Generation Y’s Use of Social Media. Part 2

19th June




Written by Julius Westphal

Continuation of blog post part 1 published on 16h of June.

How is Generation Y different to precedent generations regarding their mindset and their use of social media? And how do the Digital Natives influence the way companies interact with consumers and recruit young talents?


How can managers benefit from understanding Generation Y’s social media use?

It has become of peculiar importance for marketers to understand the Digital Natives’ use of social media since Generation Y encompasses millions of young, influential consumers worldwide. It is assumed that understanding Generation Y helps marketers to better keep up with fast-changing trends in social media and thus, be more successful in enhancing brand likeability, customer engagement and loyalty (Bolton et al., 2013). Kilian, Hennigs and Langner (2012) note that today companies still largely fail in social media activities due to the lack of understanding how the Digital Natives use the social-networking sites.

 Engaging Generation Y

It is commonly known that companies need to be where their customers are. Strutton, Taylor and Thompson (2011) found that Generation Y consumers use social media sites such as Facebook much more than e-mails for communication. Hence, companies need to interact with the Digital Natives in social media channels. However, marketers need to be aware that consumers are no longer passive receivers, but have been empowered to active co-creators of brands thanks to interactive social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or LinkedIn (Christodoulides, 2009). Hence, it has become indispensable for firms to understand Generation Y’s social media use to engage Generation Y consumers in the brand building process and foster strong customer-brand relationships (Peres, Shachar & Lovett, 2011, in Bolton et al., 2013). In addition, Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden (2011) stress that companies need to use the different social media platforms as an integrated “ecosystem” rather than as separated channels, just like the media multitasking Digital Natives are doing when using different media channels simultaneously. This means that companies could, for example, engage in transmedia storytelling, which refers to spreading different parts of a brand story on various media channels (Phillips, 2010).

Regarding distribution, social media bears huge opportunities that these stories and advertising messages attain an enormous reach (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011), as demonstrated earlier by the example of Budweiser’s Super Bowl Commercial. Thus, it is crucial for managers to understand how Generation Y uses social media as this helps to better design brand campaigns and activities that are more likely to reach a broad audience and beyond that, promote brand engagement. For example, when creating content marketers need to remember that one of the major motivational reasons for the Digital Natives to use social media is entertainment (Kilian, Hennigs and Langner, 2012). Besides that, Generation Y is more likely to forward advertising messages that seem “less commercial” (Strutton, Taylor & Thompson, 2011, p.582) and that appeal to the individuals’ personal interests, life themes or “self-centred concerns” (p.582). This is because, amongst other reasons, the Digital Natives use social media for self-presentation.

Besides the content, “the impact and effectiveness of reference groups on word of mouth (WOM)” (Sago, 2010, p.14) needs to also be considered. This means that advertising messages can have differing influences on their receivers depending on the nature of the source they were sent from. This is particularly interesting when bearing in mind that Generation Y uses social media for networking and hence, is usually connected to a large amount of social media friends (Davidson & Martellozzo, 2013). Thus, the Digital Natives are potential receivers of many advertising messages as well as senders with huge audiences. Strutton, Taylor and Thompson (2011) found that Generation Y “was more likely to pass along messages received from personal rather than advertising sources” (p.582) which may be explained by a higher credibility of personal recommendations (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011). In contrary, Sago’s (2010) study suggests that at least the older Digital Natives pay the same attention to messages received from both personal senders (friends) and impersonal senders (companies). However, Sago (2010) notes that messages sent via Facebook have greater influence on Generation Y consumers than messages sent via traditional media channels because of the on-going popularity of social media sites like Facebook.

Besides the positive effects of consumer engagement, the interaction with the Digital Natives in social media can also expose brands at a high risk of dilution. Sites like Twitter or Facebook enabled Generation Y consumers to address their complaints directly to companies to avoid long queuing times at service hotlines. Viewable by large audiences, companies are forced to handle these complaints immediately, since even a single incident can seriously hurt a company’s reputation (BBC News UK, 2012). A prominent example would be the “United Breaks Guitars” song by a Country Music singer who made his anger heard in a song after United Airlines refused to pay for his broken guitar (The Guardian, 2009). The Video went viral, was watched 13 Million times and without doubt, affected the brands’ image.

