Are Baby Boomers The Unicorn In Social Media?

Boomers and their use of social media are creating a lot buzz lately. Are they really participating? Is this the best way to reach older consumers? Is it a tactic to be layered with other more traditional tactics? We were seeking to understand Boomers activities in the social media space and launched a research study to answer these questions.

The first, and not surprising, finding is that when it comes to social media, older boomers behave more like seniors (the cohort known as "Ikes" or the Silent Generation) and younger boomers behave more like the Gen-X cohort.

 

chart1

The biggest takeaway may be the last line of this chart. Fifty percent of seniors are not participating on any social network, while 47% of older boomers and 45% of younger boomers are not. So while half of older consumers may have no interest in social media, the numbers who are "reachable" is still in the 35-40 million range.

Balance this finding with where boomers are spending their time, compared to three years ago (before the current economic crisis.) They reported spending less time doing these things:

Volunteering 38% Reading magazines 34% Reading newspapers 34% Reading for pleasure 33% Exercising 31% Listening to the radio 29% Time with spouse 18% Watching TV 16%

The only category that showed a significant increase: the 62% growth in spending time online. Boomers are trading time with more traditional media for time online.

The Boomer Social Maven

To help companies engage the boomer who is online and in social networks, we asked a series of questions to segment them. In the final analysis, two key questions were most predictive in defining the boomer social maven: 1.) They network both on and offline and 2.) Have a propensity to recommend products and services to others.

From this analysis, three clear segments emerged:

  • Isolated Insulars: on their own; social islands
  • Everyday people: most boomers (and social media lurkers)
  • Social Mavens: connected, exploring and expanding networks daily

It was important to look at frequency of contact with their social networks as opposed to amassing friends or connections. Boomer social mavens have significantly more frequent contact with individuals across all types of groups within their social sphere. This includes family members, political organizations, hobby or interest groups, religious organizations, social groups, neighbors, co-workers, former co-workers and business contacts.

 

chart 2

The boomer social maven is most likely to be a younger boomer (45-54) and equally male and female; this is a surprise to many who think of women as the voracious social media consumer. The important takeaway for marketers is that mavens are huge consumers of all types of media and use more traditional media than the other segments. This points to a greater need for integration of on and offline engagement strategy for those companies who want to reach the unicorn.

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9 comments about "Are Baby Boomers The Unicorn In Social Media? ".
  1. James Gilmartin from Coming of Age, Incorporated , May 31, 2010 at 1:15 p.m.

    Lori's work is always interesting and on target. The take away for marketers is the need to create an integrated balance of traditional and interactive marketing.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , May 31, 2010 at 1:33 p.m.

    Whatever happened to common sense? Why in the world would someone in their 50's or 60's be on myspace? Why would someone need to be on linked in after they are not looking to expand a career? Classmates is spam. Twits are for the non-focused. And FB is a prime target of the none of your business clan, although many fall through the cracks. What is noticeably missing is email or a personal website where one connects with friends. Someone actually spent money on this study? Must have been a whipper snapper twit.

  3. Richard Meyer , May 31, 2010 at 6:46 p.m.

    The first question any marketer should ask is "Is our target market using social media and if so what are they using it for". Hopefully this will help base some reality in the social media hype

  4. Doris Gallan , May 31, 2010 at 8:55 p.m.

    I agree and disagree with Paula Lynn. True that MySpace is for youths but LinkedIn is becoming more and more of a social & volunteer work network for me and my connections. Classmates I've never used, Twitter I like but only to direct people to my FB and website pages. FB is also good to direct people to my website/blogs.

    I'm online everyday building a network of similarly interested people. I agree that e-mail, websites and blogs should have been included in the study as these forms of social interaction can denote a deeper connection as a result of effective marketing.

    Doris, The Traveling Boomer
    www.babyboomerstraveling.com

  5. Dr a Trimpi from AMA R & D / LAUSD , May 31, 2010 at 11:06 p.m.

    This is the kind of common sense that lends a perspective not necessarily shared by all others;
    it is very valuable as a reality check.
    Thanks, Lori.

  6. Stephen Gallison from Consultant , June 1, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.

    My uses of SM
    LinkedIn - lots of time spent job related 15-20 hrs per week
    Twitter - limited value - I do not care what you are doing that is unrelated to the work we share bi-weekly review
    FB for recreational use only- once a month
    MySpace - why?
    Classmates - Junk mail - try unsubscribing, I've tried over the past year with no results.

  7. Lori Bitter from The Business of Aging , June 1, 2010 at 9:28 p.m.

    Paula, I'm neither a "whipper snapper" nor a twit. I have a twenty year track record of researching the activities of boomers and seniors and translating that research into actionable marketing strategy. Had you inquired, you would know that we did include web sites, review sites, bookmarking, blogs and more in our study. Information that has been widely shared since this study was released. Our POV in this article is that social media is the new shiny object in the marketing toolbox and it should be considered. But for mature consumers, it is not the panacea. Intelligent integration to reach our consumer segment is.

  8. Linda Landers from Girlpower Marketing , June 6, 2010 at 8:47 p.m.

    I can also vouch that Lori is neither a whipper snapper nor a twit -- I think this study's takeaways are dead on, and seem to validate that -- as with most social groups -- it's the "lifestage" that drives activity as opposed to the chronological age. As a younger Boomer, I'm very active on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter -- but probably more so because I am a business owner and marketing professional. However, these social media tools are only part of the toolbox I use on behalf of myself and my clients - integrating them with offline strategies has been key to my success.

  9. Derek Gordon , June 8, 2010 at 9:29 a.m.

    Great article. I recently was hired to work client side for a company whose target audience is Baby Boomers. I've been working on social media isolated for a month without gaining much traction. I'm going to see if I can work more directly with the other marketing employees to figure out how to best connect with Boomers using social media as an integrated practice along with more traditional media.