There was a time – not THAT terribly long ago – when boomers who had something to say took to the streets with signs of protest, usually against authority (especially the government). Sit-ins were the way to stand out.
If you participated in Woodstock, do you remember how you learned about it? Word of Mouth, no doubt. There was no e-mail, texting, web site, Facebook,MySpace, LinkedIn or Twitter. Phones still had cords and gas was cheaper than making long distance phone calls. Every boomer who wanted to protest war or just show support for love and peace was invited to gather at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in NY.
Who would have imagined in the summer of ’69 that one day boomers would take their protests to the web and that an online version of Woodstock could be created in a matter of hours? The closest thing to a sit-in now is parking yourself in front of a computer posting opinions on social networks. Boomers are writing – and closely scrutinizing – product reviews, creating fan pages, perusing (and sometimes writing) blogs, and even tweeting.
CPH Research in San Francisco recently surveyed Americans born between 1946 and 1964 and learned that 90 percent of boomers are online, and the time they spend there jumped to 62% in 2009 from 38 percent just a year earlier. Meanwhile, those aged 65 going online has also jumped significantly and now that crowd makes up about 13% of the total population in online usage.
Consider this: there are now more grandparents on Facebook than high school students. Of those aged 55 to 63, 62% have joined Facebook just in the past six months. They’re part of the reason Facebook just this month replaced Yahoo as the second-largest U.S. Web property. I won’t be surprised to see it overtake Google, the current leader.
Just as boomers took the lead 40 years ago to bring together “like minds” for social causes, they’re continuing to use their considerable influence to affect change. A quick search on Facebook shows that issues as diverse as health care reform, reverse mortgages, workplace ageism, aid to Haiti, and corporate social responsibility are hot topics, garnering hundreds of thousands of fans. Boomers make up (and, in fact, create) many of these pages. The same is true at Twitter, where more than half the folks I follow (and who follow me) write about boomers and social issues.
Boomers understand the power of technology and we’re using it now to make ourselves heard in Washington. By the way, when my company, Edelman, teamed up with StrategyOne to research boomers in 2007, we learned that a full 76% did not believe their interests were being adequately represented in Washington, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of congressmen and senators were themselves boomers. So, like our history demonstrates, we’re taking matters into our own hands.
What’s especially important to understand is that boomers influence up and down the generations. In other words, we influence our parents and our children, so when we take up a cause, protest a brand, or want to promote an organization, we tell everyone! (According to Facebook, link sharing on its site rose 500% in just six months!) You’ve heard it said, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” Today, that adage should be “Hell hath no fury like a boomer woman with access to a browser!”
The 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that Business and government need to pay attention to what boomers are doing and saying online. The generation that once declared “Never trust anyone over 30” may well be older, but we haven’t lost our appetite for making a difference!
(Marilynn T. Mobley is a senior vice president and strategic counsel for Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm. She is also the author of www.BabyBoomerInsights.com, a research-based blog that explores the boomer mindset. She tweets daily about boomers at www.Twitter.com/MTMobley. Write to her at Marilynn.Mobley@edelman.com.)