Are the over 55s a key target for digital and social media marketing campaigns?


The world's first computer Colossus built by codebreakers at Bletchley Park during WWII.

Colossus, the world’s first computer. An innovation that has evolved into PCs, smartphones and social media.

Food and drink brands wishing to target the over 55s should be using smartphones, tablets and the Internet according wine and spirits publisher, Harpers. Their claim follows the publication of the latest Kantar data on the ‘digital consumer‘.

Does the data support this assertion? And what is the implication for brands who invest in social media marketing? Are the over 55s a social audience? We’ve drilled down into the research and other published data to gauge whether this audience is right for digital and social media marketing.

The research findings

Harpers’ claim is based on Kantar data which was published as an infographic. The key stats from this were:

  • 27% of over 55s now own a smartphone up from 17% in 2013
  • 15% now own a tablet up from 6% in 2013
  • 67% of over 55s use the web for paying bills compared to 61% of under 35s
  • 61% use price comparison sites compared with 51% of under 35s
  • Over 55s are more likely to listen to radio whilst surfing and less likely to watch TV (with the inverse being true for under 35s)

These are all positive indicators of growth, The over 55s are mainstream users of the Internet though with different consumption habits to younger consumers. Adoption of smartphones and tablets is growing yet they are still used by a minority of this audience. So what does picture look like when it comes to social media marketing?

Are they silver socialisers? 

Kantar’s data or at least the published element only focuses on core usage and key habits. Social doesn’t feature.

We also looked at the breakdown of some brand pages on Facebook to see if the over 55s were following and engaging with brands. When it comes to followers, brands do get followed by people of all ages. As you’d expect, usage by over 55s is lower than others segments.

The data from Ofcom’s 2013 Communications Market Report shows social usage by age group and social-economic status. This is summarised in the chart below.

Social media marketing: image showing usage of social media by age

The Ofcom data from last year shows varying usage. 24% of 55 – 64 had accessed a social network from home. When you look at older audiences it’s much lower: just 12% of 65 – 64 year olds and 2% of over 75s. For 55+ as a whole it’s likely to even out at well below the 20% mark.

This is based on last year’s data so it will be interesting to see what the trend is. For brand owners, usage is only one aspect. Do the 55+ segment follow brands on Facebook. To get an idea of the picture here we aggregated data from three drinks brands (sample of 145,000 consumers) to see what this shows. The results are shown below.

Social media marketing: chart showing brand likes by age group

This shows that 6% of over 55s follow brands via Facebook. This is just a snapshot but it does suggest that for brands spending on social media marketing, the over 55s are not on social nor following brands in sufficient numbers. We know that 65+ usage of social networks drops significantly. If we look at engagement with brands then the picture is even less promising. For our drinks brands overall engagement with 55+ would be 4%, (3% male, 1% female).

 

What it means for social media marketing

The good news is that for general web use, the over 55s are becoming more tech savvy. The over 55s are increasingly confident with buying online, paying bills and checking prices. It’s also true that more and more of this segment use tablets and smartphones. However, Harpers’ assertion that these are key channels for drinks brands is overly optimistic. The fact is that the majority do NOT own tablets or smartphones.

Targeting over 55s via social media is also ambitious. A minority of this segment do use social with many having accounts to connect with family and friends. The data shows that following and engaging with brands is of less importance. The takeout is that though social is growing in importance to the over 55s there is a long way to go before the majority are open to conversations with brands.

* Image of Colossus from the National Archives.

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