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Inconvenient Truths about Social Media and Seniors

By Paul Flowers, President, Circa 46

Despite all the attention given to social media, it is not the magic bullet for communicating with – or marketing to – seniors. Granted, social media use is growing among older adults, but it’s time for a “reality check.” Here are some facts about seniors and social media that you should consider when setting marketing strategies.

Social Media By the Numbers

  1. We have been hearing how the senior cohort is the fastest growing segment of internet users – which is true. Internet usage among adults age 65+ reached 63.7%* in 2015, compared to 80.8% for the overall U.S. population. While this usage among seniors will continue to grow, it is projected to slow significantly over the next few years.

    eMarketer, an independent market research company that provides insights and trends related to digital media and marketing, anticipates growth of internet usage by seniors will slow to 9.7% in 2016, 7.4% in 2017 and 4.0% in 2018. The current high growth rate among seniors is mainly due to the fact that historically they have been the slowest adopters of internet use.

  1. Using point #1 as context, consider that only 47% of senior internet users participate in any social media activity. That translates to less than 30% of all age 65+ adults.

  1. So where are those internet-active seniors going on social media? It’s predominantly Facebook (76.6% of all senior social media users). But when considering the larger universe of all adults age 65+, the percentage of seniors who are active on Facebook is actually under 23%, and that’s far better than their use of Pinterest at 7.0%; Twitter at 5.3%; or Instagram at 3.4%.

  1. To make the picture even more dismal, when you reduce that number to just those seniors residing within a senior living community’s geographic marketing area, the number gets really small.

Integrating Social Media with Your Overall Marketing

So, given these market dynamics, how should social media fit into a senior living community’s communications program?

Start by recognizing that social media should not stand alone as the sole means of outbound marketing. The temptation is to look at social media as “free” advertising. It is not.

Instead, it is more akin to word-of-mouth, where a community conducts what amounts to one-to-one conversations with people who are or may someday become prospective residents.

Do not expect social media to cast a broad net that will capture a lot of prospects. But do not be discouraged, either! Many communities do not face the problem of having to fill a lot of beds. For them, an effective social media program can go a long way toward keeping the prospect pipeline filled.

Relationship Building

The objective of a senior community’s social media program should be to build relationships with current and future resident prospects, which takes time. Consequently, social media success requires commitment on the part of the community to maintain a consistent, ongoing effort to build those relationships.   

Social Media Risks

Furthermore, relationships can’t be built with one person doing all the talking. It requires a dialogue. However, when you let others have input into the direction of the conversation, you lose control – and that creates risk, as you cannot predict what others will say. Also, there’s always the risk that no one will say anything, which weakens the relationship-building.

Using An Editorial Calendar

Risk can be minimized by planning out a social media calendar that sets the dialogue agenda. Magazine and newspaper publishers have used editorial calendars for centuries and their usefulness has never waned.

The same is true for publishing in the digital space. A strong content plan will help ensure engaging material is delivered that directs the online conversation. This should be more than just providing information about a community, it should deliver real value to the community’s prospective residents.

Addressing Both Adult Children AND Seniors

An argument can be made that often seniors are not the primary driver when making a decision to move to senior housing. However, the senior cohort should not be overlooked, either. Whether they are driving the selection process or not, they will certainly have a say in the decision.  

And, you can bet they will gravitate to the communities where relationships already have been established.

* All statistics and projections are provided by eMarketer, 2015


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