PR agencies and other organizations looking to communicate with the baby boom generation, those 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, know that this group is a skeptical lot.
They lived through the significant social changes of the 1960s and '70s, after all, and tend to be more likely to follow the opinions of their peers than figures of authority. And so, in reaching out to boomers online, it's best to focus on social-networking Web sites, from general topic sites like Gather.com and Eons.com, to sites devoted to any of the myriad special interests of boomers, from healthcare to investment to volunteer groups.
"They value peer relationships, for the most part, over authority," says Fleishman-Hillard SVP Carol Orsborn, who, along with Mary Brown, is the author of a new book called BOOM: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer - The Baby Boomer Woman. "They are big users of chat rooms, message boards - they really like to seek out others' opinions and, in some ways, would prefer an opinion from someone they don't know, but [whom] they consider unbiased."
The sheer variety of Web sites frequented by boomers may surprise many, notes Stacia Tipton, AVP of Widmeyer Communications' research and polling practice. Boomers may not only have grandchildren, but may be raising young children themselves, for instance. They are living longer and healthier, and they wield great indirect influence over younger groups.
"Baby boomers are staying tapped into networks that we don't necessarily think of as channels to reach seniors," Tipton adds. "It's not just AARP; it's MSNBC, ABC News.com. They are aging, but not in attitude."
Above all, John Bell, MD of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide's Creative Studio, says reaching out to boomers, no matter the Web sites, requires sensitivity.
"In general, the pressure is on us to have more conversation, rather than trying to jam messages down their throats," Bell says. "They've lived through a lifetime of marketing, and they're somewhat inured to it. [So] it's inviting people to talk on a topic and demonstrate that we're listening, and not just put on a show of listening."
Baby boomers' online usage centers on peer-networking sites
Boomers hold varied interests and indirect influence over younger groups
Outreach necessitates open interaction as opposed to straight marketing of products or ideas