How Baby Boomers Use Social Media

Social Technographics of older and younger Baby Boomers

Above: The Social Technographics of Baby Boomers. Need to understand more about technographic ladder? read this handy key.

I recently published a report on how baby boomers use social technologies based on our social techngraphics research. While my parents aren’t yet on Facebook, you’d be surprised on how their adoption of social media –they aren’t luddites by any means. With the president of the United States using social technologies for campaigning and his ongoing administration, Boomers retiring and wanting to stay in touch with their digitally expressive children and grandchildren, and with a recession causing need for all of us to connect to each other –expect an increase in social technology adoption across many generations.

If you’re a Forrester client, download the full report, or read my discussion with the New York Times. Sarah Perez, who does excellent coverage at Read Write Web has some additional thoughts and provides some suggestions on what it means (be sure to read the comments)

When I saw the data, I was surprised by the social technology adoption of baby boomers, would love to hear your perception and opinion on this.

Update: Some really don’t like the findings and insights, and have extended me a virtual finger, and I’m pretty sure it’s not this one. Finally, someone gets the fact that we’re not banging on boomers, but instead showing that social media extends beyond teens. Thanks Laura.

53 Replies to “How Baby Boomers Use Social Media”

  1. My perception is that your perception is limited. Any Boomer with a child in another city is motivated to get on social media, and any Boomer with a grandchild is doubly motivated. Not to mention all the health advice that’s in these networks, and all the dating. Boomers are looking for eternal life, exciting love, and information about their families on social media. It’s a natural!

  2. I recently wrote a post on my blog called “Social media is truly coming of age ” just ask my 85-year-old mom” In the mean time she is on Facebook and loves it. For seniors, many of whom aren’t as mobile as they used to be, social media can have tremendous benefits for continuing to feel connected and integrated with the world around. I think they will use social media in increasing numbers, encouraged and supported by their younger children and grand children who are already comfortable and present in the space.

  3. Hi Jeremiah,
    You know, for some reason this week I have had a number of incidents in which I bumped into a very frustrating assumption about baby boomers and their lack of use/understanding/curiosity and very professional use of social media. I am old enough to barely even be a boomer and I have owned a computer since 1985, typed my own dissertation, used email in the 90’s, went to a family reunion organized entirely via email by my uncles who were in their mid-80’s at the time and I could go on and on. While I may be an exception, I still can’t believe that there are not more of us out there who enjoy social media just because it is so interesting, the connections to people and ideas around the world are so fascinating and many of us use these media professionally as well. I am taking a training course to teach online at the college level and the courses I plan to teach will definitely use social media in a variety of ways. I also plan to use social media to search for online teaching positions.
    I guess my point is that who ever is doing the surveys and drawing the conclusions, needs to look more closely at a wider range of babyboomers and, hopefully these stereotypes can be dismissed.
    Thanks for listening – I enjoy the research you do and am glad you have returned to Twitter.

  4. I’m another older baby boomer (born in ’56) who’s been using computer technology since the early days. In my first real job with Shell we had “supercomputers” filling up entire rooms that had less processing power than today’s laptops. My first pc had 256K memory (you read that right). To me social networking has been around for a long time, via news groups in the 80’s and chat rooms in the 90’s. It’s the scale and global accessibility that has changed so dramatically in recent years. Social technology is just a natural fit to the main trends in society and technology. So to assume that my peers are by-in-large clueless ignores the fact that my generation invented all this stuff and we’ve been embracing it all along!

  5. Hi Jeremiah,

    This is not surprising. Maybe in a matter of degrees, but not wildly.

    If we’re talking about commenting on blogs and using Facebook, not at all. Hey, the NYT article was from “Bits” — a blog. Most of the mainstream media has adopted blogs as a means of distributing information more quickly and engaging users. People are getting more and more comfortable with the tools, as a means to do what people have always done.

    I have to agree with the thought (yours, I think) presented in the NYT article about how to go about reaching people in the communities (although maybe not with the phrasing of it). You’ve gotta make people comfortable entering a new place (sic community), especially if you want new people to come back. Give them things that are familiar, with low barriers to interact. Introduce them to others. Be relevant to what they need. Be a good host. That’s how to *build* thriving communities.

    On a macro level, that dynamic has been happening in varying degrees with all age groups over the past few years with social technologies.

    Now if you were to tell me that Boomers have adopted Twitter in large numbers, THAT would be surprising. Or laughable. : )

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  7. It was my mother – in her early 60’s at the time – who first got me online. She showed me this new thing called Mosaic and explained how it would soon change how everyone communicated and interacted. And no, she was not a techie, she was a midwestern housewife with an Art History degree who got into moderating BBSs so she could interact with other writers.

    So I’m leery of age-based generalizations about technology adoption, even as I acknowledge her outlier status. I think you’re onto something with the idea that lower barriers to entry are vital. That’s not just for boomers and older folks, it’s for capture anyone beyond early adopters. That, combined with critical mass (which is now sucking boomers by the SUV-load into Facebook) is what it will take to get through the early & into the late majority.

    Is that something unique to the boomer & beyond audience? Or is it just that the Geoffrey Moore model of technology adoption happens to also split along generational lines in this case?

