Using Facebook Topic Data to Understand Millennials’ Attitude to Food

Kester Ford
6th January 2016 1 Comment

Millennials, that mysterious tribe of under 35 year olds, how is a grizzled old marketer supposed to understand them? We hear from the media that they all speak only in emoji, are addicted to selfies and think that swiping right is a meaningful commitment, but are they really a different species? What, for example, do they eat?

One company believed that millennials hold fundamentally different attitudes to food than older consumers. They decided to use Facebook topic data to measure and understand these differences so that they could develop new creative campaigns that would engage millennial consumers more effectively.

In order to get these insights the company identified Facebook posts and engagements (likes, shares, comments) that focused on general interest in the topic of food and also on specific food trends that the company was already interested in (such as reduced meat, natural food and gluten free). Such is the scale of engagement on Facebook around food related topics that, in the first week, the company collected over thirteen million anonymized interactions from which to draw insights.

So that they could understand how different audiences were engaging with food, the company classified all of the data by a number of different criteria: was the post about eating out or staying in? was it referring to one of the pre-defined food trends? were people sharing breakfasts, lunches or dinners? As well as understanding all of the dimensions that the company chose to add to the data, Facebook topic data comes prepopulated with self-declared demographic information and topics from the Facebook graph that were to prove very useful to their analysis. The topics allowed the company to see which food brands and even foodstuffs people were engaging with – straight out of the box (by that I mean that they got the data straight out of the box, not that people were necessarily eating straight out of the box – though they may have been).

The company now had all the information they needed to find out about their elusive target audience – and they were surprised by what they found. They discovered that as a group, millennials are – hang onto your hats – not that different from the rest of us. They did discover that those under 35 are more likely to post photographs related to food than older Facebook users, but there were negligible differences in the content engaged with by those either side of the 35 dividing line.

However, they were still able to get insights to help them build better creative for different audiences. They were to able identify significant differences between the food habits of different nations and different demographic groups. For example US males aged 25-34 are more interested in a reduced meat diet than the general population – including other millennials. The company were able to start optimizing campaign messaging to reflect national engagement in different food trends.

These insights gave the company some very useful practical steps they could take to improve their marketing, but perhaps the most important thing they learnt was not to treat millennials as a homogeneous group. And, although it wasn’t in the data, I suspect that they don’t actually speak in emoji and do form genuine human connections – though it looks like the selfie bit might be true.

Kester Ford

Written by Kester Ford

Kester Ford is DataSift's Director of Product Marketing

  • Gustavo Woltmann

    That’s very interesting information. I have noticed that people are more health conscious these days. They are becoming much more aware of what they eat. Gustavo Woltmann

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