Syndicate content

Older Women Invading Facebook

The Winnipeg Free Press
Shannon Rupp

Facebook is getting old, in every sense of the word.

Since early 2009, when Facebook trumpeted the fact that the female 55+ demographic grew by 550 per cent, (while underplaying the fact that the under-30 enthusiasm stagnated), I've been amused to see it evolving into the equivalent of the retirement home's social centre.

Women who used to scrapbook are now farming on Facebook and sending us all tiresome updates. (PopCap Games reports that 60 per cent of FarmVille's 82 million users are women over 40.)

Time Magazine even offered 10 reasons "Why Facebook is for old fogies." For example, FB is handy for finding people you've lost track of (which is a problem peculiar to the aged).

Facebook is the perfect tool for marketers and other stalkers, of course. People hand over whacks of detailed personal information about themselves and their friends, voluntarily. As I keep joking, who needs the CIA when we have Facebook?

Well, I'm not really joking.

And yet I'm still hearing greying hipsters touting FB's wonders for reaching the young. (Of course, maybe they've reached the age when 30+ is their definition of young?)

As a woman who has attained what the French call "a certain age" myself, I vaguely recall that the young don't want to be reached by us. So I feel sympathy for the 20-something Facebookers whose world has been invaded by aging adolescents who want to join their Mafia Wars.

When Facebook launched at Harvard University in 2004, students embraced the site as a mating strategy. (Yes, Mom, that's why they showed all those photos of themselves as naked, drunken party animals: they were advertising their charms.) And since they were operating within the university network, there was a good chance they might get to hook-up in real life.

 While I appreciate the jokes lawyers make about the growing number of divorces inspired by Facebook reconnections, I don't think that's the goal of the expanding armies of mature users. (Facebook just cracked 400 million users, which will undoubtedly provide Depends with a superb marketing op.)

 That demographic is more interested in networking and data mining because oldsters need to make money to fund their offspring's university education and wild partying. And they prefer to do it without shucking their slippers.

 If you're in any doubt as to FB's primary purpose, consult the company's Facebook Marketing Bible: the Guide to Marketing Your Brand, Company, Product, or Service Inside Facebook (only $95).

 But they need someone to sell to, and as Toronto marketer Joanne Thomas Yaccato says, women represent 80 per cent of the market for everything. So Facebook's new-found feminine success means big business.

But it has caused researchers to speculate on why women, who are supposedly technophobes, are storming the site. Are they more social? Are housebound women desperate to talk to other grown-ups? Is there a longing to express themselves that isn't fulfilled by the domestic life?

Maybe. But the most persuasive explanation comes from Stanford University professor B.J. Bogg, who told CNN something that may also explain Facebook's declining appeal among campus-aged users. Mothers and grandmothers are using it to keep track of their children.

 For under-30s, this is way worse than those floods of trivial messages about people's poke wars. Maybe you can duck mom's nosy calls. Perhaps you can avoid visiting granny for grillings about your love life. But once you've friended the rellies, there's no escaping their hawk eyes on Facebook.

 This leaves the young with a dilemma that has big implications for the biggest social networking site. Is anyone going to un-friend her mom? Of course not. So the only option is to abandon Facebook.

 My spies in the youth camp tell me Plurk is the social networking site gaining traction, and Google's Wave, still in beta, is earning some buzz -- but I was told to keep that quiet.

I'm guessing those sites are gleefully anticipating the inevitable. But who didn't see it coming? Everyone knows that when mom and dad start using your hula hoop, it's time to find a new toy.


Shannon Rupp is a Vancouver-based journalist who writes about social media.

10 Mar 2010