Billy Connolly once said, you can tell someone’s age by the time it takes them to get out of a bean bag. It was also only recently true that you could tell someone’s age by their connection to social media. Digital did equal young.

Not today, but some marketers continue to fall into this trap. Digital does not equal young; ignore this at your peril.

Let me give you the drum from someone who’s entered his 4th decade of mobile phone usage, is hooked on technology and may I add, takes 6.5 seconds to extricate themself from a beanbag – you kind of get an idea of how old I am. I’m not here carrying a torch for the boomers but merely reminding a new audience that WE HAVE BEEN IN THE TECHNOLOGY GAME FOR A LONG TIME!

There…I feel better now.

 I do spend a significant amount of time dealing with schools and I am frustrated that some administrations underestimate their community’s connectedness to things digital. Equally I find young marketers guilty of the same misconception that digital equals young.

Social media is the culprit and its evolution the cause; I’ll explain.

Technology over the last 20 or so years has been dominated by computing and mobile phones. These two devices have launched industries and changed the way we live quite dramatically. Now both started life as serious business tools so they had a conservatism and to an extent an age defined user group. I can assure you that there weren’t too many 20 year olds paying $5,000 for a mobile back in 1989 (yes you heard correctly and a car phone was $2,750 with installation of course) and there was minimal computing in the home – unless of course you count the Commodore 64 (for Gen Y’s, that’s not a car).

PC’s and mobiles had to become entertainment devices for the market to grow and for the young to participate. Both have re-invented themselves and succeeded remarkably.

Social media on the other hand has had quite a different pathway evolving from entertainment and via the young. It’s the reason why companies have struggled to come to grips with its use. Its lack of structure, transparency and entertainment base is ‘mucking’ with marketers minds. Brand control was the old mantra which has been replaced with ‘being part of the conversation’.

Given the recent and continuing social media hype and the speed by which it is propagating, it may be time to pause and recalibrate your digital compass. Look at who, by demographics, is using the net and what they are doing.

Here are some stats that should dispel the age myth.

  • Over 70% of Mums are on facebook (Telstra State of the Nation report 2009). Average age of a primary school Mum is 40+. Interesting to note that most signed up to keep tabs on their kids – ah mums, gotta love ’em.
  • In 12 months, the % of total facebook users in the U.S in the 35-54 age group shifted from 16.6% (2008) to 29%. Conversely there has been a fall in the 18-24 from 40.8% (2008) to 25.3% ( 2010) – not in absolute terms though.
  • The 55+ age group (replace the number ‘55+’ with ‘12 second beanbag dismount’) visits shopping and classified sites more than any other segment; 26% vs 12% for 18-24 (Australia – The state of online retail Ponerous)
  • 60% of 65+yrs have used the internet in the last 12 months. 90% of 60-64 yrs and 97% of 40-49 yrs (Sensis 2009 e-Business Report)
  • 99 per cent of households with an income of more than $85,000 are connected to the internet (Australian survey of 1500 Online Community Engagement 2009)
  • 34% of 45-54 yo Australian women are social media ‘critics’ (Forrester Research Social Technographics Profile 2009)

I will concede that while we have an older demographic now participating in the digital space, their use of it is different to the young. Simply put, the young loiter – think of it as the new age digital mall – and the more senior are seeking practical outcomes. This is a simple assumption that can be challenged I know. Being a recent convert to the iphone, I must admit to spending time and money on apps – 140,000 available at last count. Have you tried that bubble wrap game? A complete waste of time but sometimes it’s good to get lost in the frivolous.

Now back to Billy Connolly’s age determinant, it took me only 2 seconds more to leave the beanbag than it did my 16 yo son, but there was a lot more knees and palms involved.

Not pretty, but rather, pretty quick.