Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What are Older Women Doing on Facebook?

The initial headline in February about the increasing activity of older women on Facebook caught my attention. At first glance, it surprised me, as it apparently did many of the other “social media experts.” In fact, looking at some of the blog entries in February, some commenters actually seemed to doubt the accuracy of the data.

Monday there was new data from Hitwise via Marketing Charts that confirmed the trend, which is at least continuing if not accelerating. Younger users are visiting Facebook less frequently; older are visiting it more. The growth is in the 35 and over age groups, with the 55 and over growing fastest. The press release also points out that while the traffic to MySpace is slowing, it still had the highest average time spent in February—an important metric—with 29 minutes and 38 seconds. That is a slight decline for MySpace over 1 year ago.

Since I’m a member of the older demographic, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on the reasons for the trend on Facebook. I’ve been looking around since the February data came out, and I have a couple of solid hypothesis.

First, I should say that I’m not typical. I’m on the social networks because it’s what I do for a living. You learn by participating in this environment. Period. While my reason for being there is not typical, the results are. I’m in touch with former students all over the world; I’d have lost track of them without the social nets. I’m also in touch with younger friends and family members with whom I would rarely communicate in any other channel, including email. Point is, my reasons for being there aren’t typical, but the results I get from being there are.

I should also say that I believe the trend continues to be powered by women, although older men are clearly venturing onto social networks also.

So here are my two hypothesis:

1. Some women join Facebook and other social networks to keep up with young relatives and friends. I wouldn’t even be surprised if this was an “early adopter” reason.
2. The “early majority” adopters are hearing about sites like Facebook and deciding to try it for themselves. I’d love to know how many actually are invited by existing members; my guess is that a lot just invite themselves in order to try it out. When they do, they find that people they know are there. This must be ok!

In my early days on Facebook, the “People You May Know” were generally my former students, their friends, and my daughter’s friends—mostly 30-somethings. Now that has changed. Often it’s now people in my “older demographic.” And they tend to be women; women have historically been the communicators for their households.

This is another “the world is changing and marketers need to pay attention” moment. I saw a study by a site called Vibrant Nation, which is interesting itself. They coach their “older demographic” on why and how to participate. When I left I found a pop-under inviting me to sign up for their email newsletter. It’s a well-done site and does indeed look vibrant! What I went for was the results of a recent study. While it’s worth downloading, here are the essential findings:

KEY FINDINGS - The Vibrant Nation Woman: Networked and Wired
The study of 1,000 Boomer women with household income greater than $75,000 showed:
• The personal networks of women 50+ are large and growing.
• They are in personal contact with at least 46 people each month.
• 65% share information online with others in their network.
• They are comfortable relying on referrals from strangers online if the source is knowledgeable/experienced. They rely on references on websites like (70%), (54%) and Tripadvisor (27%).

Need I point out that this is a very desirable target audience for many marketers?

Here’s a quote from CNN that pretty much sums it up:

"All of a sudden it seems the world is waking up to what we already know," says Carol Orsborn, a senior strategist for VibrantNation. "Women at midlife and beyond are early adopters [of technology], competitive with their kids, and in many cases, they are beating out their kids."

Don’t stereotype us older chicks! Personally, I’m off to charge up my portable electronics and hit the road!


AYLatWORK said...

Comcast recently had a related finding for Twitter: "... 45-54 year olds are 36 percent more likely than average to visit Twitter ..." (

According to the findings, younger people are more likely to chat. My personal hypothesis on this one: the younger people I know have time to sit and chat with someone online (my babysitter does it all the time!). I however don't have that time (particularly not real-time) but I do have the time to check Twitter status updates *when it suits me*. I imagine I am better at that type of multitasking than I was in my early twenties.


MaryLou Roberts said...

All interesting and relevant observations. I don't think I made enough of the fact that in my advancing age, I have more time than I used to have to pursue. . .whatever!

emarketed said...

I found this very interesting, I have to share this with my peers,lol

MaryLou Roberts said...

Thanks for your comment! I followed up on Ailsa's good catch on the Twitter research a few days later

VibrantNation said...

Thanks for featuring our content in your blog! Boomer women are a powerful yet ignored demographic, and a surprising amount of them are using the internet to get their news and information - and also traditional sources like TV, newspapers, radio, etc. polled its members to find out what resources 50+ women are using today! Read more here: