Social media’s boom? It’s the Boomers

I’m still amazed by the number of business people I talk to who look at Twitter, Facebook, etc. and think “This is what young people use.”

We’ve seen the numbers over the past few years, and it’s been recently confirmed by this Pew Research Center report…social media’s fastest growing  group of users are the middle-aged and elderly. The growth has been dramatic…social media use by folks 50 and older has doubled in the past year, to 43 percent.  Folks 65 and over grew by 100 percent.  We’ve seen previous stats that show triple-digit percentage increases of Facebook and Twitter users in the past couple of years as well.

If you’re a newspaper, this needs to be your wake up call. Social networks have developed into a viable and immediate news source, and the audience you’ve been relying on to carry your print side through these hard times are discovering this new avenue of getting and sharing news far faster than your presses can run.

You need to have your news brand on social media. You need to have a solid plan to deliver and market yourself. You need to be relevant to your followers. Most importantly, you need to be engaging your followers. No more ivory towers. You need to be the community moderator. You need to speak, and you need to listen.

When finding people to handle your social media strategy, don’t think the young have the market cornered. They may use Twitter, Facebook and the others from their networking needs, but it is the Boomers who are figuring out how to connect social media to brand marketing.  While the technology is new, success methodologies are tried and true.  An experienced communicator or marketer can learn to network and develop an effective strategy to gain and nurture new audiences.

Yes, social media alone is not going to pay the bills. But it needs to be an integral part of your overall strategy to build and retain audience. Without audience, you have nothing to sell.

Are you still wondering why your print circulation continues to decline? Try tweeting some of your followers to find out.

Hyper(local) ventilating

Some notes from the hyperlocal front:

* This week marked the debut of the highly-touted hyperlocal site in Washington. Although the site does not seem that far different from other hyperlocals that have cropped up, what’s behind the home page is far more unique.

First, the developers of TBD, for the most part, have a background in Washington-area journalism, many coming from the Washington Post and its website. So there is a sense of institutional knowledge that sites like Patch lack. Second, the site is partners with a local ABC-TV affiliate, so the traditional synergies are coming from the broadcast side of the fence, instead of the print. That may actually provide an advantage in writing bright and tight — as well as more compelling multimedia — to the site.

TBD also has developed ‘relationships’ with a network of local bloggers to help the editorial staff of about 12 develop local content for the site. Though they’ve been very shy of giving out details of this blogger ‘relationship,’ it is assumed that they are compensated in some way.

In a recent blog chat with the Poynter Institute, TBD’s Steve Buttry stressed the key to the site’s success is developing community engagement.  Buttry’s cry is no different from other ventures, but if TBD’s blogger ‘relationship’ gives the front-line writers feeling of empowerment and buy-in (such as the relationship enjoys with its blogger network), then they may actually have success. 

TBD will be the one to watch over the next year.

* AOL’s Patch hyperlocal network continues to grow. This week they opened their 100th site in New Jersey, and are targeting 500 sites by year’s end. Locally, two sites have opened in suburban Chicago, with Patch’s home page promising 9 more sites soon. Their recruiting efforts locally have targeted more than 50 communities.

(Disclosure: My wife has done contract work for Patch, and I was recruited for a position.)

Patch’s aggressiveness to build a nationwide network of laser-local sites is certainly attractive to the national advertisers AOL is trying to woo with the promise of getting a national brand to Main Street level. However, in a market where there is plenty of competition and a decent showing from the Tribune Co.-owned Triblocal sites, it remains an uphill battle to sell Patch and AOL to people who do not have a ‘local’ impression on the brand.

Plus, it’s cookie-cutter design may help keep Patch’s costs down (and low-to-no overhead is a key in its operation), but provides as much local “feel” as McDonald’s. By itself it looks fine, but as you go from town to town, you realize they are all alike. 

Selling Patch’s as “local” — especially in markets where hyperlocals already exist — will be a tough row to hoe.

Right now, my money’s on TBD.

There’s a reason it’s called ‘social’ media

The Toprank blog entry “Why Do So Many Companies Suck at Social Media?”  is a piece worth reading if you’re considering social media for your company It really hits to the heart as to why so many companies cannot get a grasp of social media.

The key point is that corporate culture isn’t very social to begin with. Coupled with marketing and promotion methods still tied to older media (think “Mad Men”-era), most efforts to connect with clients and customers are ineffective or futile. And, as this blog entry notes, most executives are not social types.

Now, add the fear of failure into the mix, and you can see why business tries “tried” methods in a new environment.

However, social media– as I’ve written in previous entries — is all about being relevant and engaged. The ability to listen as well as talk. Let your customers know what you have (or what you’re all about), but engage them in dialog. Let them tell you how you’re doing, react and respond.

The big thing we’re learning that the Toprank entry notes is that social media has the ability to be forgiving. As a result, it’s a wonderful platform to take risks, try new things and engage new clients or customers. Not only do you have the ability to get immediate feedback, you can simply pull the plug when something doesn’t work and try something different. 

But above all, have a plan before you jump in. Know what you want to achieve and plan your strategy accordingly. It’s a lot easier achieving success when you have something to look to, instead of swimming with the crowd.

Engage your community. Listen and respond. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Develop a personality. Do these, and you will have success being ‘social.’