A Case for Reconsidering Social Media Strategies

Seniors are online now. If you don’t find them there, you’ll miss them.

By Alexis Krisay

The internet has generated a profound shift in how we live. For many organizations, the idea of marketing to older populations in this strange new landscape was either scoffed at or went straight into the proverbial “Too Hard” basket. 

It’s understandable. Seniors can be notoriously slow to adopt to new technologies.

By the first decade of the 21st century, Web 2.0 revolutionized communications, spurring the growth of new digital platforms and technologies, and launching the era of interactivity. The advent of Web 2.0 fueled an advertising shift from primarily traditional print, radio and network broadcast outlets toward digital platforms. 

Then came Google, along with independent research leading to sharing opinions and reviews of companies and products. The consumer decision tree suddenly started growing all sorts of new branches.

In related news: traditional strategies and marketing messages didn’t work as well. Gradually, purchasing habits began to change. 

Popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest became a part of everyday “community” life for millions spanning all age groups. Advertisers followed. Their strategies for consumer engagement were shaped toward sparking conversations and fostering an environment bursting with opportunities to encourage consumer-generated content. It’s why you keep hearing that “content is king.”

In the face of all this change, too many businesses serving the needs of seniors continue to leave social media out of their marketing strategies. 

Like it or not, your company is already a fixture on social media. The question is: Are you managing the conversation and gaining leads, or losing out on marketing potential?

It’s time for a quick internet reality speed check

Today, with the internet fully embedded in our lives and smartphones permanently clutched in our hands, we’re living in a digitally driven society. 

While seniors are slow adopters of new technologies, the up-and-
coming seniors have had three decades of affordable personal computers coupled with growing internet access and smartphone usage. They are seasoned digital consumers.

As fictional character Ferris Bueller famously declared more than 30 years ago, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The same is true about missing marketing opportunities online. 

In 2000, there were around 35 million Americans age 65 and up, and a relatively small number of them reported using the internet. According to recent census population data, the senior segment (65+) crossed the 50 million mark in November 2016, equaling about 15.2 percent of the total population. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that roughly four in 10 Americans age 65+ report owning a smartphone.

The truth about seniors and social media

Myths about internet and social media usage by seniors (or the lack of) are the norm, but far from reality. According to the Pew report, around one in three seniors report using social media.

As one would expect, higher rates of internet and social media in seniors correlate with higher education and income levels. Around 57 percent of all senior users of social media report income levels of $50,000 and up, and the segment is only going to continue growing. That’s a prime target market, and definitely a huge opportunity for generating leads.

While Facebook was originally created for a much younger demographic, it effectively broke down communication barriers across all age groups. Members could easily connect to family and friends while sharing photos, videos, recommendations and experiences ranging from the mundane right down to the most intimate details of their daily life.

“Today, 67 percent of seniors use the internet. For the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home,” according to the Pew survey.

For seniors on social media, Facebook is the platform of choice. Nearly three-quarters of senior social media users use Facebook at least once a day (Instagram is a distant second with just 10 percent).

But do seniors really use social media? Yes. To put it into popular ‘70s vernacular, they’ve come a long way. They’re driving the conversation about seniors housing in ways you may not have expected.

Overheard: An important social media conversation 

Some of the highest viewed and most shared postings online feature a wide range of seniors housing options. Others highlight lifestyle programs and acts of kindness that keep seniors engaged and healthy. People of all ages share these uplifting stories, along with details of their lives. 

On the down side, posts featuring a not-so-wonderful range of seniors housing problems are also among the highest viewed, most shared content. Rundown facilities. Mistreatment of residents. Neglect. People of all ages share these horrific stories, creating an instant PR crisis.

People also share their fears, the costs of a healthcare decision, their losses. All of these stories — good and bad — connect with people on an emotional level. 

The conversation is happening between children, caregivers, and seniors every day in real time. Your business should be spearheading it. 

Be bold and take the lead to explore the voices of seniors and their families. Find out what they are thinking. How and where do they want to spend the rest of their lives? 

Share with people how your company solves the issues that are most important to them. These conversations can drive goodwill, generate leads and increase revenue. Neglect them and suffer the consequences.

Effective strategies for reaching seniors on Facebook

Prospects for the seniors housing market span the fastest growing demographic segments online: older adults. While younger people abandon Facebook for newer platforms, social connectivity is still the key to effective social media strategies. Parents and grandparents are staying — and yes, the platform is still growing. 

Happily, with a little bit of skill and attention to insights, creating effective content for seniors on social media is fairly simple. Here are some guidelines: listen; use bright visuals and basic language; be informative, authentic, responsive and transparent; and avoid using jargon.

Most important of all? Tell them what you’d like them to do by using a call to action in your post. Mentioning the phrases such as “like and share,” “comment here” or “click here to learn more” welcomes your audience to engage with your property online. 

Additionally, hiring a reliable social media team is a huge advantage to your community because the conversation is not going away.

Back to the future

The number of seniors is projected to nearly double by 2025 — becoming fully one-third of the U.S. population. By 2035, older Americans will outnumber children for the first time in history. The Census Bureau also estimates that between now and 2060, America will see a 200 percent increase in the number of people 85 and older.

While it’s hard to imagine what social media will look like in another decade, smart organizations will shift marketing strategies today and seek help in shaping the conversation. If done right, everyone benefits.

Alexis Krisay is a partner and president of marketing for Serendipit Consulting, a public relations, marketing, branding and event-planning firm with a specialization in franchise, real estate, healthcare, fitness and wellness.