Older Adults and Social Media Marketing

Why is this target group of consumers becoming crucial for marketers...

27 Dec 2018 7255 Views

Written by Slav Slavov

Older Adults and social media marketing can co-exist

Figure 1. Older Adults and social media marketing can co-exist (Source: Adweek, 2017)

Once Upon A Time, There Was A Stereotype About Older Adults…

Let’s admit it! In the past, we have all had a laugh imagining our grandparents in front of a computer asking us questions such as: “Where is this mouse you were talking about?” or “Do they deliver e-mails on Sunday?”. The truth is that there was always this stereotype of older adults being afraid of the digital world, or simply being stubborn of not putting any kind of effort in learning how to use Internet. Please, allow me to precise that by older adults I mean baby boomers (born between 1964 and 1946) and their precedent generations.

However, it is time for us to look more seriously at the current trends and realize that things have changed and this demographic group is currently using social media. This brings up some important questions that you should ask yourself when planning your digital marketing strategy:

  • Are we considering older adults for our social media campaign?
  • If not, why should we start considering older adults as being important for this marketing channel?
  • How are we supposed to attract older adults to our social media platform?

But before helping you answer these questions, let’s go back in time for a moment.

Web 2.0 And Social Media – Game Changers For Everyone But…

With the arrival of web 2.0, the world of marketing has changed completely. The shift of attention from the firm towards the consumer has made everyone restructure their business plans. With all technological innovations facilitating the creation of content, interaction and interoperability, users have become the center of attention (Berthon et al. 2012). Few years later, the introduction of Social Media brought consumers to pedestal by giving them the unique opportunity of creating communities and networks, as well as generating user content such as text, pictures and videos (Berthon et al 2012). As expected, the millennials were the fastest age group to integrate Social Media into their lifestyle. However, the same thing could not be said for the older adults who had less than 10% of social media penetration rate up until 2010 (Pew Research Center, 2015).

Elderly people becoming more and more active on social media

Figure 2 Elderly people becoming more and more active on social media (Source: Pew Research center, 2015)

2010 was the year when the elderly people became more active online and obtained some technical skills. An example of that was the steep increase in social network usage by 74+ years old adults: from being only 4% in 2008 up to 16% in 2010 (Zickuhr, 2010).

Older Adults, Internet And Social Media Today

Older adults are finally going viral for social media

Figure 3. Older adults are finally going viral for social media (Source: WestInfo, 2017)

Today, in the USA, a report states that 74% of all late baby boomers (aged 65-69) go online (RamblinJackson, 2016). Furthermore, the same report shows that 81% of the early baby boomers (aged 50-64) use Internet as a mean of communication – a fact adding to the whole new trend of older adults showing interest in what Internet can offer to them. Adding to all this, up until 2015, there were around 72 million baby boomers in the country which should help you realize the great potential of this target group (Boschini, 2015). Another supporting argument is coming from one of Nielsen’s reports (2012) (http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2012-Reports/nielsen-boomers-report-082912.pdf) predicting that by the year of 2030, the 50+ years old segment in the U.S. will expand by 34%.

But how exactly are elderly people spread around different types of social media? An annual Social Media report in the U.S. confirms that they are feeling most confident with Facebook (Greenwood, Perrin & Duggan, 2016). The report shows that 72% of people between 50 and 64 years of age use Facebook actively. Furthermore, 62% of people above 65 years of age also have a Facebook account. Figure 3 shows the main motivators, observed by Jung et al. (2017), hidden behind older adults’ choice of this specific social media.

Main motivators for Older adults using Facebook as the most common social media

Figure 4. Main motivators for Older adults using Facebook as the most common social media (Source: Lundy, 2010)

The rest of the social media platforms are lagging far behind in terms of usage by older adults with LinkedIn and Pinterest being the second and third most commonly used platforms (Greenwood, Perrin & Duggan, 2016). This should give you an important insight when adapting your digital marketing strategy to these consumers.

What Motivates Elderly People To Use Social Media?

