Online isn't the answer for everyone

While a number in the PR industry were trying to figure out the implications of Google Buzz this week (or how to turn it off, in other cases), the Commerce Dept. released figures showing that about 40% of Americans don't subscribe to high-speed Internet at home - and not simply because it's not available.

While a number in the PR industry were trying to figure out the implications of Google Buzz this week (or how to turn it off, in other cases), the Commerce Dept. released figures showing that about 40% of Americans don't subscribe to high-speed Internet at home – and not simply because it's not available.

Seniors, minorities, lower income, and the unemployed tended to be less likely to use broadband at home, the report found. These demographics are consistent with previous findings as well. A number of those opting out say they don't need it or it's too expensive. In rural areas, access was a more prominent factor. In addition, 30% of Americans don't use the Internet at all. Leaving aside the political implications – President Obama has promised to “close the gap” in broadband access in the country, and this report supports that goal – there are implications here for marketers as well.

Point number one: Not everyone is online. Point number two: Not everyone sees value in the Internet. While the numbers of Americans accessing information online continues to grow, it's important to remember where it's not growing and why. If your audience is a highly educated married couple in Manhattan, you'll probably be able to reach them online.

Whites, Asians, young people, married people, the employed and the wealthy all log on to high-speed Internet at higher rates than other groups. If you're planning a public education campaign that targets at-risk populations, or selling something to seniors, though, you might look offline for inspiration. For example, in the DTV transition campaign last year, organizers focused on community events and leaders to reach minority and senior populations. Of course, this is an oversimplification. There are ways to seed content on social media so that it is picked up by more mainstream media, such as TV, in order to reach a target audience.

But to point number two – who are the people that find no value in the Internet? What a huge opportunity for new services from not-yet-discovered companies or even brand platforms to change those minds that an online community is rewarding in a number of ways.

This data hopefully serves as one more reminder for all of us to think outside of our peer bubbles that can lock us into believing we all think and act alike.

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