MythBusters: The truth about old folks and the web


The largest American generation ever (those spoiled little millennials) is the first to grow up entirely in the digital age, with the World Wide Web right at their fingertips. As a result, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram have become fixtures in any marketer’s tool chest, as has mobile marketing and, particularly of late, blogging.

But what does this mean for the local mom and pop shop down the street or the upstart interior designer hoping to build a greater presence both locally and nationwide?

It wasn’t too long ago when small, homegrown businesses needed little to no web presence: particularly those with an older demographic. Seniors using what those youngsters referred to as the internet were few and far between. Fast forward a decade or so later, however, and those 65-and-older are much more tech-savvy. Just ask J_Dimps, who at 80 years young is a little more than 5,000 followers shy of 80,000 (#oldladyswag).

J_Dimps old people Twitter

Yet small business owners fail to heed this growing trend. Plenty of misconceptions linger as to whether or not older folks are present on Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general, causing small businesses with an older client base to disregard online marketing opportunities. While some stubborn old folks continue to ignore the technically advanced world around them, a good number are adapting to the times.

After I probed the interwebs for some answers, I decided it’s time to debunk a few myths that seemingly exist about old people and the internet.

Are old people flocking to Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Is a social media marketing strategy critical for a business despite its older target market, or are the more traditional means of advertising sufficient enough? Is blogging useless for those companies as well?

Baby booming through social media

Back in the day, Facebook was a trendy new social networking site for college students. Users would rant about how much they hated their boyfriend or girlfriend and wouldn’t hesitate to tag themselves in photos to tout how inebriated they were over the weekend.

Those days are long gone. Users, for the most part, are far more sophisticated and protective of their public image. But there’s still that underlying myth that Facebook isn’t for old people.

Myth: Social media is only suited for young people.

Reality: People of all ages are using Facebook, including Americans 65 and older.

Here’s the proof: A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project revealed that, for the first time ever, more than half of Americans 65 and older are using the internet. According to the report, 53 percent of seniors are either browsing the internet or checking their email. Of that 53 percent, roughly 70 percent use the internet each day.

What’s more, the study suggests that one in three online seniors peruse social networking sites such as Facebook, while about half of those ages 50-64 use social media sites.

Old people Facebook internet social media

At 101 years young, Florence Deltor is one of the oldest users on Facebook. Though internet use drops off significantly after age 75, social sites like Facebook are platforms for seniors to engage with family. Nonetheless, social networking sites are blossoming with Baby Boomers and even older generations of people.

“From April 2009 to May 2011, for instance, social networking site use among internet users ages 65 and older grew 150%, from 13% in 2009 to 33% in 2011,” according to the study by Pew Research.

What’s more, Social Media Delivered CEO Eve Mayer Orsburn noted that the fastest growing demographic on social networking sites is women over the age of 55.

Social media not relevant, you say?

You may be asking how all this info is relevant to small business. Let’s say an establishment does just fine, having built a loyal client base over the course of generations. OK, so maybe grandma and grandpa, mom and dad are using social media to connect with their families. But it’s not like they’re logging on to engage with a particular brand, or seeking an enhanced shopping experience online.

Myth: Social media marketing is irrelevant for businesses with an older client base.

Reality: Without a presence on the web, though, and social media in general, a business is losing out on countless opportunities to yield a higher return on investment. Pantelis Vladimirou writes that social media is much cheaper than most marketing methods, with results being measured through likes, fans and followers.

The proof: Take Sears, for instance, a company that pulls in older folks (according to Quantcast, 62 percent of visitors are over 50). A household name for nearly 120 years, Sears has been one of the nation’s leading retailers, offering customers merchandise that ranges from women’s clothing to power tools. According to Julie Bawden-Davis of The Content Strategist, the company that first opened in 1893 is rebranding itself online.

Sears old people marketing

Instead of sending out 500-page catalogs, Sears is engaging customers on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It has more than two million likes on Facebook. Among its three main Twitter handles (@Sears, @SearsStyle and @SearsDeals), Sears has more than 125,000 followers.

Not only does Sears deliver engaging and promotional content on those platforms (@SearsDeals tweets multiple deals every day), but it has created the MySears community. MySears is practically a Facebook for Sears. With nearly 1.3 million members, the community offers consumer reviews, discussions and blogs about its products. By doing so, they’re building their brand with interaction on several different platforms, distributing daily deals to millions of users and, most importantly, catering to customers’ needs on a more personal level.

“Our goal is to use online and social content to engage our shoppers in an interactive space while continuously expanding our social footprint and creating a seamlessly integrated shopping experience. We accomplish this through a multitude of features and activities, from promotions and contests, to sharing photos and favorite products,” Sears’ chief marketing officer of ecommerce Michael Murray told The Content Strategist.

Sears has attempted to take full advantage of the influx of older people on Facebook and similar social media sites. Sears’ Facebook fan page is flooded with family oriented posts, geared toward homeowners, parents and grandparents. A quick glance at the posts and it’s clear a good number of likes and comments come directly from older customers, providing truth to the reality of seniors present on the internet.

More content, more traffic, no problem

Another common misconception is that small businesses have little to no use for a blog. Companies with an older client base (and perhaps older ownership, too), are failing to recognize the impact a blog can have on business. Older folks are logging on to Facebook and Twitter, but what are the chances they are perusing the web (a company’s web site) for content. That’s what newspapers are for.

Myth: Facebook and Twitter is enough, right?

Reality: Blogs are essential to driving traffic, building brand awareness and customer loyalty.

The proof: Back in 2010, eMarketer revealed that by 2012, the number of companies using blogs for marketing companies would reach 43 percent.

“Studies have shown that marketers perceive blogs to have the highest value of any social media in driving site traffic, brand awareness, lead generation and sales; as well as improving customer service,” said eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna.

Wegmans blog

Jeff Bullas wrote that blogs “are the single most important inbound marketing tool.” Twenty-eight percent of Fortune 500 companies have blogs, according to Marketing Charts. In addition, 92 percent of companies in another study noted that blogging was a success for their business.

Wegmans, a privately held family food company serving 80 stores in the Mid-Atlantic, has a blog aptly titled “Fresh Stories: Delivered fresh from local family farms.” Contributors include a collection a chefs and store managers, writing about different timely trends in the food industry. The blog is very family oriented and has a charming feel to it.

Wegmans old people internet

Courtesy of

Business owners with an older demographic are still trying to understand how a blog can be beneficial. According to Jeannette Paladino of, blogs are the “heart of your social marketing campaign that pumps the ‘fresh content’ to social media outlets.”

Updated, searchable content provides a major boost for a website’s ranking online: the more content, the better. In addition to impressing various search engines, businesses can build credibility, attract more customers and accommodate their every question, concern or comment.

Myths busted

After exploring the science behind old folks and the internet, one question remained: How come small businesses owners with an older client base tend to ignore these trends?

Launch a Facebook and Twitter page and engage in discussion, offer discounted services and devise a call to action to get more customers through the door. There’s plenty of proof that social media is becoming a staple of life within older generations.

Smalls businesses ranging from local diners to retail stores should be reinventing news ways to market their product to older people, and with good reason. This, in fact, isn’t the only thing old people do on Facebook.

Old people on Facebook

About The Author:Brandon Koch
Brandon Koch is an Inbound Marketing Specialist at Mainstreethost, a digital marketing agency in Buffalo, N.Y. He writes about a variety of topics, including content marketing, social media, sports and more. Connect with Brandon: Google+ | Twitter | Linkedin