Analysis Reveals Generational Differences in Brand Engagement on Social

February 27, 2017

It’s probably not too surprising to learn that Millennials (49%) are twice as likely as Boomers (25%) to follow brands on social media. But it is more interesting to see that different age groups hold different reasons for following brands, as well as for unfollowing them. A new report from Sprout Social sheds some light on these generational differences.

Top Reasons For Following A Brand

It’s interesting to note that Gen Xers engage with brands at a rate similar to Millennials: like their younger counterparts, roughly half (49%) of Gen Xers follow brands on social media, and close to one-third (32%) do so on a monthly basis (versus 30% for Millennials).

Despite those similarities, Gen Xers’ primary reason for following brands aligns more with Baby Boomers. Below, the top 2 reasons for following brands for each generation, based on the survey of 1,000 US adults:

  • Millennials: For information (42%); for entertainment value (38%);
  • Gen Xers: For deals and promotions (58%); for contests (41%); and
  • Baby Boomers: For deals and promotions (60%); for information (53%).

Main Reasons For Unfollowing A Brand

Previous Sprout Social research has specified the reasons why social media users tend to unfollow brands, with too much promotional content emerging as the main culprit.

This latest survey looked at some different behaviors that cause followers to abandon brands, also examining how these differ among the generations.

Social media behavior deemed “annoying” is one of the leading reasons held across generations. In fact, it’s the top reason cited by both Millennials and Gen Xers, just edging a bad experience for the younger cohort.

For Boomers, though, it’s a different story. Spammy content (maybe a different way of saying too much promotional messaging) is easily the most offensive behavior for Boomers, who beyond that are equally put off by annoying content and bad experiences.

There are a couple of other notable findings from the analysis.

Firstly, Gen Xers unfollow brands due to “offensive” content at a rate that’s about twice as high as Boomers and about three times higher than Millennials. While the definition of what’s “offensive” is vague, the Sprout Social analysts note that it includes saying things in opposition to personal beliefs. That’s interesting in light of earlier research finding that Gen Xers are far more likely to feel that brands should stick with their core beliefs even if they run contrary to popular opinion than to feel that brands shouldn’t react to controversial issues for fear of offending someone. In both cases, Gen Xers felt much the same way as their younger counterparts.

Secondly, the results concerning behaviors that cause unfollows indicates that unresponsiveness has the smallest negative impact on followers.

That result should probably be met with a sigh of relief from brands, given their poor response rates shown in the report. On average, just 1 in 10 messages to brands across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram received a response in Q4 2016, according to the study. Healthcare brands were the least responsive, replying to just 3% of messages, despite 43% of messaging needing a response.

Overall, utilities had the top brand engagement ranking of the 15 industries tracked (based on response rates and times), followed by travel/hospitality and retail. Nonprofits and media/entertainment brands brought up the rear.

About the Data: The Sprout Social Index is a report compiled and released by Sprout Social. All referenced data is based on 280,000 public social profiles (135,000 Facebook; 114,000 Twitter; 31,000 Instagram) of continually active accounts between Q4 2015 and Q4 2016. More than 3.8 billion messages sent and received during that time were analyzed for the purposes of the report.

This survey was conducted by Survata, an independent research firm in San Francisco. Survata interviewed 1000 online respondents between January 24, 2017 and January 30, 2017. Respondents were reached across the Survata publisher network, where they take a survey to unlock premium content, like articles and ebooks. Respondents received no cash compensation for their participation. More information on Survata’s methodology can be found at

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