Older Adults and Social Media

July 17, 2012

The Pew Internet & American Life Project published the report "Older Adults and Social Media" after interviewing 2,254 adults. According to the research,

  • as of April 2012, 53% of American adults ages 65 and older use the internet or email
  • as of February 2012, one third (34%) of internet users 65 and older use social networking sites
  • 69% of adults ages 65 and older report they have a mobile phone. "Even among those currently age 76 and older, 56% report owning a cell phone."

According to a Pew report from 2010, the number of adults ages 65 and older doubled between April 2009 and May 2010, making them the fastest growing demographic on social media that year. Michael Hodin, the Executive Director for the Global Coalition on Aging, says, "While many think the digital world is for the young, there is plenty of new data that shows adults and older generations are digitally connected. According to Edison Research, 'Americans age 45 and older represent the largest percentage increase in social media usage in the past year, now up to 38 percent'." He quotes Dr. Mark Lachs, co-chief of Cornell University's Division of Geriatrics, who talks about how social connections are a critical component to healthy aging. Social media is a way to stay connected with individuals when you aren't as physically mobile as you were before, one cause of seniors living "increasingly isolated lives." However, it's more than just social networking with family and friends that brings older adults into the social media sphere. In her article "Social Media For Women (And Men) Of A Certain Age", Allen Mireles says, "These are the 'baby boomers' who are in decision-making positions. They are doing much of the hiring, firing, and evaluating of businesses and organizations." While digital natives of much younger ages might come out of the womb updating their Facebook statuses, those of the older generation who are using social media must actually be very tech-savvy for their generation. These are older adults who embrace new technologies, which can be difficult for those using a tool that wasn't used for most of their lifetime. That means one person age 65 or older, if reached via social media, may be profoundly influential for your cause, and perhaps more so than one person age 30 and younger. Moreover, any one person on social media is potentially more influential than a person who is not. Dan Zarrella presented at MIT about the Science of Social Media. He said even if only 2% of your intended audience is on social media (more possibly true for an older audience), that 2% has more potential and power to spread your message than the other 98%. They can reach hundreds or thousands within minutes because they use social tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Blogging. The people using those social networks aren't all so young. In "Twitter is not for kids" Kevin O'Keefe tells us 54% of Twitter users are ages 35 and over. Similar numbers are reported by Ad Age.

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Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Former MIT Social Media Strategist

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