Seeking Case Studies of How Brands Reach Gen X Using Social Media

I’m wrapping up my report on “How companies should organize for social media” in a few weeks, and collaborating on a report with Zach Hofer-Shall (a digital device aficionado) on a “Comprehensive community checklist” and am going to start work on a research report exploring the social behaviors of Generation X, and how brands are reaching them using social media. (see my body of research)

I’m probably the youngest of the Gen X generation (people define the age groups differently, but the behavioral traits and beliefs are perhaps the most telling) and we’ve a unique way of growing up with Transformers, GIJoe, My Little Pony, Reading Rainbow, Regan’s Just Say No, and of course Michael Jackson (when he was black). We also grew up with technology: Nintendo games and “↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A”, boomboxes, Sony Walkmen and of course MTV and VH1 –or, at least that’s all that comes to my mind during my growing up experience.

Fast forward to 2009, we’re establishing ourselves in the workplace, becoming the successful professionals as we enter the early or mid-career phase of our lives. Yet with maturity comes the big “R” of responsibility: family, kids, the access to disposable income. As this generation, my generation, moves into the prime light, brands are also recognizing the importance to reach us, so I’m seeking your help to submit information.

Seeking Case Studies of How Brands Reach Gen X Using Social Media
I’m seeking examples from brands or agencies that have case studies of how brands have reached Generation X (my Generation) by using social media. This doesn’t have to be a formal PDF, but it’s most helpful if you include URLs or screenshots, a problem definition, a goal, and then measurable quantitative results. I’m seeking these within the next two weeks so by June 15th will be the last day to email me at jowyang at forrester.com.

For Discussion: How Would Gen X Behave If We Grew Up With Social Media
Oh, and to kick off a conversation, how would Gen Xers behave if we had the internet when we grew up, rather than in just the last decade and half? From turntables, cable tv, to compact discs, we mainly grew up as consumers of technology and media –not creators. We grew up with technology as consumer products, yet in many cases, these devices were not connected, not networked, and not tied together through the internet or wireless technology (we were often ‘nodes’ not networked). Do you think Gen Xers would use it differently than Gen Y? Would we be as willing to share all parts of our personal and social lives as some of our younger counterparts? You can learn more about how different generations around the globe access social technologies using our social technographics profile tool, love to hear your thoughts.

  • Here’s my take: If Gen Xers grew up with social technologies like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster or Twitter, we wouldn’t be as active as our younger counterparts are today.

    Why? A bridge generation was needed to make digital devices common and commonplace –before they could be networked.

    For example, Gen X was known for having devices that consumed and played media created by mainstream, but other than copying and mixing, few were able to create with ease media like the standard Macbook comes loaded with today.

    The older brothers and sisters of Gen X paved way to Gen Y to be born with digital devices in their hands –which made them accustomed to being highly networked, like a hive.

    My take: A majority of Gen X likely wouldn’t have adopted social technologies to the veracity Generation Y does today.

  • Amazing Q&A, Jeremiah 🙂
    You might be one of the youngest Gen Xers, and I might be one of the eldest… What you are suggesting is that technology built up our behavior; I am not that sure.
    Gen Y is said to be multitasking, but so was anybody in his adolescence. And a lot of behaviors allocated to youngsters are only a technological shift, not a cultural one. My daughter publishes to Youtube, tags albums on FB, creates blog designs, etc. But were we that different? They just replaced paper, crayolas and scissors with a Mac computer.
    For me the only, but radical, difference, lies in the speed we now can interact. The time has collapsed into real-rime interaction, and there is no more distinction between reflection and action. But I am clueless about the underneath changes involved.. Thinkers like Paul Virilio are quite pessimistic, saying we are paying a willing tribute to progress. Considering what I just told, I am not sure there is something like “progress”. We still have to wait until Gen Y gets into full gear to know what all that means…

  • Thierry, thanks for this perspective. Yes, I’m a young gen xer, although I relate very much to the Gen Y(and some of my social media usage) I still think like a Gen Xer.

