Age demographics: who gets their news online?

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More older folks than Web publishers seem to think

Photo courtesy of Mike Baird

A fascinating study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project released in January caught my eye. Among many other findings, it shows that amongst Americans age 55 to 63 (referred to in the study as “older boomers”), 69 percent get news online and 25 percent read blogs. That’s nearly as big a portion of online news readers as the group aged 18 to 32, 74 percent of whom read news on the Web in some format. It will come as no surprise to the more mature audience out there that the idea of young people making up the bulk of the audience for Internet media is, well, pure myth. But do the editors of news sites, along with bloggers and other online content producers, recognize that their audience is so diverse in age?

If you read this blog regularly, you know that one of my favorite things to do is have a look at Cision’s media database in search of answers for these sorts of questions. Age is one of the many types of demographic data we list for all sorts of media outlets, along with income, gender, ethnicity, education and so on.

This information comes directly from media outlets and their media kits, so it represents a picture of who they believe their target audience to be. It’s on offer from all manner of outlets, including newspapers, magazines and Internet media. Often it’s backed by independent audience surveys commissioned by publishers, and essentially it presents a picture of whom the content is geared toward.

If you have a look at the graph below, you’ll notice that only 16 percent of Internet media outlets include people age 55 and up in their own, self-reported audience age range. That raises some great questions. If 69 percent of people in that age group are reading news online, are sites and blogs failing to recognize this segment of their audience?

It may be tempting to explain this by suggesting that the older audience is just more concentrated on a smallish number of sites they’ve been comfortable with since the early days of the Web (AOL News, please stand up).  But we all know better than that; in Forrester’s North American Social Technographics Profile Online Survey 2007, published in the book Groundswell by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, 55 percent of Americans ages 52 to 62 were taking part in online social technologies like blogs and social networks, even if only “inactively” by reading and viewing social content without creating their own. As their interests differ, so do their destinations online, indicating that their activities are just as diverse as those of younger groups. No surprise there.

That suggests more blogs and sites should be creating more content geared toward older folks. Or, does the increasing focus that communications professionals of all stripes are placing on psychographics as opposed to traditional demographics make age distinctions less relevant?

If you’re a public relations or marketing professional promoting a product or service geared toward a senior audience, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on reaching older news consumers online.

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