Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Marketers Adapt as Social Networks Attract Older Users

Marketers Adapt as Social Networks Attract Older Users

Increasingly Popular With the 35-Plus Set, Facebook, MySpace Become
Mainstream Marketing Vehicles

by Michael Learmonth <mailto:mlearmonth@adage.com>
Published: February 23, 2009

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Sometime in 2007, the recent grads that made up
the core of Facebook came to a doleful realization: Yup, mom and all her
friends are on Facebook. The following year it got worse: The
once-exclusive club of the young was completely infiltrated by
colleagues, bosses, neighbors and others who might not be amused when
little Johnny gets tagged in a photo getting totally ripped with his

Social networking is no longer a youth phenomenon. As Facebook marches
toward 52 million U.S. users (170 million worldwide), the site is
beginning to look like, well, America. Which is to say, it looks a lot
older. As of January, more than 50% of Facebook users and 44% of MySpace
users in the U.S. were over 35 years old, according to ComScore
estimates. The single biggest age demographic in the U.S. on both
Facebook and MySpace is now between 35 and 44. Indeed, Facebook says its
fastest-growing demo is 55-plus.

That's to be expected, and largely due to the fact that both Facebook
and MySpace don't have a lot of growing room left among the younger set.
According to Pew Internet and American Life data, 75% of online adults
18-24 already have a profile on a social network. "For those to grow,
they'd have to have aged," said Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer. "It's from
growth and expansion to ubiquity."

Generally, somewhere between growth and ubiquity is when uncool usually
starts to set in. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg backpedaled fast over a
privacy flap last week
<http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=134673> , but the story,
which broke on the Consumerist blog, made the NBC Nightly News, a sure
sign that Facebook's niche status is over.

With the cool kids
So far, Facebook's aging demos haven't turned off the college set: It's
the most popular website on campus above Google and Yahoo, according to
an Anderson Analytics poll of college students last fall. MySpace has
taken a bit of a tumble in the eyes of college students, falling to No.
4 this year from No. 2 last year school year and No. 1 during the
2006-2007 school year.

Even as Facebook ages, users are still exposed to the activities of
their friends, and Facebook has added features such as Facebook Connect
to encourage users to take those connections with them as they move on
to other sites. "Social networking is so engrained into the lifestyle of
college students that it wouldn't be any less cool because their parents
and grandparents are there," said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho

So what does it mean for marketers that social networking is getting
older? For Facebook, the upside is they're now being considered for a
wider array of marketing budgets. "A year ago, they thought about it as
a place to reach people in college or high school; now we're talking
about moms, or reaching families looking to go on vacation," said Kevin
Barenblat, CEO of ContextOptional, which has implemented Facebook
campaigns for Guinness, Microsoft and the Los Angeles Times.

Because of its entertainment focus, marketers still see MySpace as
primarily a youth play. Facebook has more users with incomes above
$60,000 than MySpace, indicating an older, wealthier audience, according
to research from Hitwise. "MySpace has evolved into an entertainment
portal with a social-networking component to it," said Scott Symonds,
executive media director at AKQA.

But as social networking becomes more ubiquitous, age demographics
become a less important filter than stated interests and other factors.
"We don't care if a person is 42 or 24; if they are friends with a band
I am sponsoring, that's an opportunity," Mr. Symonds said.

Just as social networks become more of a mainstream marketing vehicle,
marketers are watching to see if the phenomenon ebbs, particularly with
the young. "There are too many examples of things that were totally
cool, became commercial, and then became totally uncool," said Chad
Ciecel, president of WhittmanHart Interactive.

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