When I joined Creative Strategies in 2000, one of my first tasked areas of research was the millennial generation and their demands on tech. The world was different then. There were no smart phones and, while two way pagers and basic cell phones existed, the PC was the primary computer of this demographic. I was tasked with trying to understand the millennial generation because, depending on whose definition of millennials by year born, I am one — or at least, just missed the cut off. So it was relatively easy for me to do focused studies on youth and technology at high school and college campuses. I gave more keynotes and presentations on millennials and their current and future demands on tech and did some fascinating projects, including some for the U.S. Government. I still maintain some degree of that focused research today and there is an interesting thing that stands out. Teens dominate social media.
We do quite a bit of data gathering on monthly app usage of the top apps in the market today. When it comes to social media, teens are the heaviest users of key social networks. Note these stats from my research panel:
- The heaviest users of Facebook on a monthly basis are 26-35. The second largest demographic is 15-25, followed by 36-45. This data is fairly even between males and females of that age group
- The heaviest users of Instagram on a monthly basis are females 15-25, followed by females 26-35, followed by males 15-25.
- The heaviest users of Twitter on a monthly basis are males 26-35, followed by males 16-25 then females 16-25.
- The heaviest users of Snapchat on a monthly basis are females 16-25, followed by males 16-25. What stands out about Snapchat is no other demographic even comes close in usage to those two.
I have app data on a plethora of other apps and the pattern is all the same. The graphs for the demographics between 15-35 overshadow the graphs of other demographics. Why does this matter?
Well, what drove me to study the younger demographics early in my career was my belief in how influential they would be in the future. I knew they would adopt technology quickly and therefore they could potentially dictate trends. While early evidence of this proved true in the US, it is glaringly clear in areas like China and increasingly India, where the younger demographic is embracing mobile and, in doing so, disrupting many incumbents who serve the needs of older demographics better.
An argument I was always faced with was the line of reasoning about the younger demographics having no money to spend. Therefore why spend time and effort focusing on a demographic who has no money? Yet nothing was further from the truth. From youth in America to China, brands continue to witness firsthand the spending influence of the younger demographic. Both from their own money but also how they influence the spending of others, including older demographics.
There are many articles worth of observations to make on this data but the one that is interesting to me is why? It isn’t like those above 35 aren’t also interested in these sites. I have a theory. What if this is all a stage of life thing? Meaning, at a certain age, everything changes.
Using myself as an example, I find it interesting that a few years ago before I was 35, my console gaming time declined dramatically. This was at a busy time of life family and career wise, and inevitably my priorities changed. I wonder how much priority shifting during different life stages will impact the success or failure of future apps and services? In the Snapchat example, what if this demographic simply grows out of it? This is exactly what happened to MySpace. Who’s to say the same doesn’t happen to modern day apps dominated by the young demographic? Can we safely assume an app will grow with them? Or evolve in a way to capture the interest of the up and coming young demographic? I don’t think so. This evolution of life stages and changing priorities is why I’m relatively skeptical of things like Snapchat. As these young consumers evolve and mature, their needs will change. As needs change, it opens the door for different and new services.
While it is clear millennials drive the usage and, arguably, the financial upside of many of the most talked about apps today, they also pose the biggest risk when their needs and life stages change.
Consumer evolution is nothing new. However, what we are witnessing is consumer evolution of the first digital and mobile generation. Which means that whatever we think we know about how they may evolve, we may not really know.