SAN FRANCISCO: More than half of digital natives in the US report cutting back on using social media sites, or avoiding them entirely, because of the volume of ads in their feed, according to a new survey.

Lithium Technologies, a software business that builds relationships between brands and customers, surveyed more than 2,000 people aged 16 and over to find that 74% of millennials (20-39 years old) and Gen Z (16-19 years old) objected to being targeted by brands in their social media feeds.

And 57% of these digital natives said they were using social media less – or even avoiding it altogether – for this reason.

"Pushing out ads on social media is the surest way for brands to alienate consumers, especially the younger generations who make up more than 50% of the population," said Rob Tarkoff, President and CEO of Lithium Technologies.

"That's a lot of purchasing power, and it's only going to grow as these generations reach their prime spending years," he added. "The promise of social technologies has always been about connecting people, not shouting at them, and the brands that don't do this risk their very existence."

A more effective method of reaching today's digital generations, Lithium suggested, is simply to be present on the channels they frequent, and let them seek you out.

The digital sources in which they place most trust are online sites that carry product reviews, such as Amazon or Yelp. Fully 85% of those younger generations surveyed trusted these, compared to 66% of older consumers (Gen X and Baby Boomers).

Company websites were next (66%), closely followed by communities of like-minded people (65%); the comparable figure for older generations was 44% for both these sources.

Then came people they followed online (57% v 31%), social networks (53% v 29%) and celebrity endorsements (40% v 28%).

Rather than shouting at consumers, brands ought to be modifying their online behaviour to accord with consumer expectations; for example, 79% of Millennials reaching out online expect a response the same day.

"Social implies a two-way conversation and that means paying attention and participating," said Tarkoff. "Brands who break that contract are going to lose a generation of customers."

Peter Field has analysed the world's best social strategies for Warc. His key takeaways can be downloaded here: Seriously Social Summary Report.  

Data sourced from Lithium Technologies; additional content by Warc staff