It was almost a year ago when I noticed Boomers experimenting with social networks. At that time, a Pew Internet and American Life Project study found that 20% of online adults 45-54 years old (the "younger" Boomers) and 10% of online adults 55-64 (the "older" Boomers) were participating in social networks. Since then, there has been some debate as to whether Boomers had truly adopted social media. Some argued that Boomers were only experimenting but not hooked. Recent studies, though, suggest otherwise: that Boomers are, in fact, joining and participating in social networks. Deloitte late last year found that 46% of Boomers maintain at least one social networking profile -- up significantly from 2007.
They are not only creating these profiles, they are also visiting and interacting on these networks with regularity. According to Pew's more recent study, 85% of younger Boomers and 73% of older Boomers checked into social networking sites at least once a week or more.
And, the social network they are most likely to frequent is Facebook. According to comScore, roughly 60% of social networking Boomers -- 22.6 million -- used Facebook in October 2009; no other social network comes close.
Other firms like Continuum Crew, Anderson Analytics and Burst Media found similar trends.
It's not entirely surprising that Facebook is their social network of choice since Boomers view social networks as a way to stay in touch with family and friends. According to Anderson Analytics, 58% of Boomers state that this is the reason they use social networks. This may also explain why Boomer-specific social networks never took off. Boomers need a multi-generational network and thus far only Facebook fits the bill: it offers Boomers access to old friends as well as their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and younger friends.
Most Boomers also learned of a social network from a friend who sent an invite, suggesting that this demographic group is just as open to sharing discoveries as younger groups.
And, if you're thinking, "Well, so what does this have to do with selling a product?," you should know that Boomers who use social networks are twice as likely, according to Anderson Analytics, to purchase products online than those who don't.
Implications for Marketers
- Include social media in plans to reach Boomers: it is clear that social networks are not a passing phase for Boomers. Like others, they are finding that online social networks enhance their existing relationships.
- Join them at the networks they already frequent; don't create a separate unique network for them based on their age: Boomers want to connect with their friends and family across generations. They don't want to be segregated by age.
- Create "share worthy content": Boomers aren't just lurking on social networks, they are sharing and recruiting. Give them content they deem worthy of sharing or a reason to "recruit" others. For instance, the Facebook bra meme drew significant numbers of Boomer women into it; this was not a meme of just younger women. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF and other cause groups are finding tremendous success attracting Boomers as well as younger generations to their causes.
- Don't be afraid to incorporate video and pictures for Boomers to share: Half of Boomers on social networks have watched videos, uploaded pictures or read someone's blog.
- Finally, social media shouldn't replace traditional media yet for this age cohort: While Boomers are embracing social networks, they still spend significant amounts of time with traditional media -- television, newspapers and magazines -- more so than younger generations.
|Anne Mai Bertelsen is the Founder and President of MAI Strategies, a marketing consulting firm specializing in integrated marketing strategy development and implementation. Her clients include American Express Consumer Card Group, United Nations' Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, and the Radio Advertising Bureau. Prior to starting her own firm, Anne held marketing positions at American Express and the Port Authority of NY & NJ. Reach her here.|