Who reads your content when? How? And where…

They may have taken The Generation Game off TV now, but it’s still playing out in the unlikely arena of content marketing.  There are big differences in how, when and where the generations consume content but, interestingly, smaller differences in what content they enjoy.

As an aside, I have to admit that I’ve always been a bit perplexed by the labels marketers give to the generations.  If you’re the same, here’s the official breakdown:

Baby Boomers (BBs) were born in the years 1946-64

Generation Xers (GXs) date from 1965-1980

Millennials (Mills) are 1981-1997 vintage (aka Gen Y).

The latest batch are, of course, Gen Z.  What happens after that is anyone’s guess – presumably the end of the world as we know it.

BuzzStream and Fractl recently did a major survey of the three groups (though they altered the relevant dates to 1946-64, 1965-76 and 1977-95 for reasons best known to themselves).

Respondents were asked about their preferences of content and genres, the times they accessed content and what device they read it on, among other things.

Who reads most?

Oddly enough, BBs came out top in the quantity stakes.  In fact they spent twice as much time reading content online, on average, as GXs and Mills.  That did surprise me.  I know print newspapers are dying off and everyone reads books on Kindle these days, but I expected younger generations to read more online than their parents.  Maybe it’s just because I’m an old fogey and still prefer to feel the paper between my fingers…

Or maybe the younger generation just reads less of anything they access and therefore consume the same content faster.  Research by the Nielsen Norman Group (https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-little-do-users-read/) shows that “on the average web page, readers have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely”.

But that shouldn’t lead you to write fewer words.  The graphs of article length peaked at 300 words for all three generations, but there was an extra peak at 500+ words for GXs (less so for Mills and definitely not for BBs: 300 was the tops for them).

So all those articles you read about long copy being the answer to your marketing prayers are absolutely right – if you’re marketing to Gen Xers.  To be fair, many of us probably are, as they now  make up the largest proportion of the population.  But even they will probably only read 28% of your carefully-crafted prose.

What type of content works best?

Who reads what
Image courtesy BuzzStream and Fractl

So what do your readers want to read?  All three generations had blog posts at the top of their list, which I find very cheering… until I think of all the competition that preference generates.  They also agreed on the next three categories: images (including infographics) came second, comments third and ebooks fourth for everyone.

The fifth winner was different for each generation, though: Mills like audio books, GXs prefer case studies and BBs like reviews.  Bottom of the whole list for all groups was white papers.  Slide shares also did badly and so, astonishingly, did webinars.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t switch on my computer without tripping over someone trying to teach me how to create and sell webinars – and they come fourth from bottom in everyone’s list.

And I’m not totally convinced about the 5th from bottom result: Mills and GXs both said they didn’t enjoy quizzes.  That’s not what I see on Facebook!  Maybe they just said it because they thought they should  (“No, no – I never waste time on FB.  Who, moi?”)

Preferred genres

Other insights include: entertainment is the most popular with all generations, technology goes down best with Mills, and news and politics are the preferred reading for BBs.  Politics is a no-no for Mills, though, who much prefer sport.

Business is about even for all three, but it comes a long way down the list.  That supports the idea that blogs should entertain and provide news and views, not sell or discuss the nitty-gritty of business. Then again, it could also reflect the fact that people are reading content away from work and don’t want to be reminded of it in their leisure hours.  The fact that healthy living and comedy came fourth and fifth in the list tends to back this up.

The least-favoured genres were interesting, I thought: style came bottom, followed by the environment (both of those did better with Mills) and parenting was third from the bottom, most popular with GXs – well it would be, wouldn’t it?

Timing matters

When’s the best time to post your content, or tell people you’ve posted it?  For BBs it’s late morning (defined as 9.00-11.59 am), and that’s quite a good time for the younger groups too.  Then there’s a dip for everyone through the afternoon.  Early evening(6.00-7.59 pm) is a good time for BBs but lousy for GXs.  They peak sharply, along with Mills, in the late evening (8.00-11.59 pm), when BBs are pacing up for the night.

Midnight to 5.00 am(the start of the “early morning” slot) is not a good time for any of the groups which, again, I found surprising at first sight.  But I guess even the youngest respondent probably has to get up for work.  And the research was done in the States, where “early to bed and early to rise” is still something of a mantra – hence the 5am start to the research day.

What do people read your content on?

Laptops and desktops beat all other devices for all three groups, with BBs using both of them more than the other two groups.  It wasn’t a shock to discover that Mills read over a quarter of their content on mobiles – in fact, they make up over 50% of the people who use mobiles as their primary device for content.  BBs, on the other hand, make up only 14%, and read only about 7% of content on mobiles. Something to do with failing eyesight, perhaps?

Tablets don’t seem to be very popular with any of the groups.  They’re neither fish, flesh nor good red herring: don’t fit in your pocket or handbag and don’t have the capacity of a laptop, so that’s hardly surprising.

But clearly, optimising your content for mobile is vital – even without taking into account Google’s approach to search listings.

Where is content shared?

Facebook wins hands down: it’s used for around 60% of shares by all three groups.  YouTube, in second place, manages only 10-15% of shares and Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest all struggle along at 0-10%.

Inevitably, though, there are generational differences. GXs use Twitter for over 70% of their shares, while BBs prefer Google+, apparently, using it for 92% of shares.  (Really?!?!?  I hardly know anyone who uses it.  Is it much bigger in the States than over here?)

What are they sharing?  Mainly images and videos.  Blogs weren’t mentioned, which suggests that you need a darn good image for your blog and a link attached to it if people are going to find your words of wisdom through someone else’s share.  And Twitter posts with photos get far more shares than plain text ones, in my experience, which is another good reason for an eye-catching image.

So there you have it (and if you’re a BB you’ve statistically very unlikely to have read this far): the nitty gritty of who reads what, when, where and how – and maybe even some of the why.

So can you create a one-size-fits-all campaign?

Yup – keep on blogging and using great images.

It would be worth segmenting your mailing list by age group, if you have that information, and sending your emails out at different times of day.

Definitely make sure your content is mobile-friendly.

Make ‘em laugh.

And keep business right out of it.





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