Think social networking and you’d be forgiven for conjuring up visions of giggling teenagers arranging parties at their parents’ houses or milking their virtual cows on Farmville. You’d be wrong, of course: by all accounts, it’s the silver surfer who’s now wielding the mouse in the house.

Recent research from UKOM/Nielsen (May 2011) shows that Facebook, for example, has registered an 84% increase in the number of 50 to 64-year-olds in the last two years, although it should be said that the site continues to enjoy a healthy following from all age groups. Twitter, meanwhile, logged a monthly hike of 65% from this older age group, having registered a bumper month boasting 6.14 million British visitors. The number of women over 65 visiting the site showing a whopping 96% rise – an increase of more than double. Interestingly, it found that the under-18s are less likely to visit Twitter than they were two years ago.

Rather than bemoaning the advent of the silver surfer, however, companies are viewing this more lucrative sector as a new marketing opportunity, according to Stephanie Hayden, senior director at Nielsen. “The growing number of silver surfers on social networks means these sites – as a customer insight tool – are becoming more representative of the total market.”

But figures from consumer research specialist, Intersperience, suggest that social networking is not too much of a priority for older people. Its latest research (August 2011), entitled: ‘Digital Selves’ – a nationwide study which polled 1034 UK consumers on Internet usage and how behaviour is changing, found that the 55-64 age range rated emailing, finding information/researching goods and services, making online purchases and managing bank accounts as their top primary activities. This was mirrored by the 65+ bracket. Younger surfers exhibited these same priorities, although social networking did make an appearance at this point, along with educational studies.

Other key figures from UKOM/Nielsen show 26.8 millions Brits visited Facebook in May 2011 – the highest ever number – placing the site ahead of MSN/WindowsLive/Bing and second only to Google. Business network LinkedIn is also on the increase, recording 3.59 million UK visitors in May 2011 – an increase of 57% for the same period in 2010.


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