Since the emergence of social media platforms several years ago, it’s been accepted as dogma that the younger generations (are we up to Gen Y or X these days?) were the heaviest users and resident experts. I always thought that view was too simplistic, and clashed with what I was seeing in my own professional life (I’m one of those “older” users). Recent research from the Pew Research Center suggests the stereotype of social networks as a young person’s game is increasingly inaccurate. Though young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media and growth is occurring across all age groups, older adult participation is…pardon the pun…booming. According to Pew, social networking use among internet users ages 50-64 grew by 88%–from 25% to 47%– between April 2009 and May 2010. (It bears mention that Pew only surveys American users)
The implications of this evolution are still being defined, but at minimum it raises interesting challenges about marketing the platforms or sites. For one thing, can networks like Facebook or Twitter remain popular among younger, tech-savvy users if their parents or teachers also use the site? (One site that skewed to younger fans – MySpace – hasn’t done very well.) I haven’t seen much market fragmentation so far – perhaps because these networks allow for easy internal segmentation according to interest and age – but it will be interesting to watch. The lesson here may be to avoid quick assumptions about user profiles and interests – particularly regarding the relationship between age and social media. The uber-geek, digital native you are looking for may be older than you think.