Food Forum: Bridging the social media gap

Grocers need to tailor their social media outreach to older members of the Gen Y and Baby Boom generations.

By Richard J. George

How do the older members of Generation Y (Mature Millennials, or MMs) compare to the older members of the Baby Boom generation (Mature Baby Boomers or MBBs) in terms of the use of social media? I have recently completed a national study of these two generations, which provides some interesting insights for food retailers.

When it comes to social networks, 85% of MMs participate in social networks compared to 62% of MBBs. The preferred social network is Facebook with 58% of MBBs who are social network members enjoying Facebook membership. On the other hand, 82% of MMs who participate on social networks are Facebook members.

Most members of both generations appear to participate for social reasons—to keep in touch with friends and family or to share pictures. However, the differences in usage vary dramatically by generation. More than 80% of MMs use social media to keep in touch with friends and family. Slightly more than half of MBBs use social media for the same purpose.

Both generations were asked to identify the reasons for joining a fan page. Not surprisingly, the primary reason for joining a fan page is to receive coupons and discount offers. However, the need for knowledge or information crosses both generations with at least 20% of each generation joining a fan page to stay current on available new products and to learn more about the company/organization.

Finally, respondents were asked to identify the extent to which social media sites influenced their attitudes and/or behavior. Mature Millennials used social media sites for research purposes significantly more than members of the older generation.

Social network participation by both generations demands a Facebook page as a minimum. In addition, targeting Mature Millennials means developing a presence for both LinkedIn (100 million-plus registered users) and Twitter (200 million-plus registered users). While both generations primarily use social networks for personal interactions, the professional uses represent a real opportunity for food retailers. Food retailers can use these websites to recruit the best and brightest. In addition, Mature Millennials are using these sites to find information about products, services and the companies offering these products/services for sale.

Also, these sites act as an instant messenger for disseminating tales of dissatisfaction and attempted complaint resolutions. Essentially, the Internet in general, and these social networks in particular, have allowed every user to engage in “best practices sharing” when it comes to buying groceries, fresh and nonfoods at food retail.

These social sites represent the modern day equivalent of the “back yard fence” where neighbors used to share information, opinions and recommendations. The “wired” food retailer operator who monitors these sites and engages the customer in a dialogue is in the position to strengthen and, in many cases, to develop a relationship as a caring, responsive marketer.

For both generations, the primary reason for joining a fan page is economic—to receive coupons and discount offers. However, fan page members seek information about new products as well as about the company. That offers grocers a terrific opportunity to continue to engage potential customers on a one-to-one basis.

These social media sites are viewed as a great resource for researching food retailers. This is true of both generations but doubly so for Mature Millennials. These fan pages give new meaning to “word of mouth” advertising. No longer will the traditional methods of discovery and engagement of your business by customers work. Where and how people discover and engage your food retailing operation has fundamentally changed.

Recommendations—both positive and negative—from social media friends significantly influence store visits. Technology will allow grocers to manage word of mouth.

However, technology is simply the tool. Supermarkets need to develop social media strategies that differentiates their stores and make optimum use of technology.

Richard J. George, Ph.D. is chair and professor of food marketing, Gerald E. Peck Fellow, at the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He can be reached at 610-660-1608,, or

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