Reach Older Users on Facebook and Twitter

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A new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that social networking is maturing--or at least its audience is. As Baby Boomers flock to Facebook and other social networking sites, it shifts the marketing demographics and makes social networking an even more critical forum for engaging consumers.

The overview for the report by Senior Research Specialist Mary Madden, titled "Older Adults and Social Media," points out, "While social media use has grown dramatically across all age groups, older users have been especially enthusiastic over the past year about embracing new networking tools."

Social networking use has risen in general, but the sharpest increase was among the over-50 population which almost doubled from 22 percent to 42 percent.

Madden's report finds, "While social media use has grown dramatically across all age groups, older users have been especially enthusiastic over the past year about embracing new networking tools. Although e-mail continues to be the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families and colleagues, many users now rely on social network platforms to help manage their daily communications--sharing links, photos, videos, news and status updates with a growing network of contacts."

What does this mean from a business perspective? Social networking as a means of marketing to potential customers, and engaging loyal customers is more critical than ever. Baby Boomers represent a large, and relatively wealthy segment of the population--holding a large percentage of the discretionary disposable income in the United States.

Charles Orlando, author of The Problem with Men, has an extensive marketing background and has established a thriving presence on Facebook. Based on his experience building a community on Facebook, he believes its important to approach it as social engagement rather than social media.

Orlando told me, "I've been in the trenches with my book's Fan Page for the last year...and much of what I've accomplished has to do with three clear things: tone/voice, relevant and valuable content, and non-'salesy' engagement."

Based on those principles, Orlando was able to grow the following of his Facebook Page, from 300 in March of this year to over 59,000 today. More important than the sheer number of Facebook members that have "Liked" his page, Orlando reports that 97 percent of those 59,000 users are from his target audience (women), and that nearly half of them actively engage in the site and participate in the community.

Orlando stressed, "This was accomplished with pure word of mouth. Not a dime has gone into an online advertising." He attributes the skyrocketing growth to his approach to engaging the audience rather than simply marketing to them.

If you use Facebook or Twitter as a medium for blasting out marketing messages, your audience will read them and move on. But, if you engage the audience with questions and provide meaningful discussion, those interactions are generally displayed on the member's feed as well--providing an opportunity for the extended social network to be drawn in and join the community as well.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project report shows that the social networking audience is maturing as social networking itself matures. Businesses need to embrace it as social engagement rather than social media, and take advantage of the platform to reach consumers.

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