Hold your Benjamins. We don't share in the excitement that Boomers and older adults are truly smitten with social networking sites for three reasons --- one based on experience to date, one based on psychology and one based on the math.
Experience: Over the last several years at least a dozen Boomer-focused social networking and social media sites sprang up --- BoomerTowne, BOOMj, TeeBeeDee, Eons, reZOOM, and more --- and practically all have disappeared due to lack of interest among Boomers (Eons lives on but only after it broadened its user base to include anyone over the age of 13 -- how's that for focus?). If Boomers want social media, they apparently don't want it exclusively targeted to them.
Our conclusion: Boomers are just not that interested. At least, not in something as generic as a social networking site for "Boomers." At issue is the thinking that being a "Boomer" is an affinity group. It isn't. It is a demographic label for a generational cohort. You can attract Boomers, but only if you segment them by interests, income, education, life stage, lifestyle, and so forth.
Psychological: We have long been a fan of Stanford psychologist Dr. Laura Carstensen, who has developed several accepted theories about how our brains change as we grow older.
One such theory is the "socioemotional selectivity theory," which basically says that older adults become more selective about their social networks, investing in people and networks that deliver emotional satisfaction. That typically comes from familiar individuals with whom they have had rewarding relationships (in the "real" world, we might add). Older adults narrow their social interaction to maximize positive emotional experiences and minimize emotional risks of investing time in relationships that are not positive.
Carstensen's hypothesis is that our motivations change as we grow older. When people are young, they perceive their future as open-ended, so they tend to focus on future-oriented/knowledge-related goals. When they grow older, gradually, over time, they feel that time is running out, so their focus tends to shift towards present-oriented/emotion-related goals.
In other words, with the clock ticking, we don't want to waste time with relationships that won't feed us emotionally.
Our conclusion: No doubt millions of Boomers using Facebook and other sites are deriving emotional satisfaction. But those on the sideline are not willing to invest the time necessary to obtain emotional satisfaction from a social networking site. Every day we get older and even less interested.
The Math: No doubt, Facebook's growth among adults ages 45+ seems impressive --- an increase of about 900,000 users in September alone (76% of whom are women). But Facebook also added over 1.7 million 18-34 years in same month (62% women), more than twice as many.
Growth doesn't tell the whole story. The overall numbers are modest. Facebook has 15.7 million users who are 45+ (out of total population of 121 million 45+, or a penetration of about 13%).
Not bad, but in September, Facebook reported about 43 million users ages 18 to 34, out of 72 million 18-34 year olds, or a penetration of about 60%.
Let's agree social networking is simply not as widely accepted among Boomers and older adults as it is among today's young adults. And based on Carstensen's theory, maybe it never will be.