  • Great question on the Gen X’ers. I believe I am also one of them (born in 1973) and I must say I really disagree with you saying: “we mainly grew up as consumers of technology and media –not creators”
    When I grew up, I became part of a new vibrant subculture just starting out in the Netherlands. It’s called hiphop. We all know it by now, but way back in the early 80’s we were discovering this new form of music. Not only the music, all four elements were just starting out: Rapping, DJ’ing, graffiti and breakdancing. All those elements had a really big DIY mentality. With graffiti we learned didn’t need artgalleries and fancy schools to make beautiful things (beauty is in the eye of the beholder! I know!). DJ’ing and mixing is the prime element regarding copyrights, fair use of material, but also active and creative development of new forms of music.

    So yes, we were consumers of technology, but we also were creating the first outlines of the platforms on which others are building now. I think Gen X’ers were just as much a creator of new media (be it music, art or otherwise)(let’s not forget zines!) as most of our kids are now.

    About the sharing: We had tapecircles! We shared concerts on tapes through the postal mail. We sent new designs for graffiti to each other just by snailmail. Rapbattles were held between cities. And even further back, the punk-era had their zines, which were like blogs avant le lettre.

    You can find some of these graffiti designs on my Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/punkey/sets/72157617071406461/ These are all scans of copies I received through the mail between (I think) 1985 and 1989.

    Hope this stimulates the discussion! 🙂

  • Although I’m stuck in the years between Gen X and Gen Y (born 1980), I agree that there’s no way we’d be able to jump from Baby Boomers to the level of social usage now by Gen Y. But I think, like Frank mentioned, that the spirit of social media was a live and well back then. Gen X found a way to create/share/connect. I think the most profound effect it might have had would have been on world affairs. Imagine if we’d had the ability to tweet the falling of the Berlin wall? Who would have gotten elected president? I feel like Gen X would latch onto the social, political and community aspects of the Internet much more willingly than they would have jumped into sharing details about their lives through Facebook, business networking, etc.

  • This may be an interesting case study for your research: Really appreciate all your work. Simon

    http://sites.klue.com.my/24hourkl/index.html

  • I believe that Gen X’ers would have definitely latched onto the information sharing we see today. I’m probably Gen Y (b. 1981), but I was heavily into mixing tapes, sharing them with friends, calling into radio stations (totally different type of participatory media), writing letters to the editor of newspapers (I still read the PRINT version of the NY Times every Sunday), etc. We also had neighborhood Nintendo tournaments, flashlight tag gatherings and we knocked on neighbors’ doors to sell girl scout cookies. Have you read the article, “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark Granovetter, 1973? It’s basically the preeminent article on social networking way before this social media stuff came into play. Human beings want to share information, participate in communities and network with others who are similar. Facebook hasn’t revolutionized as much as we think.

  • For all that the portable devices have increased usage, I still think as a Gen-X-er (b. 1970) that we WOULD have picked up on the technology.

    After all, we were the original geek generation.

    I’m in Australia, so I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I started thinking what would’ve happened if twitter and social media had been around 10-15 years ago. That’s around about the time we were going through a recession (Paul Keating, the PM, called it “the recession we had to have”). With high unemployment, I’m convinced we would have latched on to services like linkedin, twitter, facebook and the rest to try to find jobs – just like is happening again now. The workforce would definitely have become more mobile a lot more quickly, and the empowerment of having access to a global job-market could have made for some interesting accomplishments in more specialist fields.

    My answer, then, is to turn your question around. I don’t believe we would be behaving any differently in the time-shifted version of ourselves, at the technological point we are now, whatever age we were. I have to wonder, though, where technology would be by now if we’d been involved in developing it for all those extra years?

  • I am just glad to see someone interested in my generation. I read articles about Gen Y and Boomers all the time, but it seems that Gen X has been forgotten in recent years.

  • zaheer nooruddin

    Jeremiah – thanks for your posts and your thinking, both of which are greatly appreciated. You lead thinking in the social web; an area that I am involved with also, with my work in China.

    Which brings me to my point – which is that a lot of commentary to do with the social web / “social media” / the web in general (oh my… everything in general) is dictated by a North American, (‘Western’), point of view. Which, in itself, is fine, but, if to be considered in any way, strategic thinking about the World Wide Web, is actually quite misleading.

