Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reaching Baby Boomers Online

by Rich Newman, Wednesday, August 13, 2008, 7:00 AM

We recently came across an interesting tidbit talking about the limited use of social networking sites by Boomers. 

It seems that only 15% of 55- to-64-year-olds use social networking sites, compared to 75% of 15- to-24-year-olds.

That wasn't the interesting part, however.

The interesting part is that we seem intent on fostering the myth that the Internet is the province of the young, that online is an ineffective way to reach boomers--particularly older boomers--and you might as well forget social media when thinking about older consumers.

And nothing could be farther from the truth.

The fact is that Internet usage among Baby Boomers is comparable to Internet usage by both Generation X and the Echo Boomers. Also, online boomers are more involved with certain aspects of the Web than younger consumers.

According to data analyzed by Pew for The Associated Press:

• Online boomers were more likely to send or receive e-mail on a given day: 54% versus 49% of younger Americans who are wired.

• About 66% of online Boomers have looked up health information online, compared with 54% for younger users.

• Boomers were more likely to visit online support groups for specific medical conditions and personal situations: 55% versus 36%.

• Half of online Boomers have used the Internet for financial information, compared with 28% for the younger group.

Bottom line, for certain businesses, and with certain segments of boomers, the Web proves more critical to reach them than it would be for younger prospects. We've found this time and again with many of our clients. In the case of a major online media client, insights into boomers' media consumption habits and their attitudes toward online were critical to the development of a successful acquisition and retention strategy that significantly increased traffic to their site.

In regard to social networking, our experience doesn't quite mirror the claim that it is irrelevant to Boomers. For example, by appreciating the strong desire for emotional connection, both the frustrating and the humorous, around certain health issues--and detecting marked gaps in existing online offerings to support these needs--we were able to successfully launch a vibrant online community of mature women for one women's healthcare provider.

The problem lies in a tendency to limit our definition of social networking to a handful of high-profile networks with a largely youthful appeal, such as Facebook and MySpace. Considering only these and their ilk supports the case that social networks are not the place to find boomers. But when a broader--and, indeed, more accurate--definition is applied, the picture changes dramatically.

Wikipedia defines a social network as "a service which focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others."

This includes some of the earliest community-focused sites such as iVillage, Salon, and even Boomers become far more prevalent. According to comScore's Media Metrix, Baby Boomers index higher on sites such as (126), (124), and AOL Community (118)--all vibrant social networks.

Furthermore, sites such as Gather, BoomJ, Eons and TeeBeeDee are seeing success by building the communities a 60-year-old wants; focused on their needs and priorities. According to Quantcast, almost tripled their traffic from an average of 240K daily uniques in January 08 to almost 700K in July, a monthly average increase of 28%.

Our business is undergoing a massive transition from broad-based demographically driven initiatives to behaviorally focused, targeted marketing. And the Internet is fueling this shift. Does it make marketing more difficult and complicated? You bet! More rewarding, too. And it also means we need to avoid the black-and-white assessments of how and where we find our prospects.

Our experience with Boomers online is the same experience we know about any large consumer segment: Simple demographics are a poor substitute for understanding motivations, attitudes and behaviors.

buzz this

blog comments powered by Disqus