Talkin’ ’bout my generation

Breaking down the social media differences across the generations

Learn how social media use generally varies among members of different generations and how to connect with your colleagues from different age groups online.


I thought I was the coolest mom. The year was 2016, and I had just checked my Facebook account. I was sending messages, posting online and even taking classes from live feeds on my social media. As I “liked” photos of old college friends, I thought about how incredible it was that I could stay connected to people I might not have seen or heard from in years.

I started to tell my then 13-year-old daughter about all of this and ask if she knew about Facebook when she interrupted me to say, “Mom, Facebook is for old people.” I was so disconnected from any sense of other social media at the time, I didn’t even understand what she was saying—meanwhile, she had been following Instagram postings via YouTube like a number of her peers.

Since then, social media has advanced much more, and physicians can now even obtain continuing medical education (CME) credit through some institutions by following medical education topics on social media, and medical school classes and students use Facebook, Instagram and TikTok for connecting and posting events.

During my time at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) and various conferences, I have anecdotally noticed that different age groups tend to prefer different social media platforms and communication vehicles.

A 2021 study by the Pew Research Center lined up with my observations—while YouTube and Facebook were the most frequently used among American adults, with 81% viewing content on YouTube and 69% on Facebook, use of Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok was found to be more common for users under 30 years old.

Below is a breakdown of how social media use generally varies across the generations as well as a discussion of how understanding these generational differences can help us better connect with each other.

“Baby Boomers,” born between 1946-1964

For baby boomers, values stem from collectivism, idealism and revolutionary ideals. They have historically reported tendencies toward native news media sources such as newspapers, radio and television. Since then, baby boomers have self-referenced themselves the “digital immigrants” of society.

This age group primarily uses the internet for information collection, global updates, health news and financial updates. Baby boomers have also been described as “quality content” viewers, spending more time online and viewing media with more consistency than any other current generation.

In a 2017 study by the Coolhunting Group, 91% of baby boomers were reported to use one or more social media networks. Baby boomers’ presence on social platforms increased from 24% of users to 48% in one year.

In a medical setting, if you are a colleague attempting to contact a physician in this generation, your best bet is to reach out via Facebook, email or text message.

“Generation X,” born between 1965-1980

This generation is well-known for their “work hard, play hard” approach to life. They are independent, having been raised with minimal adult supervision, and can be resourceful and technologically described as “hybrid.”

In the medical arena, they are entrepreneurial and willing to take on new challenges. The focus of this generation tends to be on productivity, growth and promotion in one’s career, along with teamwork and connecting with others.

Members of this generation, along with millennial adults, were likely to use LinkedIn for employment and connection opportunities as well. 51% of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher were found to have frequently used the platform to search for job positions, information on potential company connections and co-workers.

In their use of social media, they are focused on staying in touch with small groups of people with meaningful connections, sharing opinions with like-minded colleagues and collecting information. The primary preferred social media platforms of this generation are Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

“Millennials,” born between 1981-1995

“Generation Y,” also known as millennials, has been described as globally conscious, oriented to self-awareness and connected with others. This generation emerged as incredibly tech-savvy in comparison to Generation X, and they are well-known for multitasking and connection via virtual platforms.

They are also both achievement-oriented and experiential-focused. They have tendencies to invest in experiences over achievements and are described as the “happiest generation,” with a strong focus on self-care, balancing mind, body and spirit with ease.

In medicine, this generation will generally prioritize lifestyle and career satisfaction over salary. This generation is also known to use social media to connect with friends and family, research social events and global updates, as entertainment and to share content. The most common social media platforms this generation uses are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

“Generation Z,” born between 1996-2015

In contrast to millennials, while Gen Z is demonstrating themselves to be the rock star generation of their time in regards to technology, virtual connections and online social innovations; they are also more likely to report suffering from mental health challenges than members of other generations.

Members of Gen Z passed several important developmental years during the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic. A McKinsey study from 2023 showed higher rates of poor mental, spiritual and social health of Gen Z survey respondents compared with other generations.

With 45% of this generation reporting they are online “almost constantly,” this generation could be labeled as overly attached to virtual platforms. However, they have also demonstrated unprecedented national political mobilization at very young ages. Together, they have staged national school walkouts to take a stand against gun violence, even among middle-school aged students. Using primarily social media outlets, they mobilized the March for Our Lives movement in less than six weeks back in 2018, and it is still going strong today.

In medicine, with greater than 70% of this generation (along with millennials) considering career changes and leaving jobs, this could be a very powerful workforce emerging as they soon start to enter residency and become physicians.

How to best follow this group of up-and-coming physicians? Their most popularly used social media platforms are Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. The Pew study found that around 50% of 18- to 29-year-olds use TikTok for entertainment as well. BeReal and Threads are too new to have been fully researched, but are both quickly gaining popularity.

Look out for the movers and shakers of our profession—this generation has seen and lived through unprecedented challenges, and they know how to mobilize using the power of virtual platforms to create the change they want to see.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

The doctor will video chat with you now: Perspectives on telehealth

The dangers of social media trends


  1. Shaun

    Cool report
    But the generations are wrong

    Baby Boomers are up to 1954. The Jones generation is 1955 up to 1964. This is important because the Jones generation has a close alliance and overlap with Gen X because the Jones generation had access to computers and video games it makes a difference when you’re talking about this.

  2. Valerie V Romanski, D.O.

    I appreciate this timely article. With the changes taking place in society and medicine moving at rapid pace along with major world events and climate change it will be important to know where our voices will be heard.

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