We used to live in a world where computers were just for the rich. Then they were just for the geeky. Then they were just for the young. But now even that stereotype is changing and more and more middle-aged and elderly people are going online. This “silver surfer” demographic is not new, the 50 plus market has been the fastest growing section of internet users. But while they previously used the internet primarily to e-mail and perform simple searches, their comfort level has increased and they’re now branching out into social networking.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, social media usage among people 65 years and older doubled between 2009 and 2010. In the 50 to 64 age group, it increased 88 percent. And now, almost half (47%) of adults between 50 and 64 years old use social networking sites, and more than a quarter (26%) of pensioners do the same. Among all adults, social media usage jumped 33% over the past year, with nearly two-thirds of all U.S. adults involved in social networking online. These stats are from American research, but the UK is usually very close behind.
Pew claim the increase in over 50s using social networks is due to the following:
- It enables them to reconnect with people from their past.
- It enables them to find support in times of poor health and chronic disease.
- It enables communication across generation gaps
Twitter usage is particularly popular amongst older users, due to both its simplicity and its coverage in the mainstream media. Eon is a particularly popular social network in the USA for an older demographic, but hasn’t achieved the same market penetration here yet. Many older users are joining Facebook, as it allows them to keep tabs on their children or to stay current. Some news reports have suggested that this phenomenon has actually put younger people off social networking and that that demographic is decreasing.
I think this can all be seen as good news. There have been several studies into the health benefits of social networking amongst the elderly. As the world becomes more and more technology based, familiarity with computers has become increasingly important. As people become more immersed in social networking, they will become aware of the possibilities of the internet beyond simple text pages.
From a commercial point of view, this is great news for online businesses. Older customers are a lucrative new market, under-targeted by advertising campaigns.
Key things to remember when targeting advertising at older customers:
- Keep it simple and easy to use. Don’t create complex interactive ads.
- Keep it plain. Flash animations, sound effects and other tricks that work on younger customers are likely to annoy and alienate an older audience.
- Keep it relevant. Older visitors are more likely to be offended by irrelevant adverts and turn off. Any advertisements must be in keeping with the content and tone of the website it’s on.
What do you think?
Do your customers belong to an older demographic? Do you use social networking to reach your target audience?
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