Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Graying of Social Media

A popular myth about social media is that it's a fancy of youth, something endemic in the teen set but largely ignored by those well past their college years. If there was any doubt that this is a fallacy, read the latest Pew Research report.

According to their numbers, 47% of American adults have used some kind of social networking site, close to double the number recorded in 2008. The average age of users has shifted up from 33 to 38. On first blush this may not seem like much, but it's significant: Those 50 to 65 accounted for only 9 percent of social network users in 2008 and today they account for 20 percent of users. The numbers tripled for those 65 and over.

There's no question that the Early Adopters of social media were largely young, but we've long moved past the early stages of adoption. Social media is a part of the online landscape for most everybody.

What astonished a jaded marketeer like me was the response to the question “most people can be trusted.” Be honest – you'd expect a healthy majority to lean towards a “Nah” on this question – and indeed there is a majority, but far less than I'd thought. Forty-one percent of adults are trusting, and this actually increases slightly to 45% for social media users (non-Internet users are a gloomy bunch, with only 27% being trusting).

What emerges is that active users of social media are far more engaged, open and have more social support that non-users. Stating the painfully obvious, social media is about being social. It's about sustaining existing relationships (only 9% of Facebook “friends” have never met in person) and rekindling old friendships.

The implications for marketing pros are clear. First, the days when social media was a playground for consumer-facing youth brands are over. But we've known this for a while. What may be more important is that social networks are focused around trusted relationships that preexist. For marketing to engage with these close-knit communities will require creating a persona – a brand – that can feel familiar, that is already a part of the extended social network, and that can instinctively be trusted.