Evaluating the Extent to which Social Media Affects the Lifestyle Decisions of Millennials and Gen Z'ers

Student: Aliza Manekia
Table: BEHAV2
Experimentation location: School
Regulated Research (Form 1c): No
Project continuation (Form 7): No

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Have you ever searched for something on the internet one day and then, the next thing you know, an advertisement for it is popping up on your social media feed? This is how companies use social media to their advantage to influence your decision-making and get you to buy their products. While platforms, such as Instagram and Tik Tok, are growing exponentially in popularity, they have become the core of marketing for many brands, big and small. These platforms allow companies to directly reach their consumers through their own content, paid advertisements by influencers, and targeted marketing. Based on this information, this research focuses on two generations that have been greatly influenced by social media and not only looks at them as a whole, but compares their habits and decisions. Brands will be able to determine how to effectively advertise to a specific demographic and how influential the content they are already posting is as a result of this research.The core question of this research emerges: how do Millenials and Gen Z’ers differ when it comes to their purchasing behavior on social media in terms of being persuaded by targeted advertisements and influencers? It has been hypothesized that Millennials have a more positive attitude towards adapting to different lifestyles and purchasing habits advertised on social media than Generation Zers. Furthermore, it is hypothesized that the more influencers one follows, the more advertisements they will receive on their feed.



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Hillier, Lizzy. “Behind Kylie Jenner's Success in a Saturated Cosmetics Industry.” Econsultancy, 4 Dec. 2019.

Nations, Daniel. “What Is Facebook? Here's What You Should Know.” Lifewire, Lifewire, 19 Dec. 2019, 

Ortiz-Ospina, Esteban. “The Rise of Social Media.” Our World in Data, Sept. 2019. 

Park, Boram. "Millennial Consumers’ Cause-Related Product Purchase Decision-Making Process and the Influence of Social Media ." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2014. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center

Pradiptarini, Charity. “Social Media Marketing: Measuring Its Effectiveness and Identifying the Target Market .” Semantics Scholar, UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research XIV, 2011.

Rousseau, Cella Lao. “Instagram Users Are Reporting the Same Strange New Hack.” IMore, IMore, 14 Aug. 2018


Additional Project Information

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Project files

Research Plan:



A survey consisting of 14 questions inquiring about general demographics, social media habits, as well as purchasing habits was sent out to over 580 people; most responses were gained organically (through the people it was originally sent out to) but others were gathered through Amazon MTurk. This survey was presented to participants. through a Google Form in which they obtained the link for. Since some participants that took my survey were under the age of 18, a release form/question was added to the beginning as a precaution. Participants could not take the rest of the survey if they did not meet the requirements of the gating questions. The questions that were asked are listed below:

1. Please check this box if you are under 18 years old and a parent or guardian has allowed you to take this survey

2. what year were you born?

3. Which generation are you a part of? 

4. Which social media platforms do you use? 

5. What do you use social media for? 

6. How long do you spend on social media per day (this includes every social media app) ex: ______ hours and ______ minutes

7. How many brands or companies do you follow? ex: Nike, NBC, Vogue magazine, etc. 

8. Think about all the people you follow. How many of them have 10K+ followers? Please estimate the number and fill it in below.

9. If you're scrolling through Instagram, how many ads do you receive on your feed? (on your stories and picture feed) 

10. How often do the ads you see on social media correspond with the brands, companies, and people you follow? 

11. How often do the ads you see on social media correspond with the things you search for on the internet?

12. If an ad for something you searched on the internet comes up on your social media feed, how often do you purchase the item? 

13. How often do you purchase items based on an ad you saw on a social media platform?

14. If you see something on social media that you would like to buy, how long do you usually wait until purchasing it? (click the option that best describes you) 

An additional experiment was set up and conducted directly on Instagram where an account with 0 followers and posts followed specific increments of influencers each week (100, 450, 800); influencers were defined as people who either had 10K followers or were verified. On each day for a week, data was collected on the number of advertisements seen in Instagram stories and general feed at specific times in the day (9:00 am, 12:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 6:00 pm). 


Risk and Safety 

There are no potential risks or safety precautions that need to be taken in order for my project to progress. 


