Older demographics are great for social media companies – so why aren’t they being catered for?

Older demographics are great for social media companies – so why aren’t they being catered for? Emily Knox is head of social and content at Tug. With eight years of experience from private consultancy, developing social media strategies at leading creative digital agencies and heading up the social media and editorial departments at HeyHuman and VCCP Kin, Emily specialises in the successful development of content strategies geared towards solving the business and marketing challenges of her clients. Her track record includes creating campaign and always on content for a client portfolio including easyJet, O2, Kia, Coors Light, Sony Mobile GB, Unilever UK & Australia, P&O Cruises, Mondelez and Merlin Entertainments.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok: generally speaking, younger generations are more likely to recognise and engage with the platforms at the latter of this list.

Social media platforms all started out as the domains of teenagers and young adults. Facebook was only for college kids back when it began in 2004. In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for the famous $1 billion price tag – partly because it was young and hip. In 2013, Snapchat’s core audience was 13-25-year olds – and its CEO was only 23 – while now there’s TikTok, the preserve of kids and teenagers and perplexing to most people aged 18 and older.

But social media isn’t just for the young in age – the young at heart (for the purpose of this article, those aged 50 and older) have made their move into the realm of Facebook comments and Instagram uploads. While the surge of older generations entering the once exclusively youthful social media sphere may have ruined the sanctity of these platforms for many young people, there’s no doubt this rise is securing social media revenues. 

Unpacking the social media swap 

In the UK this year, 700,000 fewer 12-24-year-olds will regularly use Facebook – but 500,000 new over-55s are expected to join, making them the second most prominent demographic on the social network. 41% of over-65s use Facebook and 41% of internet users aged 75 and older have a social media profile – this figure is up from 19% in 2015. In fact, over-55s now spend more time on Facebook than 18-24s, and this influx of oldies is driving the kids away.

There are many reasons for the demographic shift we’re seeing across social media, but one that stands out is the ‘big brother’ factor of young people feeling ‘watched’ by older relatives, teachers, current (and future) bosses on platforms like Facebook. There is also an increasing resistance to the perfection and aspirational lifestyles people curate on networks such as Facebook and Instagram – and the pressure that comes along with this. 

In addition, algorithm changes on Facebook have preferenced personal news from friends and family, which is the type of content older users want. Whereas, young users prefer more diverse content such as news, entertainment and memes.

These combined factors mean that young people are increasingly heading to less curated platforms such as Snapchat and TikTok. Depending on your age, you may not know much about TikTok, but it has become incredibly popular in a relatively short time frame. It was downloaded 68 million times last October alone. If you remember Vine, it’s a little similar to that, featuring 15-second videos generally sound tracked by music clips. It’s a hub for silliness and spontaneous creativity – the antithesis of highly curated platforms like Instagram.

Getting social advertising in line with expectations

The significance and the sway of older social media users will continue to grow. By 2020, the world will have more over 55-year-olds than under 5-year-olds. Older people will generate half all global urban consumption between 2015 and 2030 – and of course, older people shop online – 68% of over 55s buy something online every month. They’re also staying at work longer – currently making up 31% of the UK workforce, and this is rising.

Despite their numbers and buying power, most ads aren’t aimed at older people – and they really don’t like the ones that are. In the USA, only 5% of ads are aimed at over 50s and 89% of older people believe brands aren’t interested in them. 86% want ads that are targeted at them to change. One major pet peeve is when brands use older celebrities but then airbrush them to look younger – another is ads that over-emphasise the downsides of ageing. 31% of older people believe that ads are ageist.

Some brands, such as TENA Men and Jockey Club, have taken these insights and generated social media advertising that has had great success targeting older people on Facebook. TENA used a humorous video campaign to distribute 25,000 samples in six months, using first party data to build the story. Jockey Club focussed on creative which featured older talent and clear and straightforward messaging focussing on the thrill and sporting element of the meets advertised rather than more abstract benefits of ‘fun’.

Leveraging this behaviour to improve your advertising strategy

Social engagement among older users is far from a threat to advertisers. Rather, it presents a boon of opportunities for brands. Older audiences are brand loyal and thrive on receiving educational advertising information. They’re also less likely to use ad blockers and other tools that might get in the way of getting a good picture of what they’re up to – couple this with their increasing social media usage and they are a ripe target audience. 

When developing content for an older audience, it’s important not to just recycle the same material that would be used for young people. Older markets have clear likes and dislikes, and that means there’s a right and a wrong way to approach them – so it’s important to get the messaging right. In our experience, abstract creative doesn’t work well and it’s much better to be straightforward by creating a strong, clear narrative. Older audiences want overt benefits messages, as they want to be able to clearly understand why one brand’s offering is better than its competitors. 

Ultimately, it is clear that advertisers need to keep up with changing social media demographics and tailor their messages to the appropriate audiences, but clear and to the point doesn’t mean dull. Older demographics want relatable, aspirational and exciting content just as much as any other target group – so make them a key part of the plan regardless of any misplaced concerns around image.


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