Do The Grey Market Use Social Media (Or Is It Just For The Young)?

Grey market tech mobile app old people

It may seem like a young person’s game, but social media is in fact gaining in popularity amongst the older generation. Known as the ‘grey market’ (or sometimes given the somewhat hipper title of ‘silver surfers’), those aged 65 or older are the topic of hot debate for marketers. The debate itself tends to focus on whether this older generation is worth focusing on when it comes to social media content and overall content strategies; questions often asked include: Are they really that active on the sites? Are they worth time and attention? And, is targeting them going to generate many business opportunities?

Well, in answer to the above questions, numerous research agencies have helpfully done the hard work for marketers and provided them with quantitative evidence as to how the older generation (or grey market, or silver surfers) use social media sites. First up, research from the Pew Research Center has found that 71% of all online adults (those aged 18 or older) use Facebook, 26% use Instagram and 23% use Twitter. Both LinkedIn and Pinterest can boast 28% of the online adult population as users.

Impressive figures, especially for Facebook – but what of those aged 65 or older? Last year, 56% of this demographic were Facebook users, an increase of more than 10% compared to 2013. For Twitter, 10% of those aged above 65 used the site – a figure double that measured in 2013. LinkedIn and Pinterest also have 21% and 17% of silver surfers active on their sites respectively; very sizeable chunks of the market.

So whilst these are arguably percentages to prick the ears of any marketer, what is perhaps the most astounding regarding the grey market’s use of social media is just how fast it is growing. As stated, Facebook and Twitter have witnessed a huge growth of 11% and 5% in terms of the number of 65+ users between 2013 and 2014, and Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn can all say they’ve witnessed an increase, too. A massive 49% of the silver surfer generation use social networking sites – considering this figure was only 1% less than a decade ago, it seems that the answer to whether marketers should target this demographic is a resounding ‘YES’!

But is this rise in silver surfers to the detriment of the younger generation, dubbed ‘digital natives’ (aged 16 to 34)? According to the Halifax Insurance digital home Index, the rise in prominence of silver surfers on social media is causing digital natives to log out and delete their accounts on the most popular sites, as they seek a space where older family members can’t find them. In fact, 33% of digital natives have deleted or blocked a family member on Facebook; 11% also admitted to actively seeking social media channels where their family would be unable to find them. With the website attracting more than 200,000 fans on Facebook, it seems like that is certainly not the site to use for digital natives looking for online anonymity.

Also referred to as ‘digital converts’, the older generation tend to spend more on connected devices than their younger counterparts. Digital converts spend an average of £2,226 on the latest gadgets and gizmos to get them maximising their use of the online space, whereas digital natives only spend around £1,976, despite spending more time using them. They are also more protective of their devices in the long-run, with 59% of the grey market taking out insurance to protect them compared to 41% of digital natives.

Nevertheless, there are still a large number of over 65s who are not ‘plugged in’ to the online world. Some of the reasons behind this are a belief that they don’t need to be connected, or are put off at the idea of having to learn how to log in and use online accounts; 9% of over 55s only use their mobile phones to make calls a few times a year – so maybe digital natives don’t need to begin the mass-exodus from their online worlds just yet…