May 28th, 2009
Baby Boomers Are Not Quitting Facebook
Earlier this year, it was reported that women 55 and over are the fastest growing segment of users on Facebook. Just yesterday, however, Inside Facebook released a 60-day update, finding that fewer people in the same age group are revisiting their profiles.
The original report was seen as a sign that older generations are beginning to embrace social networking. Citing similar patterns (for example, people aged 45-64 being the fastest growing demographic in mobile texting), a new-found optimism for boomers and their relationship with the Internet emerged. However, the new revelations have stunned the digital community who have started to question whether the technological learning curve is just too great of older users.
Mashable covered the story, proclaiming that users over 55 were quitting Facebook. The claim is somewhat exaggerated. The data doesnt show that boomers are actually leaving. Instead, they are not coming back as often – there was a decrease of 650 000 active users rather than 650 000 less.
Nevertheless, the figures do suggest an interesting pattern among older users. Back in February, when the report first emerged, some warned that the data could be misleading as younger family members created profiles for their mothers and grandmothers. However, youre only misled if you believe that the initial surge was based on the fact that older users were joining and using Facebook for the same reasons as the majority twenty-something age group.
So, why did users over 55 flock to Facebook and then abandon their profiles? Speculators point to a lack of acclimatization or poor education in features. Valid points, but they also distract from deeper discussion about why they joined in the first place and whether they’re using Facebook like the average user.
Take mothers as an example. Sixty-five percent of teens’ parents set rules regarding the sites their children are permitted to visit as well as the time of day they have access to them. The surge could have come from an instinct to monitor or at least, the option to check in on children digitally. While the rest of us update our profiles to say look at me, parents may well be joining Facebook to do nothing but look at you.
For those past adolescence, its likely that mothers join to keep in touch. As families evolve into an empty nest, a dramatic drop in communication occurs. Mothers, as traditional curators of family communication, drive the frequency of conversations with grown-up, out-of-home children. Its possible that the fastest growing demographic migrated online to keep in touch with the largest and the one most casual about regular contact with family members. The point has been raised about activity spiking over holidays, when children actually make an annual effort to communicate.
Moreover, social networks may soon become the only option for empty-nest parents to reach their children. Consider that telephones the central communication device of baby boomers are suffering a slow and painful death. An exodus from the telephone by younger, wired users makes it a growing necessity for mothers to get online.
Telecommunications companies are wincing at the fact. Refer to Australias largest communications company, Telstra. They recently released an intensive TV and digital campaign with a blatant call to action: Time to call your mum? Obviously, the lack of communication between the young and old is cause for decrease in telephone revenue and, in the case of Facebook, a dip in activity.
More and more free ways to communicate are emerging and its quickly becoming more convenient to reach people online. Particularly for women over 55, especially for mothers trying to reach their children. We cant be too quick to say that older users are rejecting social networking. It could be that the younger majority is simply ignoring the older.