    Very little of the “social media” insights that are passed off by analysts and consultants visible in terms of public blogging/ intellectualism are actually relevant to the internet and consumer behaviour outside of the U.S. and Western Europe. This is going to prove tricky as China and developing parts of the world begin to lead in terms of net penetration and ‘social web’ usage (I’d say that China already does and would others who’ve spent time studying this market) and India will follow in the years to come…

    That makes for a greater population – online – in China and India alone, than in the rest of the world combined – pretty much.

    So… in short, if you want to stay relevant, move to India.

    Ciao.

  • As a Gen-X er I think that problem was less about content creation and more about content socialisation in terms of growing up in the 80s and 90s versus the ‘net natives’.

    The photocopier and the laser printer were the Facebook of their generation. I remember a huge culture of fanzines following football clubs or your favourite artist. Bootleg tapes happened, as did footage captured by amateur videographers (usually tourists) at news events.

    I had friends that made movies and put on screenings of them. I used DJ’ed since then and we used flyposting, flyers at the right record and clothes shops to get the word out on our events. An art college friend put together visuals to go with the nights.

    The mix tape a carefully curated collection of music was the spotify or blip.fm of its day. In terms of the music culture itself there was a classic example of cheapening creation: the Atari ST, Akai S900 samplers and secondhand studio equipment meant that hit dance records were produced in a bedroom.

    Sampling sounds challenged copyright in a tradition that Lessig drew on for his thoughts around content remixing. Mashup the term beloved of web 2.0 firms came from when people like me would put the vocal of one song (usually found on a 12″ acappella version) and the music of another track together.

    I think that generation X would have taken the web in its stride much better than you seem to think Jeremiah.

  • Frank, your creative background is refreshing, that’s very interesting that media creation was normal for you. Seems like Elizabeth seems some similar experiences, but I’m not sure if those are all ‘media’ events.

    I’d agree with both of you, Gen X certainly was creative, but the tools to create and share aren’t as pervasive as they are now. Take for example a macbook can do nearly all of those activities described above.

    Kara, we agree.

  • zaheer

    I’d love to visit India, but I’m not sure that would help my case for being ignorant (I agree, I certainly have an ignorant western mindset –one I work on constantly).

    We do have analysts in various parts of the world, and I’m mainly North American focused. I do consider myself a global citizen so keep on educating me, I’m listening.

    Ged, very interesting points. I still think a ‘bridge’ generation is needed between media consumption, media transformation, and media socialization. This is really a fascinating topic, if I could put our generations into these categories it would be younger boomers for media consumption, gen x for media transformation (and immediacy of consumption) and then media socialization for Gen Y. These are broad and silly stereotypes, but I’m trying to look at trends.

  • What are you talking about, Jeremiah?

    In ~1982, I was using the internet by dialing–with a 300bps modem–into CompuServe, Prodigy, and other networks for file transfers and bulletin board sharing. Around the same time, I created content by writing simple programs in BASIC and drawing turtle designs in LOGO.

    Surely, I’m not alone there.

  • As a Gen X’r who teaches Gen Y and has a Gen ? (12 yr old) I have to agree with Ari. I started with the original TRS-80 Model I. Went nuts creating looped programs. Did everything I could with AOL and Compuserve and communicated on Bulletin Boards. We created content by passing along email chains. Have experienced the computer evolution first hand and adapted all along.

    Each generation has a set of technology tools that come of age with them. Each generation learns how to use them.

    I don’t believe brands are reaching out to us so-called Gen X’rs because they believe (mistakenly) that only “young people” or “Gen Y” is using these tools. Mainstream media continues to push that social media is all about younger generations and that they are all using social media tools, that they are “digital natives” and therefore know all about technology.

    Bottom line, it just isn’t true. My own doctoral research proves it. In any given generation of individuals there will be people who are comfortable in adopting new technologies, there will be people who take longer and there will be people who resist. I see this in my classroom every day.

    It’s vital that brands refocus their understanding of target marketing and remember that when it comes to technographics AGE is not a good way to measure. It’s use and comfort level with different technologies.

