The Pew Internet center just released a report on Older Adults and Social Media*. The report shows that social network usage grew by 88% among internet users aged 50-64 between April 2009 and May 2010. Even more impressive was a 100% growth in usage by adults over 65.
It’s enough to make to make a kid run away as fast as possible. And it looks like it has, as social network usage among users 18 – 29 grew by a tepid 13% during the same period. Even on Twitter, a seemingly more daunting challenge, usage by users aged 50+ has grown by 120 percent.
What’s going on here? For starters we need to acknowledge that the percentages are more about growth rates than actual raw numbers. A 100% growth rate within the initially small group of seniors doesn’t mean that masses of seniors have taken over Facebook, but the trend is strong and continuing. What is even more remarkable is a full 20% of these users say they use social networking sites on a daily basis. While these numbers don’t compare to the intensity that younger users bring to social media it clearly is more than a passing phase for older users.
Pew points out three key reasons for why they see this growth:
1. Using social media to reconnect with people from the past
2. Using social media to connect around chronic disease or other support groups
3. Bridging generational gaps with common tools
I would add a fourth reason: Facebook and even Twitter are fundamentally easier and richer experiences than e-mail. They are based on a conversational model, they create a sense of, or a real, community and they are media rich with the inclusion of photos and videos. The first three reasons may be while older adults came to Facebook, but the last reason is why they will stay, to the likely chagrin of their kids.
Social media now presents an even broader opportunity for us to reach broader audiences, engage them, and convert them into participants and even brand loyalists. Clients can now be more confident that social media can reach far broader and more complex audience than they may have imagined. It will take time and thinking to create programs that respect the reasons why older users have come to social media, but by creating approaches that improve their social media experience and our clients’ could be a starting point.