Facebook Marketing Misses the Mark

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[Author's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that it is possible to market to older users by selecting 64 to "Any" as the age range to target, while still maintaining that Facebook should modify its ad customization to provide better tools to directly reach the growing 65 and older audience.]

The growth of social networking is being led by more mature users, but Facebook ads don't really take the senior population into account. Although social networking usage among the over-65 population is up 100 percent--more than three times the overall growth of social networking as a whole--Facebook only lets ads be specifically targeted for ages 64 and under.

To see for yourself, click on the "Create an Ad" link in Facebook. Enter a destination URL and a title for your ad, and add in some body text, then click the Continue button. The next section lets you target the ad for your audience, but the age demographics only cover ages 13 through 64, or "Any". The only way to reach the over-65 crowd is to select 64 as the low-end and "Any" as the upper range and lump the demographic in as a 64 and up target.

Ignoring the over-65 demographic might be excusable if the recent Pew Internet and American Life Project results were a revelation, but the popularity of Facebook among seniors is actually old news. A Nielsen study in November of 2009 found that Facebook had jumped from the number 45 most used site among seniors to number three.

Not only are older users flocking to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but they are using them more actively. The overview of the Pew Internet and American Life Project survey claims "Among adults ages 65 and older, 13 percent log on to social networking sites on a typical day, compared with just 4 percent who did so in 2009."

What's the big deal? A post on Inside Facebook about the Nielsen report explains that this demographic is important because "this age group comprises 13 percent of the population and tends to have both more disposable income and leisure time than other demographics," adding "In others words, they have more money to spend and more time to browse than others. And given the rapid growth of Facebook use among this population, there's potential to cultivate this surging market."

That 13 percent figure from Nielsen doesn't account for the Baby Boomer swell either. The oldest Baby Boomers are just starting to turn 65--leading a spike in the over 65 population that will last for a couple decades.

Facebook should appreciate that its social networking service is providing a forum for older users to connect with past coworkers and childhood friends, as well as keep in touch with siblings, children and grandchildren. But--for the sake of the businesses that have embraced Facebook to engage customers--Facebook also needs to recognize older users as the key marketing demographic they represent and provide the tools necessary to target this audience directly.

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