    And remember, if you look at stats on Twitter — it’s Gen X that is driving the growth and adoption. 😉

    Jeremiah as you look at media consumption habits also remember that Gen X were the first to really start having access to home-based video and computer-based strategy games. Gen X is driving the gaming revolution as well…BUT…seniors are jumping on in large numbers and as they have time are becoming content creators as well.

    Be cautious about assigning habits to demographics. Great research on Technology Adoption has shown age/gender to not be a factor. Rather it’s about use and usefulness. Also big piece is influencers (which is what I found in my research). My daughter is on Twitter because I got her on Twitter. She now has several friends from her school on Twitter.

  • Hey Jermey great post and looking forward to seeing the study come out, but maybe a follow up is the GenX’ers at these companies or in general that have latched on to this technology and way of doing business. I am GenX’er like a previous post mentioned we often get lost in the shuffle which is ok we are the hard working innovators that build trust and relationships and dont look for hand outs and dont expect the promotion just because. When we grew up not everyone batted, not everyone was the MVP, not everyone got to do things and win. With are based in reality with a perspective on what is possible. In most brands we are the key demographic now without our buying power and our perspective of engagement the brands fizzle. We like to promote good things and constructively comment on the bad to make it good. I would have to say my core group of GenX’ers think I am nuts for doing all the social networking that I do, but that is ok I understand why it is not for everyone, but dont understand why they dont expect better from the brands they buy from.

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  • Andrea Meyer

    I’m on the older edge of Gen X and Ari–I think you were alone there. I entered college in 1983 and learned programming in a shared computer lab. Those were the days when computers crashed, we lost our papers, professors accepted that excuse and gave us an extension. Given that backdrop, we’ve managed to get up to speed and participate in this transformation of media, consuming and producing, as well. Imagine that we have used records, tapes, DVDs saw the introduction and departure of beta tapes and laser discs. Atari to Xbox, etc. Now we are right in the mix with Gen Y and the rest. I honestly think if we had always had the Internet we’d probably be further along.

  • I appreciate everyone’s comments, however I’ve got to question if programing is a norm in any generation, even Gen X.

  • Danielle Kellogg

    Doesn’t desire usually pave the way for change? The consumers of my Gen X generation (I was born in 1969) weren’t satisfied with technology as it was. We have been part of influencing how to improve it, refining it functions and feature sets to be more user-friendly. My highschool class ignored their reunion dates, but today we are all connecting like crazy on Facebook in a virtual reunion of sorts. My kids are only just beginning to discover the ability to connect across distances and over time, to kids they’ve grown up with. My generation and the one just after it has become the usability experts, the people who watched the Internet grow up and grabbed hold of it as we entered the workforce.

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  • Below is one of many our company has –

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  • Hey Jeremiah,

    Really interesting topic. Here’s a link to 5 Case Studies from my company that may or may not fit the bill for your work. Each one outlines the Challenge, Social Solution and Results for some leading brands and companies like Monster and Turner Broadcast. Hope this helps your work and feel free to reach out if you want deeper analysis or referrals to any of the clients here.

    http://www.brandnetworksinc.com/our%5Fwork/index.php

  • Lisa Townsend

    Love your site! I am an ardent follower. Some food for thought: I think it’s important to remember that people never change…technology does, but not people. We all, since the beginning of time, have three basic interactive needs: to learn, to create and to be accepted. I’m a baby boomer, my little brother is a Gen X and my kids are Gen Ys. We all use a lot of social media to get information, to post ideas and to stay in touch. A couple of decades ago it was snail mail and lost distance phone calls. The equipment and access has changed but not our necessity to think, create and communicate with others. If we remember those needs, and the media helps foster those needs, then the advances in technological media will be accepted. Also, don’t forget the business world– as Gen Xs flood the business world (and marketing world) they will be bringing new ideas on how to meet these three needs and the biggest benefit will be in customer service venues. If given the chance I’d ask them where do they see social media for business in the future.
    Good luck with your research. I am anxious to read your findings.
    Thanks for your insight.