Liest (2013) summarizes the current academic literature on this topic by defining enjoyment, engagement in social contact, and providing and receiving online social support as the three main motivators for older consumers to use social media. The article also focuses on the fact that large percentage of this target group finds solution of loneliness and lack of fun in communities that can be easily found within the different types of social media. The online support communities have the possibility of bringing older adults into the use of social media but in order to facilitate their web integration, special attention, addressing all their needs and preferences, needs to be paid (Pfeil, Zaphiris & Wilson, 2008).

Why Should Your Company Care About Older Adults’ Use Of Social Media?

I am pretty sure that you still have your doubts whether older adults should be part of your digital marketing plans so let me introduce some more arguments that would make you reconsider your passiveness towards these consumers.

  • Purchasing power of older adults – Nielsen’s report (2012) (http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2012-Reports/nielsen-boomers-report-082912.pdf) has predicted that by now, adult population of 50+ years of age will have ownership of 70% of USA’s disposable income. And before you think of baby boomers as tight(non-spending) consumers due to their advanced age, the report clears up the confusion stating that this demographic group is ready to spend as much money as the millennials.
  • Brand Loyalty of older adults can be won – Unlike the precedent generations, boomers have very similar understanding of brand loyalty compared to the younger age groups (Nielsen,2012). The Nielsen report (2012) focuses on the fact that boomers are keen to experiment by discovering new products and services which should now encourage marketers thinking that this target group follows the ideology of old habits don’t die easily.
  • Retirement of older adults seen as a plus – You should not forget the fact that after retiring, elderly people will have a lot of free time to focus on media consumption and online purchases (Nielsen, 2012). In addition, different major report from the U.S. claims that this group of retirees is perceived as being the financially healthiest in history which would influence their purchasing behavior in an extremely positive way (Boschini, 2015).


Why Should You Do Your Homework When Developing Your Ditigal Marketing Platform?

In order to not loose older adults before even winning them, you should have in mind the following tips:

  • System Support – it is important to have adequate and easy to reach page support to be able to help older adults as they can easily become anxious and negative towards your platform (Tsai et al. 2017). Businesses should have in mind that these consumers need more time to adapt to new technologies so supporting them throughout this process is crucial for keeping them loyal to you.
  • Friendly and simple user interface design – Tsai et al. (2017) have found a positive correlation between the user interface design and the perceived usefulness of elderly customers. This is an important objective for you to achieve in order to make your web platform easy to operate.
  • Appropriate navigation features –This would definitely avoid having disoriented consumers when looking for certain type of information on your web page. Avoid using complex navigation frameworks and do not forget who your target group is – older adults who are still in the process of learning how to use internet at its fullest potential (Tsai et al. 2017).
  • Privacy, privacy and…privacy – privacy concerns is seen as one of the main barriers in older adults’ mind for going into social media (Leist, 2013; Jung et al., 2017; Xie et al., 2012). From privacy concerns when writing a blog or post a message on Facebook to companies selling private information to marketers, older adults seem to be extremely careful when using web platforms (Xie et al., 2012). Uncertainty in their online privacy settings can completely turn them off towards your brands. If you want to collect the fruits of your success, you better make sure that they feel completely protected when visiting your web platform.


So Where Does All This Bring Us?

To conclude, as a marketer you should definitely reconsider your social media strategy towards older adults if this has not been the case yet. This age group will continue to develop its Internet skills and literacy so the question is: Will you and your company be prepared to answer to their specific demands? The majority of businesses are still far from considering this target group as one having a significant presence online, so why not taking the so much appreciated first mover advantage? And remember: Older adults do not bite.


