August 30, 2010

Social Networks Are Not Just for the Young

Nonprofit leaders often assume that they are reaching out to supporters in their 20s and 30s when they use tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

But a new study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that more and more older adults are also using those tools.

According to the report, use of social networks among people older than 50 went from 22 percent to 42 percent from April 2009 and May 2010. (The figures include only people who use the Internet.)

The jump was particularly big among those older than 65.

“Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users,” says Mary Madden, the report's author. “E-mail is still the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families, and colleagues, but many older users now rely on social-network platforms to help manage their daily communications.”

What does this mean for nonprofit groups?

For groups that appeal to older supporters, it means that they can no longer assume that their supporters aren't using social networks.

For other organizations, it might be time to experiment with messages and conversations that are likely to engage older people—and to make sure that they aren't using language tailored to young adults.