PR Niblets

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ageism in Social Media

Social media is perceived to be a young person’s game, part of an arcane techno-geekdom attended by those who were raised with computers and the internet. There’s an implied temporal Mason-Dixon Line that lies somewhere in between Generation X and Generation Y, and if you’re south of that demarcation, common wisdom dictates that you kind of missed the boat.

But the facts don’t support this perception. Recent studies have shown middle-aged groups to be among the fastest growing segments in various social media channels.

In July, Nielsen released a report measuring Twitter’s growth by age group. The fastest growing group by far was the 25-54 segment. Most surprising, though, is that the 55+ group outpaced the under 24s (20% compared to 16%).

Also in July, an analytics company called iStrategy Lab examined the demographic statistics from Facebook ads. The number of overall users between the ages of 18 and 24 grew by an unimpressive 4.8% whereas the number of users over 55 grew by an astonishing 513.7%. In other words, young people may have hopped on the social media train first, but older generations are on the streetcar behind them.

In spite of the rapid adoption by older generations, there is still this perception (not shared by all but by enough to call it a trend) that older people are not privy to something; that the youth possess some mysterious quality: a certain quiddity that can’t be defined or emulated. By default, older generations defer to their more “with it” counterparts, resulting in the birth of an occupation predicated on ageism: the social media manager.

I concede that there is something to be said about the facility that comes with growing up with web-based technology, but the advantage is not as great as some might contend. Social media is young enough that no age group really has a distinct advantage over another, especially with how changeable the landscape still is.

As a person that straddles the line between Generation X and Generation Y, I’d like to send a message directly to any social media unsavvy middle-aged person (and older) reading this: We know less about social media than we think we do, but, more importantly, you know more than you think you do.

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