Posted by: cgratton | July 8, 2009

Baby Boomers and Facebook: A Love-Hate Relationship?

Facebook is really growing up these days—and not just because of more sophisticated features or new applications, but literally in terms of age demographics.  It seems that after years of putting up with the intensive media hype surrounding Facebook, baby boomers are finally pushing their skepticism aside (or getting over their technological fears) and succumbing to the all-powerful social network.

And they’re succumbing by the masses.  According to reports from analytics company iStrategyLabs, the number of new users 55 and older has grown a staggering 513.7 percent since January, a huge difference from the mere 4.8 percent growth of users 18 to 24 years old.  This new development now means that the largest chunk of Facebook users is 35 to 54 years old, a significant change from the website’s origin as a virtual yearbook for college students.

Many are saying that this growth is because Facebook has hit a “tipping point” and older generations are now almost forced to join just to keep up with the rest of the world.  And it makes sense.  With over 200 million users, Facebook’s user base is bigger than most countries’ populations, business practices now basically require some type of Facebook involvement, and frankly, Facebook is still a constant topic of conversation at the dinner table and the water cooler.  And with all this attention, it seems that parents (and grandparents) are realizing that this thing isn’t going away anytime soon.

My parents, aunts and uncles nearly all “friended” me on Facebook earlier this year.  Their reason to switch to “the dark side?”  They want to keep in touch with younger family members and reconnect with old friends.  Since then, reunions with lost classmates were planned, digital family picture albums were created and shared, and Easter dinner was filled with excited chatter about “tagging pictures,” “status updates” and “minifeeds.”

But when I asked my mom yesterday about her Facebook usage, she said she finds it annoying how much (and often) people share information about themselves.  “Who has time for all that?” she said.

And it seems she’s not alone.  A report last week from Inside Facebook, a company that studies and tracks changes in Facebook for marketers and developers, showed that in spite of the recent sharp rise in popularity among baby boomers, many users aren’t returning to Facebook after a few initial visits.  The report explains that older Americans aren’t using Facebook for daily communication like younger generations do, and instead just use it every once in awhile—like when someone pops into their head they want to talk to, or they receive an e-mail alerting them there’s something new on their account.

The number of active Facebook users over 55 is the only age bracket that decreased in the past few months

The number of active Facebook users over 55 is the only age bracket that decreased in the past few months

The report illustrates what I’ve noticed myself—that Facebook isn’t resonating completely with older generations.  As my mom said, “Why do you want everyone to know all these things about you?  Why do you feel the need to tell everyone you have a doctor’s appointment today or just had a hard day at work?”  And that seems to be a fairly common attitude among her generation.  To them, the relentless and excessive amount of personal information splashed across their Facebook homepages has ended up becoming a big turn-off.

So did the love affair with Facebook among Generation-Y turn out to be just a fiery fling?  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if they change their mind again.

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