In an interesting bit of research recently published, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that Internet participation has been increasing across ALL generations. No surprise, the younger you are the more likely you go online using more channels (there’s a lot more 20-somethings at MySpace than there are older boomers). But important to note that age is almost irrelevant to some kinds of online activities, like researching products: all ages do that at about the same rate.
In other words, SEARCH and using online resources to learn about products and services is so common at all ages that it is a MUST for marketers no matter what you are marketing.
Greg Sterling over at Search Engine Land posted some nice graphics about Pew’s Generations Online project. I’ll share a couple tidbits here, but you might want to check it out.
It wasn’t surprising to me that the Gen X (ages 33-44) and younger Boomers (ages 45-54) make up a big chunk of the adult Internet population (45% of it between them), although the younger Gen Y group is proportionally larger (ages 18-32 with 30%). And it wasn’t too surprising to see the pattern of certain Internet activities across these generations: the younger you are the more likely to play online games, use social networking sites, or create a blog.
But what was a little surprising, and encouraging, was that for some activities, there is very little difference in participation rates across generations. 94% of Gen Y use email; 91% of the Silent Generation (ages 64-72) do. 90% of Gen Y use search engines; 85% of Silent. 65% of Gen Y makes online travel reservations; Silent: 69%. Research products online: Gen Y – 84%; Silent – 73%.
You get the picture. Why it matters is this: the activities that are most likely to lead to sales are common across generations. Until we get a better handle on how to use all the social sharing, social networking, social news sites out there for marketing products, this will probably continue to be true. And the change toward social media marketing is not going to be an easy road — the participants in those networks are sophisticated about their independence, and they (mostly) do not want direct marketing appeals.
We are left with limited options for social media marketing. One important avenue is brand development. Companies that operate in niches where they can have an impact via brand can benefit from participating in social media.
Of course, then they have to actually participate actively and faithfully, and that’s another story.