Understanding Generation Y and their use of social media: a review and research agenda

  • Ruth N. Bolton, A. Parasuraman, Ankie Hoefnagels, Nanne Migchels, Sertan Kabadayi, Thorsten Gruber, Yuliya Komarova Loureiro, David Solnet
  • Journal of Service Management, June 2013, Emerald
  • DOI: 10.1108/09564231311326987

How does Generation Y use social media?

What is it about?

Generation Y (defined as those born between 1981 and 1990) are often described as “digital natives” – they have grown up with technology and are expected to be highly skilled in the digital environment and strong users of social media. Research bears some of these assumptions out, but there is still a lot we don’t know about how this group of people use social media, why, and what effects this has on both them and wider society. Here’s what we do know • Most Generation Y users use social media to interact with others, and prefer social media to more traditional methods of communication • Users create content as well as consume it, unlike older generations who prefer to browse • Disposable income and access to mobile devices are linked to the amount and type of social media use • Country specific policy can affect what social media use is possible, with some countries imposing restrictions on Internet access • Using social media can benefit users by boosting social capital and contributing to emotional well-being • There can be negative effects of using social media, including cyber bullying, loss of control of personal data, and internet addiction. What we don’t know Studies to date are limited – here are a few potential research questions raised by the authors: • Most studies to date are based on students – might Generation Y’s behaviours change as they progress through different stages of their life? • Most studies rely on subjects to report their own behaviours – is this accurate? • Does the nature of use change depending on the platform of use, e.g. Facebook versus Twitter? • How does social media affect users’ long term mental health?

Why is it important?

There is much for managers and policymakers to learn by understanding more about how this generation interacts with social media. For example, whether what users say on social media accurately reflects their behaviour, or how best to engage with customer-facing Generation Y staff. Much more research is needed in order to comprehend the consequences of social media usage by the digital natives.


Thorsten Gruber
Loughborough University

How does Generation Y use social media and why does it matter? If policymakers and managers want to engage with their ‘digital native’ customers and employees, they need to understand their social media habits. Research shows that Generation Y prefers social media to traditional methods of communication, they like to create content as well as consume it, and use social media as a way of building their social capital. There has also been much coverage of the negative effects of social media. This review warns against overgeneralizing based on existing studies, and also poses some provocative questions for further investigation, including whether social media can affect long-term mental health.

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The following have contributed to this page: Thorsten Gruber