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May 11, 2008

Data chart of the week: Seniors

by Josh Bernoff

This week we'll look at a group that gets less attention online, seniors. (If you're new to this weekly data chart or the Social Technographics Profile, check out the previous weekly data charts.) This chart is from Chapter 3 of Groundswell.

Groundswell figure 3-7

This chart raises an interesting question. Let's say your product is aimed at seniors -- like Flomax, or retirement communities. Obviously, your market isn't nearly as active in social applications, with less than 10% Creators and under 40% Spectators. Should you give up on the idea?

Not necessarily, but you'd better proceed with caution. Here are some situations in which approaching seniors with social technology makes sense:

  • You only spend a little. Sometimes it's worth it to reach 30% of your market, especially the most active 30%. Just don't blow your whole budget on social applications.
  • You tap into existing communities. Eons won't let you in until you're 49. Gather hits a more mature audience than most social networks. You can reach the social portion of your older audience more easily there, since they've done work of recruiting.
  • Your audience has a strong need to connect. Cancer patients are a lot older than the average consumer. They're also strongly attracted to connecting with fellow sufferers and sharing support and information. As a result, the American Cancer Society's Cancer Survivors Network is extremely active, despite having a lot of older Americans in it.
  • You make it easy. The imbalance between Spectators and Creators is especially vivid among seniors. This puts the onus on you to help them out. Seed your networks and applications with content and make it effortless to respond. Seniors are a lot more likely to participate if you make the on-ramps easy to navigate.


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I think this obsession with technographics is based on a faulty premise. It focuses on current adoption behavior and subject to continuous change as things evolve. What happens when things are fully adopted by the general population. Instead I believe it is much more to focus on the actual activities and let the demo or techno "graphics" trail the content. This whole approach seems self-serving to Forrester and not predicated on the solution. Comments?

Warren Sukernek

Having worked with Boomers/Matures in the past, I agree that activating them to use social applications may be a challenge. However, there are some activities like travel and photos that have worked quite well with this group. Also, I'd like to clarify that Eons has changed their policy (quite controversially, I might add) and relaxed the age entry to 13. As expected, this has not been well received by the community.

Josh Bernoff

@bill: Data is a part of the big picture -- an important part. I agree that behavior shifts, but it is a big mistake to create an application and hope your customers will come, if they are not participating.

Regarding this being self-serving, we're publishing data we collected at great expense, for free, on this blog. If people feel they can use data like this, we can help them. Based on the response so far we're going to keep publishing data, because people seem to find it valuable.

SRA Steve

The assumption is that social media and online use is primarily an interest of the young. New report just released from The Center for Digital Future and AARP has data that reveals otherwise: http://www.aarp.org/research/press-center/

The health and caregiving domains are also of high interest with middle and later year users, as these are life transition issues for these age segments. In addition, we see those wanting to "age well" or experience healthy, active aging growing in numbers as in the example of www.GrowingBolder.com of which our nonprofit health and social service agency is a participant.

I see these tools as having much potential to deliver information, services and support to the Boomers and Matures.

Thanks for the blog, the book and the data. Would love to see more research in this older demographic, after all, the boomers are coming, and I'm one of them who uses online and social media extensively.

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