types of content are the same for all three generations: blogs, images, comments, and e-books.
  • Gen Xers like long-form content. While 300 words seems to be the agreed upon ideal length for the three generations, Generation Xers seem to enjoy longer content more than both baby boomers and millennials.


What kind of content do you create?

The greatest differences are seen in terms of the subject.

  • Entertainment is tops with all three generations.
  • World news is most popular for baby boomers.
  • Technology is most popular with millennials.
  • Healthy living content is most popular with Gen Xers.

The topic or vertical is one area where you will see the most difference as a content creator. If you’re creating content in one of these areas, evaluate which generation is your biggest audience. Keep them in mind when creating your content for the best results.

Getting Social

Here are some key takeaways for content sharing and use on social networks:

  • Facebook is the most popular social network for all three generations.
  • Gen X uses Twitter more than baby boomers or millennials.
  • Google Plus is most popular with baby boomers.
  • Are millennials more visual? They use Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr more than the other two generations.


What devices are generations using to read content?

It’s common knowledge that not everyone is using the same device when reading content, but there are some distinct generation preferences:

  • Baby boomers and Generation X use laptops and desktops more than mobile devices.
  • Fifty-two percent of millennials use a mobile device as their primary means of consuming content compared to 36 percent of Generation Xers and 14 percent of baby boomers.


Finding the Right Mix

Understanding that baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials have different preferences will help you create content with the greatest possible reach. Here are a few easy steps to help you find the right mix of content for your audience as you keep generational preferences in mind.

  • Are you producing content for a specific topic like entertainment, sports or healthy living? If so, consider who’s likeliest to be most interested in your content so you can make it even more relevant to them.
  • Share your content when it has a greater chance of being seen and on the network your audience favors.
  • Optimize your content for the device your particular audience is more likely to use.

As with all content marketing, experiment and measure. You may have an idea of best times or content that will appeal to your readers, but you’ll never know for certain until you try it out. Adjust as necessary until you reach the largest audience possible.


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