The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way we communicate, on both a personal and professional level. Office spaces have become increasingly redundant. Live events have migrated to digital on the internet. Everyday connections now endure over regular video chats.
With the advent of a vaccine, the world may be slowly returning to normal, but with a twist. Virtual communication has evolved to become a viable alternative to physical meetings. However, far from ushering in a dystopian future devoid of human contact, digital communication technology is enabling people of all ages to stay connected.
A Cross-Generational Success Story
Before the pandemic, social media and digital communication, through apps like WhatsApp and Zoom, were thought to be the preserve of Millennials and Generation X — people born after 1965. Despite an increase in the adoption of new technologies by the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, and the Silent Generation, born between 1928 and 1945, it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that older generations embraced digital communication at scale.
Zoom was the success story of 2020. And, despite morbid circumstances driving its meteoric success, the platform brought a great deal of relief to millions. It enabled people to connect from anywhere in the world. It also developed essential support networks, regardless of location.
Although people used many conferencing platforms to connect during lockdown, Zoom was by far the most popular. In fact, in 2020, the company turned over $2.6 billion, an increase of 317 percent from 2019.
It was the ease-of-use and prevalence of Zoom that made the app so popular. These attributes lowered the barrier of entry for older users. The over-65 age bracket needed access to virtual communication more than any other group. Not only was this group most susceptible to the virus, but also this increased vulnerability meant older people were more likely to become isolated through prolonged periods of shielding.
However, historically, this group was also least likely to have access to the internet or a good knowledge of how to operate internet technologies. Yet, necessity is the mother of invention and, in this case, adoption.
Mass Adoption of Digital Communication Driven by Necessity
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, older generations quickly adapted to online communication technologies. Many healthcare and social service providers used by these groups migrated to digital platforms to continue to assist.
Zoom may have been the great success story to the pandemic. But, it’s not the only platform that older users have adopted with vigor. On the whole, internet usage across the generational divide has greatly increased.
Between 2019 and 2021, the percentage of users in the US aged 65 or over who used the internet leapt from 73 to 75 percent. This is significant, but pails into obscurity when compared to the age bracket below, 50-64.
In the same period, internet usage by this demographic jumped from 88 to 96 percent. Putting this into context, in the five years prior, from 2014 to 2019, there was just a seven percent increase.
Several new social media platforms, who were focused on older generations, stepped in to serve the underserved during the pandemic. With increased technological proficiency in older age brackets, other companies stepped in to provide users with a meaningful way to connect and communicate. Examples of these companines include Amava, a social media platform specializing in interactive coaching and events, and online dating site, Lisa50.
What are the Implications for Online Engagement?
So, what does this new era of internet-savvy older people mean for businesses? Firstly, it’s impossible to ignore this newly empowered sector. Although necessity drove this recent advancement, the skills acquired by millions of new users worldwide will endure beyond the Covid-19 epidemic.
Older generations can now access content online that had previously been targeted only on Generation X and Millennial users. Moving forward, companies will need to examine how they use social media for advertising and engagement, as well as broaden their reach and the content they provide.
Beyond social media, older generations are becoming ever more competent with the tools required for online learning and conferencing too. One example is the AARP, one of the US’s largest membership groups for the over 50s. Their online classes exploded with around 14,000 participants on a single Zoom call. Prior to this, they would see only a handful of participants turn up to the physical equivalent.
This heightened interest in communications technology presents an opportunity for a new breed of IT training and advice organizations. Existing training services can expand their offerings to include older participants. Meanwhile, senior-only IT training courses could become an independent industry.
A New Kind of Digital Marketing
With general internet use by the over-50’s age bracket skyrocketing, digital marketing specialists will need to adapt. With an increasing number of cross-generational users embracing online participation, advertisers will need to focus on streamlining campaigns and tailoring them to a more discerning online audience.
It’s now impossible to simply put out an online advert in a space you know will be frequented by older customers. One cannot rely on the fact that there is little to no other competition. Furthermore, you cannot simply expect the user to commit to a purchase because they don’t have the capacity to find an alternative.
Older users are becoming more confident and judicious in their choices. With new technological skills, the over-50s are becoming accustomed to swiping past content that doesn’t grab them.
Although the internet as a whole has become more successful, the meteoric rise of Zoom signifies how important digital communications platforms have become. As adoption increases, the key will be to engage with consumers of all ages and provide the means to make communication, formal or family-focused, easier than ever.
Today, the barrier of entry to online services is being eroded at a faster rate than ever before. Now is the time to act to support, and profit from, this unprecedented development.