    And if you’re wondering, I’m not a boomer. Yes, I was born in 1960. But I have no CSNY, Beatles or Grateful Dead in my DRM-free music collection

  8. hi, jeremiah — i love your posts and don’t want to scold, but i’m still a bit disappointed by your continued surprise with these numbers. i think analysts are looking at the wrong data. the watershed event is not the moment of adoption of social media. that’s a comparatively minor event, compared with the seismic switch from non-electronic equipment to computers and LANs in the workplace 25 years ago. that workplace population bought computers for home use…and introduced computers to their children, and so on. what was the age spread of white collar workers in, say, 1984? bring that population forward 25 years and there’s the high end of potential social media users. i don’t think it’s comfort with the medium, but rather relevance of the content that will drive adoption.

  9. Margy

    Thanks for being up front. I was too, my expectations were obviously proven wrong by real data. I live and learn every day, thanks for sharing –and glad you don’t take it personally.

  10. Saw your Tweet on this. age 61 “old boomer” – I have led my kids (one 29 other 24) through most of this tech adoption (except video games). Did that by being an early computerphile (TI-99A, orig. Mac, and yes my wife finally forgave me). More recently by creating content. I love it when I am on Twitter and my age 17-18 ball players say “what’s that?”. My point is that I seem in line with many of the boomers replying in that age may be valid demographics but a poor determinant of psychographic splits. Like all statistics, they are affected by the assumptions and preconceptions. I think you need to re-examine the why not merely the what.

  11. Hello Jeremiah,
    Another “Older Baby Boomer” reporting in, with hopes of adding to your well-intentioned effort. I think it likely there is an important co-relationship between the role one is most closely identified with (i.e. a creator, critic, spectator etc.) and an individual’s knowledge of (and confidence with) the English language. Those with the most developed language skills would gravitate toward the roles of creator and critic, while those with the weakest writing skills, gravitate to the bottom categories. Seems logical, does it not?

  12. I have been in Silicon Valley for my entire career till I owned my own business in 2000. I am a boomer and flower child at heart. My kids were all in tune with high tech; my youngest at 23 is a techie.

    In fact, I was an early adopter of AOL and chatrooms and was in the group who began to coin acronyms such as LOL and ROFL

    I have seen this technology evolve..from word processor to the iPhone. All this helps me in my job as a business promoter. I can talk sales, marketing and the history of many businesses that have come and gone and survived. the baby boomers who read this…you rock!

  13. For boomers – I think those of you commenting here are the exception – rather than the norm.

    I consider myself an exception too.

    It can be harder to see – because we are already in the forest.

    But if I look at teh majority of people that I know in my age group – they use email – they use PC’s for work.

    But they don’t go any farther – it isen’t baked into their bones.

    I know boomers that tothis day refure to even touch a PC –

    Will it change?

    Definately – as people have pointed out – the tools like skype & facebook that allow ’empty-nesters’ to keep on truckin’ with the kids or grand kids will drive that – there is a reward for them.

    PS no CSNY, Beatles or Grateful Dead for me either – then again, I was UK Decay, L7, Skinny Puppy, Joy Division type…..

  14. This goes beyond baby boomers. From visiting nursing homes, I see parents of boomers using the web. Email seems to be the predominant use, but I’ve noted chat, Skype, and relevant blogs also used.

    If they were exposed to it, light weight approaches such Twitter would be a hit. With a bit of training and a larger monitor or pair of computer glasses. I’d expect participation in and contributions to face book.

    In room cable TV is widely available in nursing homes. Imagine if broadband were as well.

  15. Another point missed here is the fact that more and more baby boomers are becoming entrpreneurs. For that reason social media is very important because it connects us to a much larger audience than we could possibly reach doing face-to-face networking.

  16. Cool blog. I agree, but sometimes it’s annoying when older people say “you sign me up… I don’t get this internet or facebook stuff.”

  17. Well, I must tell you that I have enjoyed the comments made on this post. Also, I am awed by the genius and wisdom expressed by the baby boomers who posted. Should I be surprised? Not at all, this post was an example of great blogging. It had great content and stimulated thinking and discussion. Keep up the great work. And to think that you are not a baby boomer is impressive for the boldness in sharing your opinion and date, flawed or not flawed, it gave everyone something to chew on.
    I have baby boomers clients that are either afraid to venture into social media, want adventure, angry about the push to do it, one foot in real life and the other in Second Life social media, teaching others with great insight, and the list goes on. You would be surprised at the assortment of baby boomer social media genius and presence in this big bold boomer world.
    Keep up the great work.

  18. What about Gen-X? I think it's interesting how marketers continue to forget about us Xers who turned 40 in 2004, btw.

  19. I’d disagree. It’s more comfort with the media. If they werent comfort with the media than how would they even know the relevance of the content. Analogy: If you aren’t comfortable driving a car, than there is no way you would buy a nice car for yourself. The stats are intriguing though

  20. One other factor overlooked here is the undeniable fact that increasingly more middle-agers have become entrpreneurs. Because of this social networking is essential given it connects all of us with a much bigger target audience than we’re able to potentially attain doing face-to-face marketing.

  21. One other factor overlooked here is the undeniable fact that increasingly more middle-agers have become entrpreneurs. Because of this social networking is essential given it connects all of us with a much bigger target audience than we’re able to potentially attain doing face-to-face marketing.

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