  • Thinking about Gen X (I think I’m at the old end of it)in the context of social media, marketing and adoption of technology, I’m coming to the conclusion that the demographic category is probably too broad, maybe by a long shot. 10 years is a vast chasm to span in terms of these topics. Look at where technology was when the leading edge Gen X’rs were in college (I had one person in my entire dorm as a senior that had a computer – Mac IIe) compared to the lagging edge. Behavioral traits and beliefs are also wildly all over the map across the demographic. I am fairly sophisticated in the use of social media tools among my age peers (I’m 43). However, I think that is as much driven by my need to be tuned in for my profession as anything else. While I have no emperical evidence, I would guess casual (non-professional) users of social media in their mid 30’s today are probably more way more sophisticated as a whole in their use of social media than those in their early 40’s, even though none of us grew up with these tools.

    So going back in time, I would guess the same divide would exist if these tools where available ‘back in the day’. So while the 40 somethings would be still Tweeting (as many now are engrained with email), the 30 somethings would be onto something completely new. So. there would always be a gap over time. Make sense?

  • patricia

    i suggest you look up words like “veracity” before you try using them. Thanks.

  • Jeremiah,

    I am probably the only one that is confused here, but I think you are making a mess of things.

    Not sure what the Generation has to do with anything… but I can wait to see what comes out of this before committing to judgment.

    Also, Patricia is right, the word veracity does not belong where it is.

  • I believe Gen X are spending more time in the internet and exposed to social media, so whatever brand is promoted there reaches theme.

  • Been attacking this from another angle. How do brands engage kitchen table issues (e.g., personal finance, career, health, education, leisure) using social media? Posed this way, the question ties directly to how brands use social media to engage Xers, or any demographic for that matter. But GenX occupies a special place as regards kitchen table – we’re right smack in the middle of those kitchen table issues. We control a lot of the answers – on behalf of ourselves, our careers, those of our kids and our parents. So, how do brands use social media to engage Xers? I’d say do campaigns that are anchored on any of those issues. Here’s an example of how New Hampshire (the brand) is doing this with a good old fashioned scavenger hunt. http://www.ripple100.com/blog/2009/06/474/ Good luck wit your report and look forward to reading it!

  • Great question on the Gen X'ers. I believe I am also one of them (born in 1973) and I must say I really disagree with you saying: “we mainly grew up as consumers of technology and media –not creators”
    When I grew up, I became part of a new vibrant subculture just starting out in the Netherlands. It's called hiphop. We all know it by now, but way back in the early 80's we were discovering this new form of music. Not only the music, all four elements were just starting out: Rapping, DJ'ing, graffiti and breakdancing. All those elements had a really big DIY mentality. With graffiti we learned didn't need artgalleries and fancy schools to make beautiful things (beauty is in the eye of the beholder! I know!). DJ'ing and mixing is the prime element regarding copyrights, fair use of material, but also active and creative development of new forms of music.

    So yes, we were consumers of technology, but we also were creating the first outlines of the platforms on which others are building now. I think Gen X'ers were just as much a creator of new media (be it music, art or otherwise)(let's not forget zines!) as most of our kids are now.

    About the sharing: We had tapecircles! We shared concerts on tapes through the postal mail. We sent new designs for graffiti to each other just by snailmail. Rapbattles were held between cities. And even further back, the punk-era had their zines, which were like blogs avant le lettre.

    You can find some of these graffiti designs on my Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/punkey/sets/721576… These are all scans of copies I received through the mail between (I think) 1985 and 1989.

    Hope this stimulates the discussion! 🙂

  • itjob123

    So yes, we were consumers of technology, but we also were creating the first outlines of the platforms on which others are building now. I think Gen X'ers were just as much a creator of new media (be it music, art or otherwise)(let's not forget zines!) as most of our kids are now.

    http://www.staffingpower.com/

  • itjob123

    So yes, we were consumers of technology, but we also were creating the first outlines of the platforms on which others are building now. I think Gen X'ers were just as much a creator of new media (be it music, art or otherwise)(let's not forget zines!) as most of our kids are now.

    http://www.staffingpower.com/

  • itjob123

    So yes, we were consumers of technology, but we also were creating the first outlines of the platforms on which others are building now. I think Gen X'ers were just as much a creator of new media (be it music, art or otherwise)(let's not forget zines!) as most of our kids are now.

    http://www.staffingpower.com/

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