By Kristoff Doneit
Most social networks are geared towards a younger age demographic of users, between the ages of 16 and 30. Even though this is the largest age demographic of social networking users online, the conversion ratio is the lowest. The reasons for this being fairly obvious. Most people between the ages of 16-25 are going to school and possibly even living at home or being supported by their parents. Most of them do not have a steady income or a full time job. So in essence, this age demographic has little or no buying power or is living “on the cheap”, and are much less willing to make large or frequent purchases online. So why are more social networks not targeting an older age demographic? Because they see the sheer volume of adolescent to young adult users online and assume that mass quantity equals more money. This is simply not the case, and for some reason, most of the major social networks (myspace, facebook, bebo, etc.) still have yet to catch on to this factor. If you look at almost all case studies conducted on age demographics and their spending habits, you will notice that the older or “grey” internet users tend to spend much more as they usually have a stable income and are generally in a much higher bracket. This means that the conversion ratio of an older demographic would be much higher, than their current target market.
How can social networks capture an older generation of computer users?
There are three essential ingredients (so to speak) that would be a factor in increased population of an older age demographic. The first being niche categories they can relate to. Lets use Music as the broad niche example. The social network, Woodworking and Tole painting, Gardening, etc. The second essential ingredient would be to allow the user to separate themselves by age demographic. This would allow social networks to give a unique look and feel to each of their age demographics. By doing this, they will be able to continue to use their current business model that is already targeted at a younger crowd, and simply add new “demographics” to their current model. By targeting each age demographic separately, the network will have been successful in maintaining that comfortable environment you generally feel when being surrounded by others your own age. Now this is not to say that there shouldn’t also be a forum or area where all groups can communicate and collaborate with each other, but just that they know that they have the option to be amongst people their own age. The third ingredient will be localization. Have you ever noticed that the local networks on pages like facebook and myspace all look the exact same? They may have different users that are from that region and they may be talking about different subjects, but the overall look and feel is the exact same as every other network. This in my opinion, is one of the major issues of most of the top social networks that are currently online. Most people would love to click on their local community or network site (for example, Montreal, Quebec, Canada) and see localized news, weather, events, top restaurants in the area, movie listings, how to get to certain places, etc. Other examples of localization could include popular folk songs or artists from that region, color themes based on their local flag (in Montreal’s case, the colors of the flag are red, white, green, blue, and purple), local sports team support and information, the latest fashion trends, politics in the local community, etc. You might be able to find specialized groups on facebook that contains all this information, but it is not found in one central place, making it literally impossible to find unless you know exactly what you are looking for. It is imperative that localized pages are created as geo targeting your users is one of the best ways to provide them with the most relevant content possible. The older markets especially appreciate localized information, and tend to go to numerous different websites and online blogs/publications to retrieve all the information they are looking for.
Are there any social networks out there that already appeal to older age demographics?
Yes there are, however, most of them are targeted towards specific niches and not a variety of specific niches. The closest example to a website with varied niches targeted towards an older group is parentsconnect. Yet this page is still only specifically targeted to parents. What about bachelor’s, seniors, middle aged divorced men without kids, etc. There is no one spot where all of these different older demographics can join and collaborate together. Since 2007, Myspace’s average age demographic has risen surprisingly to 35 and above. The reason for the attraction is purely based on the “mainstream effect”. Once a larger base of people became aware of the community, it was expected that a broader and much older user base would begin to start using the site as well. Again, even though myspace is getting more older users to their page now, they still do not have most of the essential ingredient necessary to maintain and attract the core members of an older user base, thus their conversion ratio would never reach even a fraction of its potential.
In conclusion, there are some social networks out there that are tailoring to older crowds, but they are specifically targeting older people, and are using specific niches (i.e. parenthood). Current major social networks need to wake up and realize that their conversion ratio’s (namely Facebook) are so low because they are not targeting older age demographics as well. In lehman’s terms: the big money is in the older age demographics, and if they want to attain a strong hold as the industry leading social website or the future of social networking, they’ll need to start taking notes when they visit their parents and their grandparents about what interests them in life. Social networks need to take the next step and start targeting more to specific age demographics, than just specific niches within one age category.
This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 3rd Annual SEM Scholarship contest.