Data Analysis

The data was then divided into categories based on the decades each person was born into: 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Doing this split up the generations to see if this was truly a generational habit or it more so depended on the year they were born and how much life experience they have. Being split into the categories of “I buy it immediately” and “I usually wait to buy” in regard to desired products they see on social media, 40.7% of people born in the 1990s said that they would buy said product immediately. Compared to the 31.3% of people born in the 80s and 8.8% from the 2000s, this data point shows how frivolously the 90s group can spend their money. They are transitioning from a time in their lives when they are younger and want to buy everything they see to being older and more responsible with their money. Referring to the percentages previously cited, being that the data for the 1980s and 2000s group were skewed one way, their null hypothesis (Being born in a specific decade has no effect on purchasing habits and money spent on social media) was rejected. This means there was a difference between the two responses when their chi-square value was compared to the critical value. However, since the 1990s group data was more evenly distributed between the “I buy immediately” and “I usually wait to buy”, their null hypothesis (Being born in the 1990s has no effect on purchasing habits or money spent on social media) was accepted when their chi-square value was compared to the critical value. Using this data, brands can determine who to target in terms of their marketing and can define which groups are easy to convince to try their products. Pie charts were made to represent how often Millennials and Generation Zers would buy a desired product if they saw an ad for it on social media. Millennials had a larger distribution among each category (never, rarely, sometimes, often, always). Most people, however, fell into the “sometimes” category with making up 38.7% of this population. When a chi-square test was performed, the null hypothesis (Having been born in the Millennial generation has no effect on purchasing a desired product off of social media) was rejected. With Generation Zers, they had a more negative and skewed purchasing habits. The “never” and “rarely” categories make up most of the population as they take up 74.7% together. 3.1% of the Gen Z population made up the “always” category of this question. Though the null hypothesis (Having been born in Generation Z has no effect on purchasing a desired product off of social media)was rejected, it supports the hypothesis that millennials have more positive purchasing habits on social media. This easily could be accounted for by the fact that millennials have more of the financial bandwidth to take on expenses like this and even the eldest Gen Z’er has just started their career and have other priorities. This data shows brands that they would need to cater their advertising specifically to different demographics and especially to gen z, their persuasion in their advertising needs to be stronger and more convincing. 

The second half of this research proved its hypothesis correct with showing as the number of influencers followed increased, the amount of targeted advertisements showing up on the Instagram feed increased. The data showed a positive and dramatic trend of and increase of ads throughout the weeks as the number of followers heavily increases as well. Another significant trend seen in the graph is that most advertisements were seen at 9:00 AM. This can be because many influencers are still posting throughout the day and Instagram continues to track your internet searches through “cookies” to gather data on what would be the best products to show you in the morning. When the number of influencers followers were compared to each other, it had a p-value less than the critical value of 0.01, therefore, the null hypothesis (The number of influencers followed has no effect on the amount of advertisements received on Instagram feed) was accepted. This data defines the instagram algorithm, shows how ad heavy social media is, shows the manipulation of social media in a certain sense. There is a clear trap of social media and once you fall into it, it makes it easier for your feed to persuade you into buying products directly off of the app. For brands though, this is a good thing because it means their ads are working at targeting the right because.


Social media platforms, such as Instagram, have become the core of marketing for many international brands. This study compares the influence of social media on the habits and decision making of millennials and Gen Zers. A survey was conducted which asked basic demographic questions as well as specific questions about general social media habits and purchasing decisions based off of the responders chosen media platform. Additionally, an experiment was conducted directly on Instagram where an account was set up to follow different increments of influencers over the course of three weeks to determine how the number of sponsored/targeted marketing ads fluctuated in response. The purpose of this was to see how the number of sponsored/target marketing ads fluctuated based on how many influencers were followed. From the survey, it was found that Millennials (1981-1995) have generally increased purchasing habits than Generation Z’ers. Gen Z (1996-2007) have much more negative and skewed attitudes towards purchasing a desired product off of social media (74.7% never or rarely buy a desired product). The findings from the survey shows brands/companies that they would need to alter their marketing to be able to reach Gen Z if that is their target demographic. A generation of young people who are more careful with their money is harder to convince to buy a nonessential product. The data directly from Instagram showed a predicted steady trend where when the increase of influencers followed, so did the increase in sponsored advertisements (100 influencers = 29.99 ads/day; 800 influencers =176.57 ads/day).. The findings from the Instagram ads essentially helps us to define the Instagram algorithm; it displays how “ad-heavy” the platform is and the manipulation of consumers that occurs.



Questions and Answers

1. What was the major objective of your project and what was your plan to achieve it? 

       a. Was that goal the result of any specific situation, experience, or problem you encountered?  

       b. Were you trying to solve a problem, answer a question, or test a hypothesis?

