Even as the evidence builds that the tech divide between generations is narrowing, and the average age of social network users is rising, there's a growing sense among many 40-plus consumers that social media is a time vampire.
In fact, a new report on what might motivate these social skeptics to hop on the Facebook bus found that for 68% of them, the answer was ... nothing. (One helpfully wrote in: "You'd have to put a gun to my head." Another wrote: "My life is full enough with real people not to have to have fake friends online.") Erin Read Ruddick, client services director of Creating Results Strategic Marketing, which conducted the research, tells Marketing Daily what's driving that vitriol:
Q: What surprised you most?
A: Well, we asked about 820 people 40-plus people -- both online and off -- what they thought, since many of our clients were saying, 'We need a social media strategy for our older customers.' And while we know Facebook and other sites have an incredible following among some groups, we were a little taken aback by how much those who aren't interested really aren't interested, especially in interacting with brands and advertising.
We found, for instance, that only 15% of those over 40 would say, 'Yes, I want to be your organization's friend or follower.' Fears about the "time sucking nature" of Facebook are bigger than we expected, as are privacy concerns. And by that, we just don't mean safety issues. They say they're not interested in hearing other people "overshare" or reconnecting with their fifth-grade science partner.
Q: Which types of people are most anti-social?
A: Whenever you look at the Baby Boomers, it's just too big a group to say one trend is typical or not. But there are certainly big gender differences -- women in this survey are twice as likely to visit social sites, with 23.7% of women over 40 doing so versus 12.8% of men. And among those who do use social networks, they're more likely to be avid. For example, 14% of those in the 55-to-64 age group are very active in social media sites, compared to 11% for all users, and 11% for those in the 40-to-54 group.
Q: So how do these people want to connect with technology
A: Email. In fact, it's really intriguing that for them, email itself is a vehicle for social sharing.
Q: So this explains the endless forwards some of us get from older relatives?
A: Well, to them, sharing is caring! But that's not all they do. They're also shopping more: Pew has found more older Boomers (69%) had bought a product online than Millennials (68%). Forrester Technographics estimates that older Boomers, in fact, are the biggest online spenders. And we found that each of the older generations -- Boomers, Silent Generation, and Greatest Generation -- use it often for travel reservations and research on health and wellness.
Q: Which pockets are fastest-growing, especially as you move up the ages?
A: We found that the more people aren't well, or are housebound, there's a bigger enthusiasm for social sites. They are finding this is a wonderful way to have social interaction and a community of support. And we expect that will continue to grow. So many Boomers are managing chronic illnesses, and the ability to seek out information and support through social networks has strong appeal.