With older populations growing at an unprecedented rate, what role does social media play?

In the world of marketing, many an industry headline has fixated on the shiny and new, placing particular emphasis on the often-fickle tastes and habits of younger consumers. When it comes to ‘Y-ers’, ‘Z-ers’, or any other ‘-ers’ for that matter, the likes of Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch and other such platforms have done a commendable job at grabbing and maintaining their attention.

But, what about the earlier generations? The people who didn’t grow up with the internet and social media.

Having profited from rising property values, free university education, social mobility and decent pensions, they have the disposable income to indulge themselves.  They also have the time and patience to research offers, retail brochures and travel itineraries.  And for information on new products and services, 75% of them go to the internet first.

So, this poses the question - where does social media sit and is this still a great area for grey marketing?

Having celebrated its 15th birthday earlier this year, it’s not just Facebook that’s getting older, but also its user base. According to the Guardian, the over-55 group is the second largest demographic on Facebook at 6.4m, whilst also being the fastest growing, with half a million users signing up between 2017 and 2018.

So, what’s fuelling this growth? A study conducted at Penn State University in the US revealed that older people are motivated by a desire to see what their children and grandchildren are doing, as well as staying connected. By way of validation, research recently published in The Journals of Gerontology found that social media can actually help alleviate the negative effects of social isolation, and can supplement attempts to maintain a healthy social life, particularly for those who are limited by pain and mobility issues.

Along with a desire to stay in touch (and add the odd embarrassing comment to a loved one’s post), Google research argues that the entertainment opportunities are one of the main reasons older generations use social media as regularly as they do. Considering this generation grew up with linear TV programming available on just three or four channels, you’d be right for wondering whether modern-day, on-demand culture would turn them off.  In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth, with many enjoying the snackable-format of YouTube for entertainment as well as education - in fact, 68% of boomers say they watch YouTube videos for entertainment.

This trend isn’t a fad.  Once complicated and expensive, technology is now simple to use and very affordable, highlighting the need for brands to have a clear understanding of how content is being consumed across multiple social platforms (and multiple devices). 

 It’s clear to us that the growth potential for brands that understand and engage with this complex and lucrative market is enormous.