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Published January 10th 2014

Seniors Are More Social Than You Think

In this ad created for Do.com by the hipsters at San Francisco’s Muh-tay-zik | Hof-fer agency, a senior citizen named Ernie is told he has only 17 minutes to live.

He uses the Do ‘social productivity app’ on his iPad to organize his own – ahem – going away party in an assisted living facility.

As creative as Muh-tay-zik | Hof-fer’s ad work was for the feisty startup, Do.com is scheduled to go dark at the end of January.

Ironically, Ernie survived but Do didn’t. And even though the agency was obviously not directing the ad at senior citizens, they got one thing right:

Seniors are more social than you probably think

(And not just in the, “Nurse Janet, you’re pregnant” sense, although that’s true too.)

According to a survey of 2,000+ American adults conducted by the Pew Research Center early last year, 60% of internet users between 50-64 years of age used social media.

Even amongst the oldest users surveyed—those over 65—social media use was 43%.  For comparative purposes, according to Pew, about 90% of millennials are on SM.

Basically, we think of social media as a ‘millennial’ thing, but two-thirds of millennials’ parents use social.

In fact, almost half their grandparents are using it.

In 2008, only about 1% of Americans over 65 used social media; obviously, seniors are catching up. Between 2008-’13, millennials’ use edged up from 67 to 89% (and since the vast majority of them are already using social media, that number simply can’t climb much higher.)

Seniors skew to Facebook

Considering that the AARP’s official Facebook page has over a million likes, it’s not surprising that senior citizens’ social media activities skew towards that platform.

According to figures that Pew updated just weeks ago, 45% of web users over 65 are on Facebook; that means that seniors are about half as likely as young adults to be found there.

About 31% of people 18-39 use Twitter, compared to about 5% of users over 65, so seniors are one-sixth as likely to Tweet.

Seniors on Social

In general, the newer the platform, the less likely seniors are to use it.

Pew surveyed users of photo and video-sharing apps last fall. They estimated that 37% of 18-29 year-olds had tried Instagram, while only 1% of users 65+ had used it. I.E., seniors are less than one-thirtieth as likely to be Instagram users.

One way to look at this is to conclude that seniors are simply behind the millennial curve; they’re most prevalent on mature platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook and less prevalent on newer ones like Instagram.

Part of this is a self-fulfilling prophesy on the part of the people developing new platforms. They’re marketed almost exclusively towards millennials. Take this ad for Roamz.com—a SoLoMo app—note that everyone in the spot is a 20-something.

If you’re an advertiser or marketer, however, there’s another way to look at it: seniors use their kids as beta testers.

Learning a new platform is a pain in the butt, so seniors only bother to do so when their kids have worked the bugs out of it and established that it will be around in the long run.

The advertising industry has always been a youth cult. Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve watched as youth-besotted brands chased young consumers from one digital platform to another.

Ogilvy & Mather’s Global Chief Data Officer Ted Cullen recently wrote about integrating personal ‘lifelogging’ data from sources like Nike’s FuelBand or Jawbone’s Up wristband to deliver ads in real time based not just on the users’ preferences and location, but on what they’re doing right then.


I can see why this notion’s seductive to advertisers (“Mark, today’s run took 13 seconds longer than last week’s; maybe it’s time for a new pair of Millennium Featherlite shoes”) but what brand will front the bill for inventing a whole new kind of advertising?

Not that long ago, every major brand was trying to figure out how to integrate the first-gen location-based social networking apps into their marketing strategies.

Do this experiment for me: open up a Google browser and start typing “What ever happened to four…” and see how long it takes Google to fill in ‘Foursquare’.

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 17.23.44

Today brands are developing marketing strategies for platforms that will be irrelevant in a few months.

Hell, they’re inventing whole new ways to market on platforms that may not exist that long. (Take that Roamz app for example; the ad looked cool, but if you go to Roamz.com today, there’s nothing there.)

In this context, seniors’ social habits make them easy to target. And, they’re worth targeting:

In 2008, the age cohort responsible for the largest share of new car purchases was 35-44; today it’s 55-64 year-olds who buy the most new cars. In total, mature consumers will spend $3,000,000,000,000 in the U.S. this year.

The advertising industry has long turned a blind eye to older consumers, but ageing Baby Boomers are an economic force that can no longer be ignored.

If most of them are using social media and they’re loyal to a few platforms, that’s good news for marketers.

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