Hot Growth Area for Social Media: Older Users, Says Pew

Young adults are the heaviest social media users but older adults are fueling the growth. Wired adults 50 and older nearly doubled use of social networking in the past year, according to the latest Pew Internet & American Life report, something I’ve seen anecdotally as my friends and family members head to Facebook. The study, based on 2,252 telephone interviews with adults 18 and older (landline and cell), showed nearly half of adults 50-64 are engaged in some form of social networking. Gluttons for details can check out the full report; here are a few highlights and charts for the rest of you:

— 47 percent of internet users age 50-64 and 26 percent 65 and older use social networking. That compares with 25 percent and 13 percent when surveyed in April 2009. (A previous Pew study found that 38 percent of adults 65 and up go online compared with 70 percent 50-64.)

— The 18-29 set still makes the heaviest use but the growth rate for users was only 13 percent.

— 11 percent of online adults ages 50-64 use Twitter or another status update service, more than double the 2009 number; 6 percent use Twitter daily compared with 1 percent last year. Facebook use started at a higher base and still doubled, going from 20 percent from 10 percent.

— They are heavy online news users, too: 76 percent ages 50-64 go online for news; 42 percent do it on a “typical day.” More telling, when they were surveyed, 42 percent said they went online to get news the day before; 20 percent went to social nets. The numbers shift the younger you go but the way you might think for online news — 60 percent of the internet users 18-29 went to social nets, 44 percent went to get news.

— Adoption and use goes up along with broadband access; older adults with high-speed access at home are more likely to use social nets.

Pew’s Mary Madden, author of the report, attributes social networking use among “older adults” variously to desires to keep up with family members, reconnect with their past, and get support for chronic illnesses. Whatever the reason, the growing numbers suggest opportunity for marketers and social net programmers.

The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between April 29-May 30 and has a plus-minus of 2.4 percent.