Silver surfers get social

Forty percent of frequent internet users over the age of 55 manage a social network, UM's Wave 5 research has found.

Silver surfers: targeted recently by Aviva with its Paul Whitehouse campaign
Silver surfers: targeted recently by Aviva with its Paul Whitehouse campaign

On 28 July 2010, Ivy Bean, the UK’s oldest Tweeter, passed away. At 104 years old, she was mourned by more than 57,000 followers.

Her story is certainly an inspirational one - one that caught the attention of the likes of Gordon Brown and Peter Andre - yet it is not entirely surprising in the light of new research conducted by UM. In fact, Ivy’s story effectively epitomises a curious new trend in social media.

Wave 5 is the latest in a series of breakthrough social media studies from communications agency UM, which this year questioned nearly 40,000 people from 54 countries about their social media habits.

As part of the study, UM London specifically monitored the over 55 age group in the UK, and discovered that this generation is in fact fully embracing the social media phenomenon. In some areas, they are even more "with it" than their children.

Silver surfers are catching up with the youth of today

Source: UM London

Wave showed that an astonishing 40% of frequent internet users over the age of 55 manage a social network.

While we cannot be sure of the reason for this, we can certainly speculate, given the fact that their most popular activity was shown to be finding old friends and posting photos.

It seems that this older generation are using social media to feel more ‘connected’ in a world in which families and friends are more disparate.

This certainly seemed to be the case for Ivy Bean. When an internet connection was set up in her Bradford retirement home two years ago, social networking gave her the chance to transgress her social isolation and begin an enriched, new ‘connected’ life. 

Prior to being hooked onto social networks, she claimed her life was miserable, revolving around sitting, eating, and sleeping. Access to social networks, and in particular Twitter, gave Ivy a reason to live - allowing her to socialise virtually by talking to ‘friends’ about her life and interests. 

This kind of isolation is not entirely uncommon in today’s globalised world, in which grandparents, parents, and children no longer communicate the way they once did.

As people near retirement and their children increasingly live across the country or even the planet, social media offers the perfect cure to loneliness and social isolation.

In many ways, it has become a rejuvenating hobby for this older generation by making them feel connected to the world and keeping them busy.

But, as Wave 5 confirms, feeling connected for this generation goes beyond social networking with friends and family members.

As a demographic, the over 55s are now more likely than their 16-54 year-old peers to bookmark pages, sign-up to email bulletins and register with websites - clearly wanting to stay connected with news, brands and no doubt a whole range of other information.

More emphasis on sharing knowledge than having fun

Source: UM London

Furthermore, 60% of over 55s stay connected by watching online videos. Like their younger counterparts, comedy seems to be their preferred choice.

Setting themselves apart from younger generations, they are also avid online news followers, watching video-based news content in real time, and staying current. 

What Wave 5 highlights is that the social web is no longer a space for the young and hip. In the context of the wider study, which considers the ‘Socialisation of Brands’, this is a trend that should be taken into account on many levels, not least in advertising and marketing.

Wave 5 has provided a unique insight into how over 55-year-olds consume media, and this is crucial information for brands looking to engage with this audience.

So if you suddenly get a friend request from your grandmother, don’t be taken aback. With more time on her hands and her family perhaps far away, Facebook and Twitter present a new way of staying mentally young and connected.

Before you know it, she might be more clued-in with what’s hot and what’s not online than you.

UM London