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We have a really great tradition in our neighborhood. For the past 41 years, men’s caroling has consumed the evening of December 23rd, with a roving band of about 25 men going from house to house, singing songs to smiling families and little kids in their pajamas, all in exchange for cookies and beverages.

At many houses, we’re invited in, filling living rooms with songs. Because we arrive unexpectedly, we get an impromptu glimpse into the lives of our neighbors. And one of the most memorable things from this year’s rounds was how many of our neighbors — some older than me, some younger — were on Facebook when we rang the doorbell, their profile pages left open while we sang.

A recent study from eMarketer finds that our neighborhood is probably pretty typical. In fact, use of social media by Baby Boomers has increased dramatically recently (up from 31% in 2008 to 46% in 2009), with Facebook leading the way. Why? Well, it’s a great way to share photos, stay in-touch, and feel connected, and since we’re living longer and have more years to fill, social networking is occupying that increasingly large space in our lives.

There are interesting wrinkles to the study (no pun intended):

  • MySpace is more popular with younger cohorts, but is losing ground with the youngest cohort (defined in the study as “Generation Z,” which raises the question, “What generation comes next?”). This suggests that MySpace might have peaked.
  • LinkedIn is marginal among all groups.
  • Twitter is small but mighty — it’s used by more people than LinkedIn, which surprised me.

I didn’t spend the $695 to view the full report, but Mitch Joel also commented on it, adding:

  • The percentage of boomer blog readers or writers registers in just the single digits.
  • Although 49% of boomers said a purchase decision was influenced by an online review or recommendation on a retailer’s site, just 9% said their shopping behavior was influenced by something they saw on a blog or online community.
  • For most boomers, being in constant contact is a personal choice, not one dictated by technology.

The “personal choice” aspect may be the most interesting one of all, indicating to me that social media is truly social, and adopted as a way to stay connected as children, friends, and family pursue myriad activities. How this bears on professional social networks deserves some thought. After all, if there isn’t a compelling social aspect, will “personal choice” be sufficient? How does the value equation of social information need to change to drive professional adoption?

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


4 Thoughts on "More and More People Adopt Social Media — But What They Use Varies"

Dana Boyd’s research on the demographics of online behavior (she bills herself as a “digital anthropologist”) is a must read, particularly here Apophenia blog. She’s done some fascinating work looking at race, gender and age and how different groups use different online technologies.

I think this survey is just catching the beginning of an upsurge in usage
because social networks like Facebook are giving people back something quite valuable that modern society was taking away.

I like the term coined by Leisa Reichelt, “ambient intimacy.” And coincidentally it’s exactly the experience you had of incidentally observing that people in your neighborhood were all on Facebook. Leisa’s blog post is here: but the idea is that there’s lots of information about our friends and relations and neighborhoods and “groups” we affiliate with that we pick up without seeking it out. Yet in modern society, with people living farther apart, the quality of our relationships is lessened when we have less “ambient intimacy.”

As I outlined in a blog post a couple of years ago, Facebook is a way to pick up more of that ambient intimacy from people you care about but who you don’t see everyday. My post is here:

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