Nate Elliott[Posted by Nate Elliott]

If you're a marketer targeting Gen X consumers (which we define as consumers between 30 and 43), and you're not using social media or influence marketing, it's time to reevaluate your strategy. Our new report, Brands Should Reach Gen Xers Through Word Of Mouth, sheds some new light on these consumers and their use of social technologies.

Although Gen X includes users well into their forties, this audience is surprisingly engaged with social media. They're more active than average on nearly every rung of our social technographics ladder — especially as joiners, with 59% of Gen X consumers telling us they use social networks at least once each month. Best of all, many are using social influence to make product recommendations: 42% say they often tell friends about the products and services that interest them.

So if you want to leverage this sharing behavior to reach Gen X consumers (or any other socially active online audience, for that matter), what should you do?

  • Give all your customers the tools they need to share. If you don't already encourage your customers to pass along your content, now's the time to start.Tools like ShareThis and AddThis make it easy to add sharing functionality to your site. And don't forget: as valuable as Twitter and Facebook can be for driving word of mouth, most people make product recommendations through private channels like e-mail and IM.
  • Find — and leverage — your brand advocates. We're pleased to see how many marketers are working to drive word of mouth — but we're aghast at how some of those marketers try to identify their most influential customers. More than half simply reach out to every member of their e-mail list and hope that some of them will drive influence (see Figure 7). Marketers have better tools at their disposal for finding brand advocates: mine your sales database to find your most loyal and valuable customers, and run surveys to find users who think most highly of your brand and are most likely to pass the word along.
  • Don't forget the power of offline influence. Online influence can work wonders, but offline influence is both more common (see Figure 11) and more powerful (see page 18). Savvy marketers are using social media to organize offline events where customers can energize each other around products and brands, and to create and manage ambassador programs that extend both online and off. (Look for my new report on driving offline influence, due to publish in the next few weeks.)

Have you had success reaching Gen X consumers through social media or worth of mouth? If so, we'd love to hear about your experiences — please leave a comment below.