Last year, my dad joined Facebook. Soon I had friend requests popping up from people I hadn't seen in years, who remembered me as a little kid traipsing around my dad's office on "Take Your Daughter to Work Day." Not long after, my mom joined, too. My sister responded by posting a link to an "Saturday Night Live" skit ("Mom's on Facebook") on Mom's wall. Just months later, my mom wears another hat at her job -- that of social media coordinator. Needless to say, she's becoming very hip, very quickly.
To those of us in the email marketing industry, this is worth taking note of. My parents signify a larger shift: they joined a social networking site because their friends have joined (as much as my sister and I fear that it is just to keep tabs on us...) and because social network membership has relevance to their lives. In addition to the "SNL" skit and other pop culture reflections of this shift, more and more studies corroborate the impression that a significant numbers of older Internet users -- both Baby Boomers and members of the GI Generation -- are becoming active on social networking sites.
A December Pew Research Study found that while social networking usage has risen from 35% in 2008 to 61% in 2010 among all online American adults, the increase among older adults is particularly striking. In the same time period, usage amongst both Older Boomers and the GI Generation has approximately quadrupled (rising from 9% to 43% and 4% to 16% in each group respectively). A July Nielsen study found that Baby Boomers comprise one third of all online users, social media users and media users.
Perhaps even more important than Boomers' presence on social networking sites is their spending power: ThirdAge reports that Baby Boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than 50% of discretionary spending power. It's baffling, then, to read Nielsen's reports that just 5% of advertising dollars are actually targeted at adults ages 35-64 (including the older half of Gex X).
What this means for email marketers.
While it's hard to say how much current cross-channel efforts are already reaching older subscribers, all of this info could suggest that we're missing out on lucrative targeted messaging to our older, tech-savvy subscribers. Social networking isn't just for kids anymore, and email marketers need to respond accordingly. Cross-channel marketing shouldn't be thought of a step toward "hipness": it should be thought of as a response to the online habits of all of our subscribers regardless of age, and maybe even especially to the habits of older subscribers who have the bulk of the spending power. By targeting our social and email integration efforts specifically toward older subscribers, our return on investment might be greater.
What this could look like...
· We should consider how email/social integration fits into the lives of our adult subscribers and call out benefits when we invite social network participation through email. In his January 5 Email Insider post, Morgan Stewart pointed out the importance of explicitly telling subscribers about the benefits of interaction with our brands. How can we make sure to spin the benefits in such a way that they appeal to the lifestyles of older subscribers?
· Brands that may not have considered their audience "hip" to social networking should probably reconsider. With a growing 43% of Boomers active on social networking sites, it's hard to think of any campaigns for which cross-channel integration is not imperative.
· Finally, take the advice of Chad White and his Boomer Legibility Initiative for a New Decade. Make sure that Boomers can actually read the text in your emails - and on your networking sites. It's more than just a practical matter; it's a way to keep from locking them out of conversations and of showing that they are valued.