Is your organization engaging older adults through social media?

Are these men discussing your Facebook  page? Maybe.  Photo credit: Brian Auer, via Flickr Creative Commons.

In light of recent research indicating that adults ages 50 and older are participating more and more in social media, arts organizations should be thinking about what they are doing to communicate effectively across the diverse demographics of their online communities.

According to recent findings published by the Pew Research Center, half of Internet users between the ages of 50 and 64 and one quarter of those 65 and older now use social media, and those numbers have doubled in the past year.  20% of 50-64 year old Internet users and 13% of Internet users 65+ use social networking sites on a daily basis.  These findings corroborated research released in June by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Compared to 18-29 year olds (60% of whom use social networking on a typical day), these numbers may still seem small.   However, the rapid growth of users over age 50 suggests that we can expect this segment to keep growing.  This is great news for those of us with supporter bases that skew toward the older end of the spectrum.  And it is further evidence that assumptions about the typical social media user are becoming a thing of the past.

The expanding demographics of social media users also highlight the importance of knowing your online audience (and having an idea of who it might grow to include), and then determining the best ways to engage them.  A key consideration in audience engagement is the voice we use in our social media efforts.

Social media icons courtesy of

Social media icons courtesy of

Your online voice should reflect your organization’s brand, but it should also be tailored to the audience you’re addressing.  While this may be a natural part of our in-person communications, it is easy to become detached from how our voice is perceived when communicating through social media.  For example, if we are speaking to trustees about a new initiative, we wouldn’t use the same voice as if we were talking to a group of teens in a gallery tour.  But on Facebook, for instance, these two groups may both be among your followers.

So how can we determine an effective approach for our online communications, when our social media audience is becoming so diverse?  Some things worth considering include:

  • How do the needs and wants of your audience segments differ overall?  And how might that translate into how you are using social media?
  • Are there any portions of your online audience that you may not be effectively engaging?
  • Does your social media presence integrate all aspects of your programming, or does it focus on certain initiatives?
  • How does your audience differ across social media platforms?
  • How can you balance a unified brand with your efforts to appeal to different people?

After all, social media offers arts organizations a golden opportunity for more personal dialogues with our stakeholders—but the challenge now is to achieve these personal connections with an ever-expanding, diverse group of stakeholders.

In my next post, I will ask experts to weigh in with their thoughts on this topic.  In the meantime, I'm wondering: how is your organization engaging older audiences through social media?