Forrester: Social networking grows up

Companies can now refocus ad campaigns that use social networks toward an older group of users, a study says

Companies can begin to target people over the age of 34 with media campaigns that leverage social networks as that age group has become the largest segment using Facebook, Twitter and other social media, a new study from Forrester Research claims.

While people in their teens and 20s were the first to adopt social networks for everyday use, they aren't just for the younger crowd anymore, according to the report, "The Broad Reach of Social Networks," by Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran. The report is based on a May 2009 survey of 4,455 people between the ages of 18 and 88 in the U.S.

"Much of the growth in social networks today comes from people older than 34," he wrote. Compared with last year, adults over the age of 34 increased their participation in social networks by more than 60 percent. "Now more than half of adults ages 35 to 44 are in social networks," Corcoran wrote.

People in their 40s and 50s still lag behind this age group in participation, but they, too, are beginning to use social networks more than in the past, the study found. And even adults 55 and older are starting to share and connect more online, Corcoran wrote.

"Seventy percent of online adults ages 55 and older tell us they tap social tools at least once a month; 26 percent use social networks and 12 percent create social content," he wrote. "As a result, social applications geared toward older adults will now reach a healthy chunk of their audience."

Corcoran categorizes people who use social networks as "creators," or people who write blogs and upload audio and video or post stories on social networks; "critics," those who take part in online discussions; "collectors," or people who organize online content by using RSS feeds and sites like "Digg" to rate content; "joiners," or people who actually subscribe to social networks; and "spectators," those who view user-generated content online.

People in the 35-54 age group are increasingly joiners and creators, while adults over 55 are more likely to be spectators.

However, with so many more adults participating in social networks, it makes sense for companies to create media and advertising campaigns targeted to them in addition to the ones that target younger people, Corcoran wrote.

Only 18 percent of survey respondents don't currently use social networks, compared to 25 percent in 2008 and 44 percent in 2007.

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