The age of web users is rising. In 1994, the average user was a fresh faced 26-year-old. Today they are 38, with the beginnings of wrinkles and ‘silver highlights’.
Statistics show that older users are embracing social media. Last year, 42% of internet users over 50 used social networks, but on the ground usage makes the figures less rosy.
My web development company hold a ‘social networking for business’ workshop for older clients. Many are members of a social network, but few can name its advanced features or how to use it beyond contacting friends.
How social media can enhance their professional life remains a mystery to older users. Our morning workshop is often filled with bewilderment and frustration.
An interest in social media is not the same as confident networking, and the trend-obsessed world of social media can alienate older users.
Why should you Care?
This ambivalence of older people towards social media is more than a problem for web developers. Our whole economy is being damaged by their exclusion.
Think about everyone you know over fifty: amongst your colleagues, contract workers and personal network. How many of them use social media to promote their business? What would happen if they did? The barriers to social networking can be small, but can cost companies huge profits.
3 Fears that Older Users have about Social Media
1) Their privacy will be compromised.
Older web users value their privacy. While younger clients rarely fret about the impact of a social network on their private life, for older clients this can be a major anxiety.
2) They don’t know ‘the Rules’
The main barrier for many older web users is not unfamiliar technology, but social anxiety about correct ‘netiquette’. To become confident social networkers, they need to know how to behave, not just which buttons to press.
3) No-one is Interested in that
It’s a cliché, but younger clients are generally happy to tweet about their breakfast – especially if it involves homemade sausages! Older clients often have more hang-ups about the quality of their content. Some have a fear of imposing on strangers. Others wonder if they have anything to say at all.
How to Cure Social Media Anxiety
Remember your Manners
Start at the beginning: with social netiquette . There are many unwritten rules that seasoned social networkers take for granted. Understanding these rules helps people to relax.
Help the User to Take Control
When talking about social media, speak realistically about issues of privacy. Don’t brush people’s concerns under the carpet. Instead, put the user in control.
Help older people to understand their privacy settings. Show them how to delete unwanted posts and to send a private message.
Compare private messages to email. Out of all networking tools, older web users are most confident with email, so this comparison helps social networks to feel like familiar territory.
Make it Real
Show older users a living social network. When people see the mundane reality of most Twitter feeds, they relax. You really don’t have to be Stephen Fry to be good at twitter.
Break the Ice
The biggest anxiety of any newbie to social networking is ‘what do I have to say?’
Help to get people started with a list of ideas for social media updates.
Don’t advise older web users to get down with the kids and tweet about Cornflakes. Instead, harness their higher standards; quality content is a business asset!
We need to reach out. Older users don’t just surf the internet, they are amongst its highest spenders. They are often well connected, with a wealth of knowledge to share. The young, hip image of social media could be costing us serious business.
Jennifer Clayton is a copywriter. She spends most of her time running Ownbeat Creatives (www.ownbeat.co.uk) - a design and marketing firm in York, UK. She likes words, loathes numbers, and needs a drip-feed of coffee to survive.