Saturday, September 27, 2008

Social Media Demographics to Broaden

If you are a regular reader of Experience: The Blog, you know that I often compare the experience of the Internet era to what we can expect from the upcoming Social Media era. Doing so permits us to foresee what may happen as Social Media becomes more integrated into consumers' lives and into business operations.

One of the most obvious parallels between the introduction of the Internet and the birth of Social Media is the demographic trends. Back in the mid 90s within every company in the country, some version of the following was uttered by a senior executive: "The Internet is for kids and geeks, and our consumers will never be online." The first half of this statement wasn't necessarily wrong at the time, but the second half was quickly disproved as the Internet expanded across all demographic categories.

Today, you can hear much the same dismissal of Social Media. Too many people believe it is primarily for kids. Those people may want to check out a new Entertainment Trends in America study by The NPD Group. They found that 41% of baby boomers have visited social networks, and in the past three months boomers stopped at these sites an average of eight times. This isn't nearly the frequency with which their kids visit Social Media sites, but it is growing.

The problem with falsely stereotyping Social Networkers as kids is that brands can fail to exploit a medium that is growing older and more diverse with each passing month. Doug Akin, evp-brand development at Mr. Youth, notes that "few brands that cater to an older crowd have made a My Space page or a Facebook presence mandatory," which he calls a miscue.

It should be appreciated that, just as people of different ages have come to use the Internet differently, so will tweens' Social Media usage differ from their parents. Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst at Forrester Research, notes that, "younger consumers want to engage, while older [consumers] are there for information."

Dismissing Social Media as being irrelevant to a brand with an older customer base is dangerous. Social Media is already seeing a broadening of its user demographics, and as occurred with the Internet a decade ago, this trend will continue. Not every demographic will engage Social Media in the same way, but in the years to come every demographic will engage Social Media in some way!

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