The major objective of this project was to collect data on the social media habits of two generations that have been greatly impacted by the growth and success of platforms such as Instagram. It was imperative to get results on how the weight of social media and the influence it continues to have on people can persuade lifestyles decisions. I have been working and interning in social media since the beginning of high school so it has been my job to persuade people to follow others and be in agreement with their message/brand. The goal of this was to answer a question about how generations with limited funds spend their money to follow trends and keep up with influencers on the internet. With this information and results, the intention is to spread it to other brands and influencers so they can use it to correctly reach their specific demographic. 

2. What were the major tasks you had to perform in order to complete your project?

       a. For teams, describe what each member worked on.

 Besides developing the project idea itself, this project had a few key masks that were performed to complete it. The first consisted on creating the questions that would go into the survey. I had to come to the conclusion that I would not be sending out multiple surveys like my initial project plan had intended so the questions had to not only ask about basic demographics but also had to ask and specifically phrase questions on people's general social media habits. The next major task was collecting responses; this started with sending out the survey to my own circle (friends, family, other people I had connections to). This proved to be difficult as out of the 315 people I reached out to, only about half of them responded. To resolve this issue, I send out my survey on Amazon MTurk, which was a task of its own, to increase my sample size and get a larger variety of answers. The final major task that I performed to complete this project was data analysis. This task took about 4 months to do; these 4 months consisted of created multiple graphs that represented different connecting variables and creating different types of graphs that represented the same connection. The actual statistical analysis took additional time as various tests had to be performed for each graph that was made to ensure that it showed the results that I received. 

3. What is new or novel about your project?

       a. Is there some aspect of your project's objective, or how you achieved it that you haven't done before?

       b. Is your project's objective, or the way you implemented it, different from anything you have seen?

       c. If you believe your work to be unique in some way, what research have you done to confirm that it is?

As previously mentioned, this research examines generations that have been greatly impacted by Instagram and its rise. Previously conducted research has mainly focused on how brands use social media to their advantage and does not center around these specific and highly affected groups like Millennials and Generation Z'ers. My research not only takes that into consideration but also focuses on an exact platform like Instagram. 


4. What was the most challenging part of completing your project?

      a. What problems did you encounter, and how did you overcome them?

      b. What did you learn from overcoming these problems?

The most challenging part of completing this project was gaining responses and ensuring that the amount of responses that I have are not skewed in any way. First, collecting data from my own circle proved to be somewhat ineffective as many people did not fill out the survey within the timeframe that was given. To overcome this, I send my survey out on Amazon MTurk where I was able to get over 400 more responses. The problem that came along with this was there was a larger skew towards Millennials in the data so there was not an almost even amount of Generation Z'ers that had participated in the survey. The solution to this problem was to reach back into the people in my own circle & school to have them take the survey. I was not able to reach an even 50/50 between the number of Millennials and Generation Z'ers that took the survey but I was able to obtain a ratio where I would be able to do data analysis and have significant results. From essentially encountering the same problem twice, I learned that I have to be a bit more aggressive in my research. This is in the sense of following up with people to make sure they are taking my survey and sending out more emails to people to again ask them to fill out their responses. 

5. If you were going to do this project again, are there any things you would you do differently the next time?

If I were to do this project again, I would have done the second half of my research a bit differently. Instead of setting up only one Instagram account that had no content on it and only followed influencers, I would have set up a couple of different accounts that actually had a "personality" to it that followed a certain types of people and determine if that had an impact on how many ads that person saw. An example would be having an account that only followed reality show celebrities or sport stars or Youtube influencers. Along with the initial idea I had pursued, making these other Instagram accounts would have made a stronger case for my research. 

6. Did working on this project give you any ideas for other projects? 

Working on this gave me an idea of how to set up this project for the researcher that wants to continue my research after I graduate. I would be incredibly compelling to focus in more on Generation Z'ers. The results of this project revealed that they are more frugal with their money as they do not have enough to spend. However, being a part of this generation myself, it is clear that they do indeed spend money on trends rather than products in advertisements. Many Gen Z'ers love to "fit in" and be a part of the trend and a lot of them will spend what they need to to make sure they are wearing the right thing and going to the right places. 

7. How did COVID-19 affect the completion of your project?

COVID-19 affected and delayed the timeline of my project. This preliminary parts of this research required me to meet with my advisor almost everyday and have frequent communication with my mentor from Vanderbilt University. As I was not able to meet with them as often as I would have liked, the publishing date of my survey was delayed by at least 3 weeks. Fortunately, I did not see any other major effects of COVID on my project.