Introducing boomers to social networking and community

September 15, 2008
Posted by: Jenna Woodul

Working with one of our clients this week, I’m thinking about how to engage women in their 50s in online community. Despite that fact that online community was invented by Boomers (many of us cut our online teeth on newsgroups, BBS discussions, and IRC), the Groundswell profile tool shows that 44% of the Boomer population are not active in online community or social networking. Only 19% are creators of it. As the massive Boomer population ages, marketers expect to see these folks increasingly interested in financial management, health, travelling, leisure and recreation, and staying in close touch with dispersed family structures. Everyone’s got a digital camera now, but how do you really chat with the rest of the family about all those photos? What’s the best way to stay in real-time touch with grandkids? How do you connect with other people who are starting small businesses to supplement their retirement income?
Many Boomers have been using computers most of their work lives. However, they’ve been working—not chatting, friendingIM’ing, blogging. Their focus has been on face to face, using the telephone, and an online orientation toward e-mail. They notice no one under 30 uses voicemail (or even the phone, other than for texting), they know they’ll find their kids and grandkids on Facebook, yet they still primarily check e-mail for virtual communication.
If an organization wants to get closer to the huge Boomer population, you have to look at where they are with technology. Because of the e-mail orientation, newsletters may be a good way to bring them to the site. To involve them in dialogue, make it easy: expert blogs with a minimal barrier to comment, places to chime in quickly (without necessarily investing in an ongoing conversation), invitations to review products or services (especially with easy templated forms to fill out). Subscriptions to community content bring people back in; explain how they work, noting the convenience of receiving alerts in email.
On the social side, frame up the community purpose so it’s clear what people exchange here: Is it advice? reviews? recipes? expertise? Welcome people. If possible have designated hosts living in the community to talk to them, recognizing their arrival and offering to show them around. Break down and prominently publish steps for getting involved in each type of interactive application. Explain community etiquette; sometimes people hold back on contributing, for fear of interrupting. Make it easy to find kindred spirits. Show faces and feature content that personifies the expression and exchange you’re looking for. Make sure all newcomers get a friendly reception (the lurkers are watching, and they’ll never take the leap if the newbie contributions are ignored).
With retirement age approaching, increasing numbers of Boomers have more time. Because they’re not afraid of computers, a cultural approach that takes technographic profile into account has the best chance of getting their attention. What else helps to ease people into online interactions?