Baby Boomers Burst Online

Last week, I wrote about mobile technology and what’s probably one of the last demographics you’d associate with it: office workers and professionals of all status levels. Indeed, teens and young adults are no longer alone in shaping Internet and technology trends.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the Web, where consumers of an age you’d typically associate with offline media are rapidly making their mark. This fact became apparent to me Christmas morning, when my parents-in-law presented every member of the family with a Logitech video WebCam.

“We’ve been using ours to talk to each other during cocktail hour,” beamed my mother-in-law, who’d gone to southwestern Florida for the holidays early while my father-in-law finished up work in New York State. Every evening, they’d each take a seat at their respective computers and talk about the day’s events over a glass of white wine. “Now we can all iChat together and see each other wherever we are,” she told us. “Later, I’ll show you all how to set it up.”

Her pitch complete, the “kids” — all of us in our late 20s and early 30s — stared at each other in disbelief. The mood in the room was one of pride mingled with private inadequacy. As they boast the latest in computer technology, including iPods, navigation systems, and Apple’s PowerMac G5, my 50-something parents-in-law are on top of the trends. I’d blithely assumed, however, they were also the exception to the norm.

According to a new BURST! Media study, this Web-savvy, iTunes-using, smartphone-toting couple isn’t alone. Three of five adults 55 years and older, known to be the heaviest consumers of offline media such as newspapers and TV network news, say they use the Internet more today than they did a year ago. This data is supported by comScore Media Metrix research, which finds the number of online adults aged 55 and older grew by 20 percent to reach over 27 million in 2005.

According to BURST!, the ability to access content any time of the day is drawing these adults online. This age group also finds more accurate information on the Web than with TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers. Nearly 58 percent of surveyed adults over 55 stated they could find content online they couldn’t find via other media. Over 45 percent also bestowed the Internet with the advantage of offering up-to-date content, particularly when compared with broadcast media.

In addition to gathering information for their personal needs, over 50 percent of this demographic uses the Web to communicate with others, as my mother-in-law so aptly demonstrated. She uses chat programs such as AOL’s AIM and Apple’s iChat daily and emails with a vengeance, along with millions of others her age.

These statistics, however, only begin to answer the question of where to reach older adults online. Adult IM usage is still dominated by Generation Y, according to a 2004 Pew Internet & American Life Project study, making it difficult for marketers to target an older demographic via this medium. News sites and portals are a good bet, but there are also plenty of adult consumers who get all the information they need from the rotating banners on their ISP’s home page.

One solution is to make your presence known on sites that cater specifically to this audience’s interests and needs. The 50PlusNow network helps baby boomers find relevant information on the Web and includes a blog community. It’s expected to launch an ad network to connect advertisers with this demographic in the months to come.

Since many 55-plus consumers are retired, leisure and special interest sites, such as golf portals (particularly in the warmer southern states) and travel properties, can also be an appropriate option. Health portals promise to give you access to older visitors as well; BURST! says 28 percent of women and nearly 25 percent of men aged 55 or older visit these sites weekly.

As this demographic becomes even more tech-savvy, it will befit media buyers to target via IM and music download sites as well. Watch for the latest surveys and studies to determine when the time is right. In the meantime, research shows over 68 percent of consumers aged 50-64 will make their way online by the end of this year. My mother-in-law will be there, waiting to send them a video greeting. Be sure you’re there, too.

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