Study: Social Nets Snare Boomers

DETROIT The widely known maxim is that if parents like what the kids are listening to, it’s time for the kids to ditch that music and move on. So what happens when mom requests you as a friend on Facebook?

The notion is not inconceivable, according to a new “Entertainment Trends in America” study by The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y. Social networking sites used by teenagers and young adults are also being adopted by baby boomers (age 44-61). The findings show that 41 percent of baby boomers have visited social networks, such as MySpace or Facebook, and 61 percent have been to sites with streaming or downloadable video.

The study, which surveyed 11,600 consumers online, also found that over 57 percent of Web users overall have stopped at social networking sites in the past three months. Baby boomers stopped on average of eight times in that period.

“There is an older demographic that is shifting over the youth-centric things on the Web,” said Doug Akin, evp, brand development at Mr. Youth, New York. “There is a humor to having one’s mom as a Facebook friend in some circles. But it’s not actually cool for most people.”

He noted that few brands that cater to an older crowd have made a MySpace page or a Facebook presence mandatory, somewhat of a miscue.

NPD’s findings confirm what many marketers already know: “Younger brands” like Apple and Red Bull have paved the way, and now “older brands” must realize that there’s a more mainstream approach to reaching all types of consumers, said Akin.

BMW — with an average buyer about 45 years old — earlier this year used Facebook as a medium to promote its new 1-Series.

Most brands, however, have done a poor job of making themselves known to older consumers. “What we’ve found is that technology, media and consumer goods are doing a good job of marketing, overall, in social networks,” said Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “Everyone else is failing.”

Owyang said that older social network users are there for different reasons than younger users and are less likely to leave messages or otherwise interact with others. A Forrester study conducted earlier this year found that 41 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds leave comments or create content on social networking sites; only 14 percent of those 55 and over use the sites for the same purpose.

“It tells me that younger consumers want to engage, while older [consumers] are there for information. Which is a good place for any marketer to be,” Owyang added.

NPD also found that baby boomers that are engaging with social networks or streaming video are 15 percent more likely to buy CDs and DVDs than their unengaged peers.
“Overall, these sites offer a great opportunity to marketers at many age levels, but the boomer visits are really a surprise,” said Russ Crupnick, NPD’s entertainment industry analyst. “These things may be targeted to a younger audience, but as we are seeing, there are more older people who enjoy these services.”