Can Facebook Get Smart About Older Folks?

by , Jan 21, 2014, 2:31 AM
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You may have seen the news: according to iStrategyLabs, there are three million fewer pimply-faced teens on Facebook now then there were in 2011 -- and from what I can tell, it’s not because they all saw ads about ProActiv in their NewsFeeds and can no longer be classified as pimply-faced. It’s that interest in Facebook is waning among some teens.

Yes, this is just one study, but my gut -- and my one-person focus group consisting of the 16-year-old male in the bedroom next door -- tells me that, increasingly, older demographics are where it’s at on Facebook. And that, to some observers, is nowhere.

Indeed, the same study said that the number of users aged 55+ and up on Facebook has increased by 80% since three years ago. Not to mention that whenever I’m on Facebook, I am surrounded by mature adults. Yes, that’s partly because I, too, am a mature adult -- or at least know how to act like one -- but I’ve noticed that the people in my demo who aren’t on Facebook are outliers. Practically everyone is there.

For most Facebook watchers, the platform’s response to a possible loss of its youth cachet would be to find a way to get, or buy, it back. (Snapchat, anyone?) But I’d like to see Facebook embrace a different kind of opportunity: the chance to grow old with its audience. Maybe not to 55+, but maybe to 25 or even a geriatric 30.  It’s a smarter move than you might think.

Why? Because it’s pretty hard to build your business on consumers who are inherently fickle. Just ask the guy who invented Silly Bandz, or Crocs. Usually, when the youth market embraces a product, it has no second acts. And yet, tech consumers -- and the technology industry -- have always suffered from this problem, moving on to the next thing with such rapidity that individual tech companies are forever trying to stay one step ahead. Just ask Marissa Mayer if you want to know how hard that is.

But take a minute to notice the one thing that connects Silly Bandz, Crocs and tech:  all were once embraced by the youth market. But you don’t have to get that much older to get to a point where you’re not as fickle. Though the marketing meme that older people are set in their ways (at least in terms of buying toothpaste ) has been way overdone, even slightly mature demographics aren’t as likely to move on from something all that quickly. When you’re juggling a demanding job, a family, and who knows what else, who has the time to constantly switch social platforms?

And that’s where the opportunity lies for Facebook. It’s one thing for 16-year-olds to essentially trade in Facebook for the hot new thing. From what I can tell, the time they aren’t spending in school, they are spending staring at their phones. They have no bills to pay, no lawns to mow (sigh), and no carpools to drive.

Meanwhile, with older demographics, the friends we’re connected to on Facebook keep increasing and increasing, and who has the time or inclination to move? It’s not so far into one’s adult life when these considerations start to come into play. And as I’ve said many times before in this column, as the bonds on social networks continue to accrue, so do the disincentives to move. And, by the way, we older demographics have a lot more money to spend than the average 16-year-old. We should be where it’s at.

Do I expect Facebook to listen to me? No. But I still have the wisdom of the ages, and a lot of ancient Facebook friends.

11 comments on "Can Facebook Get Smart About Older Folks?".

  1. Curtis Brubaker from BCAT, llc
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 10:16 a.m.
    Facebook was created for college-aged kids, not teens. What's happening there?
  2. Betsy Kent from Be Visible Associates
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 12:55 p.m.
    Catherine, Your insights are brilliant and are exactly what has been going on in my head. The older (lol over 30) demographic does have a lot more power in the marketplace. And, your statement: "as the bonds on social networks continue to accrue, so do the disincentives to move" particularly resonates with me. I'm about to launch a business that will help older people use, enjoy, and communicate better on Social networks, so I'm right with you! Betsy Kent
  3. Loren Pomerantz from Combined Forces Communications
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 1:47 p.m.
    Exactly what I think every time a new social network launches that would require me to connect with the same people I'm already connected to on Facebook to share and view the same information. Who's got the time or inclination to do so? Thanks for yet another great post!
  4. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 2:49 p.m.
    Great article, spot on. Boomers are Woodstock, daisies in rifles, Make Love, Not War, Don't Trust Anyone over 35 and Question Authority. Facebook is a perfect continuation of that culture - it's the new 'Love In' with petitions and causes and music. Did I say petitions? And I would take a guess that legalization of weed was supported by more over 50's than not which is a whole other economic movement - but I digress. When people wake up and smell the Geritol, the cash registers are going to, well, Pink Floyd comes to mind.
  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 3:18 p.m.
    Or How to snake the most gullible. Can't begin to tell you how many rational, educated, sane boomers give out their social security for a 20% discount on a $15 item and do not think about it.
  6. Jon Currie from CURRIE COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.
    Oh yes, Leslie Singer we boomers are all about what you said. How stereotypical can we be? If I used another demographic and its related stereotypes I would be castigated here, and with good reason. We are not about those things. They were things some of us enjoyed and others despised and others ignored. I happened to be one of those who took part in much of that. But, I am not representative of all 75 million of me. And, BTW, more people under 50 smoke weed and support its legalization than those over 50--by far .
  7. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 4:21 p.m.
    Hi Jon! Didn't mean to be overly stereotypical, so forgive me. The only point I'm trying to make is I believe there are reasons younger folks are bailing on FB. And personally I think it can be based on cultural shifts that give older folks comfort with FB while younger folks are moving on to more disposable types of communications like snap chat, vine and texting. I teach college freshman and half my class deleted their FB's over 2 years ago. Seems they are going more underground and don't like their personal data being harvested by marketers. Ask any media buyer what the power of the Over 55 Female Market is and they will spew out stats that are mind boggling. Then ask them how many marketers talk to them. You can count them on one hand.
  8. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 4:23 p.m.
    And for the record, I'm a boomer. And love Pink Floyd.
  9. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 4:59 p.m.
    Who you calling ancient?
  10. Paul Robinson from Viridian Development Corporation
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.
    I don't generally use these social networking sites except there are some very interesting message blogs related to programming on LinkedIn. I wouldn't even have an account on Facebook except it provides single-sign on for a lot of other sites so I only have to sign on to Facebook and it can pass my credentials to other sites. There is some 'bleed' where some postings I make on some sites might show up on Facebook but that's a side-effect and usually not intentional.
  11. Stephen Reily from IMC/Vibrant Nation
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 4:13 p.m.
    Great post! You mention Marissa Mayer, and your reasoning is why she paid up for Katie Couric at Yahoo. See http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/215050/why-marissa-mayer-bought-katie-couric-for-yahoo.html

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