 Hiring Generation Y

Besides consumer engagement, companies can use social media channels for recruitments. If HR managers understand Generation Y’s social media use they may be more efficient in competing for Generation Y’s young talents (Bolton et al., 2013). While sites like Xing or LinkedIn have been designed for networking and recruiting, other sites like Facebook or Twitter have also become popular as job search portals, especially for the Digital Natives (Sueddeutsche, 2013). An example for social media recruiting is Facebook’s launch of a Job Search App in 2012 (CNN Money, 2012). While Facebook recruiting may sound fairly attractive, Armelini and Villanueva (2011) note that firms also need to be aware of the huge investments that are needed to manage and maintain these social media accounts.

When looking for Generation Y talents, it is indispensable for managers to understand the Digital Natives’ beliefs, values and job expectations since it enables companies to remain attractive employers for these demanding young professionals. As mentioned in the beginning of the paper, the Digital Natives want it all. They have high expectations for the meaning of their job, the salary, the responsibilities awarded to them, but at the same time share a different work ethic where the job is no longer most important (Ng, Schweitzer & Lyons, 2010; Twenge, 2010).) Terjesen, Vinnicombe and Freeman’s (2007) study found that Generation Y appreciates if a company invests in employee training, shows concern about its employees, offers career advancement opportunities, multifaceted jobs and encourages an innovative business culture. Twenge and Campbell (2008) found that Generation Y employees are less receptive to criticism, require rewards for their work, place high importance on social relationships with colleagues, and generally prefer a more causal dress. Sánchez Abril, Levin and Del Riego (2012) add that Generation Y also demands a strict “network privacy” (p.124) where companies do not judge their employees upon their social media profiles.

Only if HR managers achieve to incorporate the Digital Natives’ wants and needs in their organizational culture, they will remain attractive employers for Generation Y. Twenge and Campbell (2008) argue that “[t]he profits of the twenty first century will go to businesses that can harness the unique traits of Generation Me to their benefit and that of their company” (p.873). Thus, companies need to design workplaces and contracts of employment that fit the Digital Natives’ demands and expectations to enhance job satisfaction, motivation and commitment (Twenge, 2010). For example, managers could introduce flexible hours (Twenge, 2010), praise programs (Twenge & Campbell, 2008), or loser policies for social media use during work (Cho, Park & Ordonez, 2013). A good example for job satisfaction would be Google which was voted Best Employer in 2012. It is often hard to tell what makes companies like these so popular, but it can be assumed that Google received this award because of its employee-oriented organizational culture (The Economic Times, 2012).


This paper shed light on the phenomenon Generation Y and their use of social media. It was shown that the Digital Natives not only share a new mindset, but also use social media differently. The most prominent characteristic is “that young people do not distinguish between online and offline environments as a full range of digital media have become an integral part of their lives” (Davidson & Martellozzo, 2013, p.1471). Thanks to the many opportunities Generation Y’s young people are offered by their supportive parents, the economy or the government, they have high demands, not only on themselves but also on others.

Having risen to influential consumers and tomorrow’s talents, the Digital Natives have a strong impact on companies and how they interact with consumers. If managers understand the underlying values of Generation Y and their use of social media, they will be able to engage these young people with their brands and also create workplaces that best incorporate the needs and wants of the Digital Natives.

However, the research revealed that Generation Y consists of a largely heterogeneous group of young individuals, which makes drawing a stereotypical picture of the Generation Y consumer rather difficult. Also, Bolton et al. (2013) note that Generation Y’s behaviors and use of social media are constantly being influenced and thus, changing along each individual’s lifecycle stages. Hence, the full outcome of Generation Y’s influence on social norms and firms cannot yet, and maybe never, be assessed (Bolton et al., 2013).

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