Reference list:

Berthon, P.R., Pitt, L.F., Plangger, K., Shapiro, D. (2012). Marketing Meets Web 2.0, Social Media, and Creative Consumers: Implications for international marketing strategy, Business Horizons, vol.55, no.3, pp.261-71, Available through: LUSEM Library website: https://www.lusem.lu.se/library [Accessed 11 November 2017]

Boschini, A. (2015).  Generation Now: Baby boomers – and their spending power – aren’t going anywhere, Home Accents Today, pp.46-51, Available through LUSEM Library website: https://www.lusem.lu.se/library [Accessed 12 November 2017]

Cohen, D. (2017). Don’t be surprised to See Your Grandparents on Social Media [photo], AdWeek, Available online: http://www.adweek.com/digital/pew-research-center-tech-adoption-climbs-among-older-adults/#/ [Accessed 19 November 2017]

Jung, E.H., Walden, J., Johnson, A.C., Shyam Sundar, S. (2017). Social Networking in the Aging Context: Why older adults use or avoid Facebook, Telematics and Informatics, vol.34, pp.1071-1080, Available through LUSEM Library website: https://www.lusem.lu.se/library [Accessed 13 November 2017]

Leist, A.K. (2013). Social Media Use of Older Adults: A mini-review, Gerontology, vol.59, pp.378-384, Available through LUSEM Library website: https://www.lusem.lu.se/library [Accessed 16 November 2017]

Lundy, S. (2010). Study: Older adults using social networks nearly doubled in the past year [photo], Available online: http://seniorsnoworlando.org/sentinel/sarah100828/rosiestory.htm [Accessed 18 November 2017]

Perrin, A. (2015). Social Media Usage: 2005-2015, Pew Research Center, Available online: http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2015/10/PI_2015-10-08_Social-Networking-Usage-2005-2015_FINAL.pdf , [Accessed 11 November 2017]

Perrin, A., Greenwood, S., Duggan, M. (2016). Social Media Usage: 2016, Pew Research Center, Available online: http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2016/11/10132827/PI_2016.11.11_Social-Media-Update_FINAL.pdf , [Accessed 11 November 2017]

Pfeil, U., Zaphiris, P., Wilson, S. (2008). Older Adults’ Perceptions and Experiences of Online Social Support, Interacting with Computers, Vol. (21), pp.159-172, Available through LUSEM Library website: https://www.lusem.lu.se/library [Accessed 16 November 2017]

RamblinJackson (2016). Boulders’ Age Wave, Available Online: http://www.ramblinjackson.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Ramblin-Jackson-Silver-Age-Wave-infographic.pdf?hsCtaTracking=99d09fdb-3bed-4e4a-8226-a6a7f5888e15%7C55b09573-1152-4486-afcb-134a7dd0cb3a [Accessed 12 November 2017]

The Nielsen Company (2012). Boomers: Marketing’s most valuable generation, Available online: http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2012-Reports/nielsen-boomers-report-082912.pdf [Accessed 14 November 2017]

Tsai, T.H., Chang, H.T., Chen, Y.Y., Chang, Y.S. (2017). Determinants of User Acceptance of a Specific Social Platform for Older Adults: An empirical examination of user interface characteristics and behavioral intention, Plos One, Vol.12(8), pp. 1-23, Available through LUSEM Library website: https://www.lusem.lu.se/library [Accessed 13 November 2017]

Westinfo. (2017). European old people are finally going crazy for social media, Available online: https://www.west-info.eu/european-old-people-are-finally-going-crazy-for-social-media/ [Accessed 18 November]

Xie, B., Watkins, I., Goldbeck, J., Huang, M. (2012). Understanding and Changing Older Adults’ Perceptions and Learning of Social Media, Educational Gerontology, vol. 38, pp.282-296 Available through LUSEM Library website: https://www.lusem.lu.se/library [Accessed 16 November 2017]

Zickuhr, K. (2010). Generations 2010, Pew Research Center, Available online: http://www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media//Files/Reports/2010/PIP_Generations_and_Tech10.pdf [Accessed 17 November 2017]

Like this post? You'll find more marketing insights in my new book: International Brand Strategy: A guide to achieving global brand growth, now available from booksellers globally. Order your copy here.

BrandBase | @BrandBa_se
Students from the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University are the contributing authors for the BrandBase blog.