Gen X seems to be the forgotten generation when it comes to social media. The conventional wisdom based on the growth of platforms like Snapchat and TikTok is that teenagers and young adults are the early adopters of emerging social media networks. However, with the rise of Clubhouse and other audio-based social media platforms, Gen X is defying standard adoption patterns — and proving it still has cultural cache on social media.
It’s easy to forget that Gen X were the social media pioneers. That’s why the average social media user is older than you might expect. While Facebook and Instagram audiences fit neatly into the millennial generation, the average user on other networks including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest is a member of Gen X.
This oft forgotten generation is the largest age group across the social media ecosystem. They are the Silicon Valley elite behind popular tech brands including Google, Apple, Twitter and Tesla (yes, Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk are both Gen Xers). They’re also the generation responsible for inventing social media and mainstreaming the internet.
Gen Xers have proven time and again to be early adopters of social media, so it should come as no surprise that they are the driving force behind the latest trend of audio-first social communities like Clubhouse.
Gen X influencers shine on Clubhouse
Clubhouse is an invite-only live audio app that allows people to listen and participate in conversations in real time. The experience is like that of an endless virtual conference and represents the natural evolution of audio media.
In essence, Clubhouse is addressing a market demand for a more interactive podcast — with Gen X driving this need.
Not only do 45% of podcast listeners have an annual household income of more than $250,000, but they’re also 68% more likely to have a postgraduate degree, according to data aggregated by Small Biz Genius. These stats point to a higher likelihood that Clubhouse has attracted a significant Gen X following.
In fact, with a minimum age requirement (but no age verification to speak of), Clubhouse seems to be targeting an older demographic. Rather than trying to tap into the cultural force of teenagers, Clubhouse founders can credit its meteoric rise to the trust it secured from Silicon Valley insiders, venture capitalists and CEOs before opening the platform to entertainers, influencers and other business professionals.
The result is that top creators aren’t the Gen Z up-and-comers you’d expect to see on an emerging social media network. They are those who already have an established platform — even if they don’t have a large social media following elsewhere.
This is evident with the “Creator Pilot Program” created by Catherine Connors, an early parenting blogger and former head of content at Disney Interactive, who hosts two regular talk shows on the app — and is herself a Gen Xer.
Connors told The New York Times: “What an interesting personality looks like on Clubhouse is different than what it looks like on other platforms. Several people in the pilot program are in their 40s or 50s.”
Connecting with the next generation of professionals
Gen X influencers might be more prominent on Clubhouse than on other emerging networks, but there’s still space for younger generations. In fact, Gen Xers contribute to the draw for members of Gen Z who are interested in learning from experienced insiders and experts.
Beyond its temporary nature, Clubhouse aims to facilitate authenticity, connection, and inclusivity with this new audio-social format. These are qualities that Gen Z audiences value, as they’re often interested in getting to know the people behind the brands with which they interact. What Clubhouse offers is unprecedented access to interact with and learn from celebrities, CEOs and thought leaders.
Unlike other networks where members of Gen Z flock for entertainment, the younger generation is turning to Clubhouse for career advice and to connect with industry leaders. These kinds of connections are fostered by the app’s bias for deep conversation. Some Gen Zers are even creating their own spaces to talk about business, careers, social media and more.
Cultivating community and bridging the generational gap
Clubhouse and other audio-focused online communities represent a kind of return to the early ideals of social media as a place for creating genuine community. From being a place to connect with people you already know, to becoming a branding and broadcasting medium, social media has, over the years, become less about the community and more about the bottom line.
Clubhouse is not an advertising platform, but that doesn’t mean brands can’t leverage this new channel for brand building and awareness. With the pilot influencer program, there’s an opportunity for businesses to inject more humanity into the brand-consumer relationship than ever before. And if they get it right, this relationship and community focused approach could be just the thing that gives the new audio-social trend practical business application.
At least for now, Gen Xers are emerging as the early adopters and emerging influencers on Clubhouse. They’re the ones who have the tech savvy and the experience to carry the kinds of deep-dive conversations happening on the still nascent social platform.
However, Gen Z is taking notice, and tuning in to connect with and soak up the wisdom of older users. What’s more, they’re creating their own clubs to discuss life, career and all the things they value most. In this environment, Gen Xers might also discover there are things to learn from the youth.
Eric Dahan is chief executive and co-founder of Open Influence.