Why Are Baby Boomers Coming Back to Facebook Less?

Last week, we reported that although Facebook’s active US audience continues to grow by over 4% a week and has now reached over 60 million active US users per month, one age group is actually coming back to Facebook less: users over 55, who were actually the fastest growing age group on Facebook earlier this year. Why the quick change?


As you can see, the number of active US Facebook users over 55 actually decreased by over 650,000 in the last 60 days. In other words, users over 55 who joined the site earlier this year didn’t come back as much in April and May, even though the number of active users in every other age bracket has gone up.

babyboomersIt’s an interesting question that may reflect the different ways older Americans are using new communication tools like Facebook to share and consume information about friends and family. Here are some of the possibilities:

1. Facebook currently provides less value to people over 55 because most of their friends are still using other communication tools, like email. As is often seen in the adoption of new social services, initial waves of users often create an account and check out the site once or twice, then leave for a while because they can’t find many people they know on the site, only to return later when more of their friends and contacts are using the service.

This is exactly the usage pattern Reid Hoffman has described being the case for many users of LinkedIn, who tend to skew older, so the same thing could be happening now on Facebook. Over-55′s are just checking out the site for the first time, but the site isn’t lively enough for them to want to come back regularly – yet. They’ll go back to email for now, but will be back to Facebook when more of their friends sign up in a few more months (or a year or two).

2. The real-time Facebook stream is too new and overwhelming for people less familiar with social networks to understand. Although the Twitterati can’t live without a second monitor open all day to filter and consume the real-time web, people who use the web primarily for CNN.com may be confused by the roaring stream of status updates, Super Pokes, and homemade diet tip videos from Shaquille O’Neal to make much sense of it all. Who can blame them? It’s a ton of information, and the signal to noise ratio is often pretty poor.

3. Seasonality of family communication. While I don’t have the research to back this up, many people just talk to their parents and family more frequently around the holidays, and we could be seeing that dynamic at play for the first time on Facebook this year. If Thanksgiving and Christmas are the busiest days of the year for telephone calls, I’d expect the same to be true on Facebook as more relatives connect with distant loved ones and start sending virtual stocking stuffers on Christmas Day instead of making the trip to Cousin Eddie’s.

4. It was just a one time thing. Most people over 55 are coming into contact with Facebook through their children. Kids have been telling their parents about Facebook for years, but now that the Facebook crowd has gotten older and Facebook has established good privacy controls, kids are feeling more comfortable “friending” their parents on the site. Parents (and grandparents), open to the idea, are creating accounts on Facebook and joining the site in order to accept the friend request from their kids, but don’t end up coming back past this initial reactive step of first engagement – between work, soccer practice, and the 10 o’clock news, there’s just not enough time in the day.


Everyone has a personal story about how their parents are (or aren’t) using Facebook. I walked my dad through the Facebook signup process last year to show him some photos from a recent trip, but I don’t know that he’s been back since. Are there other reasons people over 55 have been coming back to Facebook less in recent months?

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19 Responses to “Why Are Baby Boomers Coming Back to Facebook Less?”

  1. Robert Ballantyne says:

    The real problem is that facebook is just too slow. It is an awkward web site that requires time to log on and look around. There are many demands on my time and facebook has not proven worthy of a significant slice. I like to keep up, so I use RSS (NetNewsWire) and Twitter and, of course, email. Tweetdeck scrolls down the side of my screen and gently burbles when something has appeared. 90% or more is uninteresting, but several times each day something appears that is relevant, funny, profound or truly informative. I don’t have to go and fetch that feed it is just THERE. I blog at http://howesound.wordpress.com so I feel I need to be up-to-date with the world. I also maintain several web sites and some include forums, moodle, cms and more. I’d rather my contacts blogged about their lives, twittered to draw attention to blog posts, and ignored facebook. Yes, I am over 55. BTW, the article seemed to suggest that the over-55s are not using fb because they are just not with it. Well, lots are up-to-date with social media. The problem is facebook… it is a fussy slow interface that cannot keep up with the faster pace of life.

  2. Suzanne Shaffer says:

    I’m over 55 and I use Facebook. However, many of my friends are annoyed by the applications on there. It seems nonsensical..all the “pass the drinks, send a fish, etc.” They get bored quickly. Most use it only to keep up with their kids, and would much rather call them then spend time online. Personally, I think the value of Facebook is in the social marketing aspect. Most Baby Boomers who are using it are there for that reason, and that reason alone.

  3. Chris Jones says:

    Given the short windows evaluated (two 60-day periods) conclusions are difficult, but the case for seasonality makes sense. Also, knowing my parents there’s strong likelihood that boomers will always be more partial to email.

    To really understand the FB trending better, would want to look at data for year over year –

    Also would be curious to understand penetration among connected “possible users” vs. actual by age group, given the population is aging and will be higher percent of total. Seems that would be important for SM marketers – as they evaluate investments in FB sites.

