Linked Out


Whenever the subject comes up, I tell people that I have never used social media. Technically, that assertion is not 100-percent true.

Back when LinkedIn was first becoming a thing, almost 20 years ago, a business friend of mine, at a trade show, asked me to connect to him on the platform. Then, as now, I had no real interest in joining an online community, but I didn’t want to offend him, and I couldn’t see any particular downside to it.

After that I got requests to make connections quite often, and treated them all the same way. If it was someone who subscribed to one of our magazines I accepted the request, but if it was someone trying to sell me insurance I did not. Over time I collected a couple hundred connections but I never communicated with any of them, with one exception.

I received a short note from an old friend through LinkedIn a number of years ago, and I wrote back to him. At least I think I did. I know I pushed “send,” but I’ve never heard from him since, so I’m not altogether certain.

My most recent brush with social media came a few months ago, when I received a LinkedIn email which featured the name and image of a woman who has worked in the industry for a long time. We are casually acquainted, so I followed my standing rule and clicked on a button that I assumed would signify my acceptance of her invitation.

After doing so I happened to re-read the email a little more carefully, and realized that it was not an invitation. It was a suggestion that I invite the person featured in the email to connect with me. It seemed that by clicking on it, I had inadvertently reached out to another human being, someone I barely knew, on social media for the first time in my life.

What if she said no? That would certainly mark the end of my career in social media.

Fortunately, she accepted. I’m sure she wondered what prompted my sudden burst of friendliness, but I’m guessing she has the same policy that I do about not offending people.

At any rate, that’s the extent of my experience with internet associations. As a private citizen, it is my prerogative to avoid social media and all its benefits, and in fact around 30 percent of adult Americans claim to do so (about 7 percent say that they decline to use the internet at all).

As a businessperson, however, you no longer have much choice. You can integrate Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tik Tok, et al with your marketing and communication efforts, or you can make it almost impossible for your company to survive. I say “almost” because there are some rare exceptions, but they pretty much just prove the rule.

Around the time I first signed up for LinkedIn, I wrote an editorial for one of our publications about the burgeoning use of cell phones, particularly among younger people. It was one of those old-man rants, about kids communicating with each other on their phones while they were sitting in the same room, or looking down instead of up at sporting events, or lighting up a movie theater with small screens, or whatever. It was a very popular column.

What I didn’t get back then, among other things, was that social networks and cellphones were not two separate phenomena. They each fueled the exponential growth of the other, and though technically they could stand alone, in practice they are intertwined. You could compare them to the oil business and automobile manufacturing in the early 20th century, or to movies and movie theaters in the 1930s.

With those other industry pairings, it was young people who got the boomtimes going. Younger people are more adventurous, more energetic, and less attached to old technologies and ways of doing things. It’s not that they had anything against horses (or live theater), they were just willing to try something new.

Such is also the case with social media, and it’s becoming more so all the time. According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, the number of teenagers who are online most of their waking hours has nearly doubled since 2015. Almost half of them acknowledge that they are on the Internet “almost constantly,” and 35 percent are on social media.

The question for merchants such as yourself, though, is what particular social platform are they using, which ones are other people using, and which one is everybody going to use next month. I guess that’s three questions.

The answers are based upon when your prospective customers were born, and most of them fall into four groups. Boomers were born from 1946 to 1964, Gen X from 1965 to 1980, Millennials from 1981 to 1996, and Generation Z from 1997 to 2012.

Most Baby Boomers use the Internet, and 82 percent of those have at least one social-media account. They communicate and do research online but are less likely to make purchases on their phone. Facebook, though originally designed for college kids, is far and away their app of choice.

Even though Generation X is relatively small, it now controls the majority of leadership positions in business and government, and almost a third of all U.S. income. Surprisingly, it uses social media more often than Millennials, at nearly seven hours per week on average, but uses it in much the same ways as Boomers. Facebook is dominant with this generation as well.

There seems to be a dividing line between Xers and Millennials, not only in terms of which apps they use but in how they use them. Millennials do not divide their lives into separate channels for personal and professional purposes the way Boomers and Xers do, and they rely more on peer referrals than private research for purchases. They still like Facebook, but they also depend on Instagram (21 percent), YouTube (11 percent) and Snapchat (22 percent).

Generation Z appears to be developing like Millennials on steroids. They spend considerably more time online and have many more social apps. They like the same platforms but in greater numbers, with 44 percent using Instagram, 32 percent using YouTube and 21 percent using Snapchat. Tik Tok, which wasn’t launched in the U.S. until 2018, is used by 67 percent of kids between the ages of 13 and 17.

For what it’s worth, the only social app that is embraced about equally across the generations is Pinterest. It reaches around 15 percent of all those on social media.

As far as my third question is concerned, I have no idea what the most popular apps will be next month, let alone next year. If I did I would be very popular on Wall Street.

What I do know is that the coming generations will be multiplatform, and any effort you make to communicate with them will need to be as well.

If you wish to communicate with me, on the other hand, a simple email will suffice.

You can e-mail Kevin at

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