When it comes to generalizations about social media, none is probably more common among many marketers than the assumption that older folks aren’t part of the Facebook Revolution. However, a recent study by the Pew Research Center begs to differ.
As Pew’s illuminating new study (the Internet & American Life Project Survey) clearly proves, not only are older Americans active on social networks like Twitter and Facebook, they are the fastest growing demographic on those networks. Any 20-something who’s received a friend request from Granny or Great Uncle Ziggy knows that older Americans are enthusiastically embracing social sites. Ironically, though, the group most taken aback by these findings is the marketers of products aimed directly at this older audience.
This suggests that the CMOs and brand managers responsible for products aimed at the older demographic might be the ones neglecting social media, and not the other way around. But don’t take our word for it; let’s look at the numbers.
Social networking is still used most heavily by those 18-29, but it seems to be amongst existing users as there has been virtually no growth within that demographic. The fastest growth is coming from those 65 and older - 26% of whom are active on social networks. This represents a whopping 100% increase over a year earlier. In general, 47% of surveyed online adults age 50-64 say they use social networking sites, up 88% from the 25% who did so in April 2009. Looking at the older population as a whole, 42% of online adults age 50+ now use social networking sites, nearly twice as many as the 22% who did so a year earlier, according to a study by Pew Research.
The research suggests that many older users rely on social media platforms to help manage their daily communications to friends, family and former colleagues. While email still plays a significant role in this area, Facebook and Twitter are very quickly becoming a more viable alternative. Mary Madden, author of the Pew report believes that from a social anthropology perspective, these services provide one of the only means in our society - either on or offline - “for tweens, teens, sandwich-generation members, grandparents, friends and neighbors to regularly intersect and communicate across the same network.” Although it’s safe to say that social media properties—including the best-known networking and status-update sites - can still be considered fairly new additions to the daily digital diet of older adults, the “stickiness” of these types of sites is notable. To look at the data another way, among the pool of adults ages 50 and older who use social networking sites, 44% used them on the day prior to their being contacted for the Pew survey.
Viewed through the lens of marketing, the Pew data clearly suggests that there is a significant on-line audience of older Americans who are currently being overlooked as a result of the misconception that they aren’t engaging in social media. More important, however, is who these people are: to a certain extent they can be seen as the early adopters among their generation, the thought leaders and trendsetters, the opinion leaders. In other words, there’s a very real opportunity now to reach not just the older American, but to reach a population with the potential to influence others within the same demographic.
So, CMOs and brand managers, if you still don’t think your older audience is using social media it’s probably because they just took the Vespa down to Starbucks for a Vente cappuccino. But, to paraphrase Arnold, they’ll be back.