    At the core, there seems to be solid, sustained growth among the kids it was designed for – it is about “faces” after all.

    Another important trend to watch is the coming of the stand alone social/knowledge network, which has the feel of FB or LinkedIn, but is custom built by its community. Take a look at NING as an example toolbase.

    In the end, numbers can tell alot of stories. It’s important to be looking at the right ones.


  4. Andrew Mayer says:

    I’d describe it as a utility/rewards issue. There’s no mountain that someone won’t climb if they feel that the reward on the other side makes it worthwhile.

    The problem for the Boomers is that rewards for Facebook are too abstract. They still view social currency as a means to an end, and not and end in itself, so they’re not going to return unless they feel that they’re building towards something.

    “Why do you use Facebook?” is already a tough question to answer, but for a lot of folks it’s part of a gestalt. For the Boomers that is obviously not enough.

  5. Sandy says:

    The games and “fun” apps are off-putting. Too involved to get in/out, and to time consuming. Twitter is faster, more interactive and more useful for quick in touch with people & ideas. I do that daily; fb maybe once a week or less.

  6. jurgen stuber says:

    it would be interesting to monitore that over a longer period to get more valid information about tha acceptance of FB in the teenage generation. actually it seems to be coming out of fashing. what are they doing instead?

  7. Finance Geek » Tetris Turns 25 says:

    [...] So why, exactly, are boomers quitting Facebook? [Inside Facebook] [...]

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    [...] So why, exactly, are boomers quitting Facebook? Inside Facebook’s Justin Smith has four ideas: [...]

  9. Time Spent On Facebook Up 700% - News: Everything-e says:

    [...] goes into detail to back up each of these reasons in an interesting post here. He also looks at audience growth in the last two 60-day periods, providing the following [...]

  10. Sharyn says:

    It’s not because of the 4 reasons mentioned.It’s because the new Facebook screen is horrible and filled with extraneous junk. And slow. I’ve been a user of the Internet since 1991. The “old” Facebook was great. The new, ad-driven FB is not.

  11. Cindy Bruce says:

    I find fb a slow, computer locking, annoying social media site. The apps with the poking, drinks and such very annoying and even slower to get rid of all the requests.

    My friends and children are even moving away from it and some back to MySpace due to these issues. Twitter is more for business and MySpace for family connections in our circle.

  12. Nancy Hopp says:

    Yes, I’m 55, and I deactivated my FB account a number of months ago.

    Let me address the author’s contentions:

    Reason 1: Dependent on email? Nope. Most of my friends are on FB, and I also tweet and text.

    Reason 2: Overwhelming? Hardly. The UI is a no-brainer. And, besides, I work in the software industry.

    Reason 3: Seasonality? Not in my experience.

    Reason 4: A one-time thing? Nope. I explored it in depth and regularly logged on; also had the FB app installed on my BlackBerry.

    “Are there other reasons people over 55 have been coming back to Facebook less in recent months?”

    There sure are, and thanks for asking! Aside from the poking, quasi-stalking and other annoyances, the #1 reason — for me, at least — is that it’s simply a worthless waste of time.

    Sure, it’s great keeping in touch with friends –up to a point. But learning that you took the bus home today or that you had eggs for breakfast is just way more info than I need to know. Hell, I don’t even care what ~I~ had for breakfast today!

    People waaaaay overshare on FB. It all seems so personal, but even with restrictive settings, it’s really not. That’s why I deactivated my account.

    Then again, maybe the last straw was the ingominy of having a sewage treatment plant named after me.

  13. Amitav Chak says:

    You are away from facebook or not based on age,I see the benefit out of this. With Facebook connect you can bring your friends every where and get opinions about anything. http://www.shopnics.com, they have beautifully used this concept while shopping. Now you do not goto social shopping sites, you can bring your friends there and get opinions while you are accessing the site. I think this is the fun of facebook.

  14. » Los Adultos Mayores se Alejan de Facebook says:

    [...] la anotación en el blog de Inside Facebook donde se presenta esta información, y en otra anotación del blog de Mashable, dos bloggeros [...]

  15. Marketing to the Sleeping | Point Oh! says:

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  18. DSM says:

    Facebook used to have value for people you met EACH day. It was not intended for what it’s being used as now, to “reconnect”. They opened it up, and it took a dive into the childs crapper. Now it’s a spam filled waste hole that obviously isn’t going to attract sophisticated adults or even anyone with a brain. It’s become the 2nd version of MySpace. And you see who used that site and how idiotic it is.

    But those of us who were on there in the BEGINNING and are in college networks; find it hard to leave. We didn’t need super pokes, super walls, hickville, or fraudulent fan pages made by spammers with yahoo accounts and 12 yr olds who can’t read. But it seems the rest of society does. And that’s now who FB caters to. The uneducated and simple minded.

    The lst bastion of intellect is LinkedIn. But that’s not a social site. It’s for business. But any port in a storm until the next college only site takes hold and re-establishes some sanity.

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