Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Baby boomers and social media, or not

Last week's Wall Street Journal served us an article on why email is dying. For my money, although email has ceded ground to other communications channels, it still has plenty of legs.

Outside of the tech elite, email is still the second best way to reach someone (the phone ranks as the clear first choice). If you are dealing with people outside of your social network, sending an email is the second best way to communicate non-urgent information.

Also, the shiny new social media toys we use today may not be in vogue ten years from now (hello and goodbye MySpace), but it's hard to believe email will ever go away. For example, snail mail, email's close cousin, has held its ground despite being faced with cheaper and faster competition. Fewer people letter, but bills still fill my mailbox.

Other means
That being said, even email can't reach all audiences. Some people aren't online, especially the old and poor.

My mother bought her first computer last week. My father owns an iPhone but has no interest in using the Web or email (don't ask me what he was thinking when he bought the iPhone). My grandmother uses email, but never checks her Facebook page. But, they all send cards and letters. They are not alone. There is large demographic who don't live on the Web and don't miss it. And yes, I know the demographic of people who don't use the Web shrinks every year. I read the survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

  • Senior citizens: Broadband usage among adults ages 65 or older grew from 19% in May 2008 to 30% in April 2009.
  • Low-income Americans: Two groups of low-income Americans saw strong broadband growth from 2008 to 2009: First, respondents living in households whose annual household income is $20,000 or less saw broadband adoption grow from 25% in 2008 to 35% in 2009. Second, respondents living in households whose annual incomes are between $20,000 and $30,000 annually experienced a growth in broadband penetration from 42% to 53%.Overall, respondents reporting that they live in homes with annual household incomes below $30,000 experienced a 34% growth in home broadband adoption from 2008 to 2009.
  • High-school graduates: Among adults whose highest level of educational attainment is a high school degree, broadband adoption grew from 40% in 2008 to 52% in 2009.
  • Older baby boomers: Among adults ages 50-64, broadband usage increased from 50% in 2008 to 61% in 2009.
  • Rural Americans: Adults living in rural America had home high-speed usage grow from 38% in 2008 to 46% in 2009.
While those numbers point to an overall rise in Internet usage, they also point to the limitations of social media. If you want to reach baby boomers, you will need to find a channel that speaks to the 40 percent of boomers who do not have broadband access. And if you are looking for the folks who did not attend college, nearly half of them can only be reached through traditional marketing channels.

The takeaway
Those of us in the tech bubble need to remember not everyone lives on the Web and some of the non-Webbies have money to spend. To reach those people, traditional media and marketing technique are required. In other words, just because you have a shiny new stick, you should not throw away the old bat that can still hit the occasional homerun.

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