How Older Users are Utilizing Social Media

When I first started speaking about social media marketing in 2008, I’d survey the group to see how many people used social media sites. The majority of baby boomers in the room would NOT raise their hands. Fast forward to 2010, and there is rarely a soul in the room who isn’t using Facebook or LinkedIn.

The PEW Internet Research Center just released a report on how older users are using social media. I wanted to share some of the key statistics here and my thoughts.

  • Social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled—from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010.
  • During the same period, use among those ages 65 and older grew 100%–from 13% to 26%.
  • By comparison, social networking use among users ages 18-29 grew by 13%—from 76% to 86%.
  • 1 in 10  internet users ages 50 and older now say they use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or see updates about others.

My thoughts:

1) As social media infiltrates every aspect of our lives – online and offline – we are forced to learn and adapt. Imagine that you are a 60 year old HR executive. At first, you ignore social sites because you enjoy face to face interaction more, and don’t feel like you have the time to learn it. Then, you find that your kids have posted your grandchildren’s pictures on Facebook. The only way you can be a part of that is to join as well. Yet, you resist. You insist that they email you pictures separately. Then, you find that your 30 year college reunion is being canceled in lieu of an online reunion. You may still resist the idea. Finally, your boss comes to you and says let’s budget some of our recruiting dollars for social sites. How long can you hold back? Eventually, we give in and adapt to keep up with the world around us.

2) Social media has gotten easier. It may not be a piece of cake, but resources are now abundant. If you wanted to understand social networking two years ago, you may have struggled to find answers. Today, there are numerous books on social media marketing, hundreds of blogs, and even plenty of live social media workshops. It has become very simple to engage on social networking sites.

3) Just because they are using it doesn’t mean they are using it in the same way as their younger counterparts. One common misconception is to confuse usage with interaction. It isn’t. While younger generations prefer to create content (blogging) and partake in online discussions, older users prefer to observe and don’t actively engage at the same level. This is really important to note because if you cater to an older demographic, you may mistake their silence for their disinterest. It is important to base your metrics around your given audience.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Bob White

    As a “very experienced” adult with lifelong computer experience, I understand why these otherwise active, intelligent and savvy adults don’t participate – they haven’t had a computer keyboard in their hands or a cell phone on their ear since birth – it is my personal challenge to reach out and touch as many of these people I can to make them active participants.

  • Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Shama,
    Thanks for your post. That research is really insightful and encouraging, I bet, for a lot of business bloggers out there whose content is great but they don’t get a huge amount of interaction. Great insight to make sure that you understand your audience and don’t compare apples with pears.



  • Hughbigyin

    I’m getting on in years too, and really feel that my lack of access to IT is a hindrance, but in my environment I find it difficult to access the worldwide internet thingy as the decorators papered over the only power source with thick rubber wallpaper……and ‘The Ripper’ as we call him (resident only two doors down) was prone to exciting his bits with the power leads.
    Can you suggest a way forward, my guru?