The Rise of the Silver Surfers: Engaging Older Americans Online

May 17th, 2016 by Mary Silva

Mini Infographic Silver Surfers Older Americans Month - Search Influence

In honor of Older American’s Month, let’s take a look at the latest trends and talk about engaging this audience!

“So, who exactly is considered an older American?” you might ask yourself. Well, based on the Older Americans Act of 1965, you could say anyone over 60, basically Baby Boomers and older. These are the people who were working in businesses and actively using technologies like PalmPilots and beepers/pagers during the early stages of the rapid technology growth in the 20th and 21st centuries. You may have also previously heard the term “silver surfer” used to refer to anyone over the age of 50 who is an avid internet user.

According to 97 surveys conducted by Pew Research over the past 15 years (2000-2015), internet usage gaps between older and younger Americans still persist, though they’re lessening. Now about six in ten seniors go online. While adults 65 and older rank the lowest in internet usage between age groups, the number of older Americans online has grown in the past 15 years and will continue to grow in the coming years.

Another report from Pew Research digs deeper into technology usage trends by analyzing seniors within their age group. Among the older Americans who currently go online, about three-quarters of them go online every day. Just over a quarter of seniors use online social networks.

The Stat:

“Older adults have lagged behind younger adults in their adoption, but now a clear majority (58%) of senior citizens use the internet.” — Pew Research Center

What It Means for Marketers:

While the previous usage numbers and perceptions would’ve indicated to online marketers that the older age groups aren’t very active online, that is definitely no longer the case. As of 2012, more than half of the senior population is online, and you can bet that number will continue to grow. The silver surfers are now an important and very present audience to consider when marketing online.

The Stat:

Seniors have the largest adoption rate change from 2000 to 2015 of any age group (14% to 58% respectively). — Pew Research Center

What It Means for Marketers:

This rapid increase in adoption rates shows an increase in technological intelligence among this age group. The previous parallels between chronological age and cognitive age are shifting and advertisers would do well to adjust accordingly. While practicing “ageless” marketing is all well and good, when trying to target this specific audience, be authentic and thoughtful of “the new 65,” a more-tech savvy and a now younger cognitive age group.

The Stat:

77% of older adults have a cell phone, but just 18% are smartphone owners. — Pew Research Center

What It Means for Marketers:

As many of you reading this know, mobile marketing is quite the focus of today. While a little less than a quarter of older adults have smartphones, over a quarter own tablets or e-book readers. This means that mobile searching and browsing is highly likely for this audience. Consider your potential to reach these seniors when optimizing your website and its content.

Seniors Older Americans Online Using Social Networking Sites - Search Influence

The Stat:

“Today 46% of online seniors (representing 27% of the total older adult population) use social networking sites such as Facebook.” — Pew Research Center

What It Means for Marketers:

These silver surfers aren’t just surfing the web; they’re socializing, too! About one in five Twitter users are 50 years old or older, and almost half of online seniors have a Facebook account. Engage with the older American audience to help grow your brand online.

Biggest Takeaway:

When you think older Americans, you shouldn’t think, “my grandma who makes me fix her Wi-Fi router and doesn’t understand smartphones.” Instead, think of the generations before you who were in their prime for the technological boom that gave us the first cellphones, computers, and video games. These generations were the first to experience technology and were fortunate enough to grow and adapt with it. So, in reality, they’re part of your market and audience whether or not you realize it. The silver surfers are here and growing, so don’t discount them when you’re planning your marketing campaigns!

All data and stats came from the following sources: