I recently conducted a small, informal survey of Facebook users. You’ve probably heard that Facebook’s fastest growing demographic is the over-35 set. I’ve seen lots of data on how younger users operate in Facebook, but less on this fast-growing demographic. And specifically, I had trouble finding much information about how older individuals who are active parents (those with kids at home under 17), use Facebook. So I thought I’d do a little research on my own.
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This survey has lots of caveats, as I had to use the means at my disposal. The results can be considered preliminary and would need to be validated via a larger, formal study. You can find out more information about how the survey was conducted here.
A little about the users in this study. The majority of the respondents do not work in the technology industry (73% don’t). The majority (65%) reported spending an average of 3 or more hours a day online. Users reported spending time doing the following activities online:
This breakdown is generally in keeping with the findings of Pew Internet’s “Generations Online in 2009” report, which indicated that 35% of users overall played games online, 91% used email and 38% used IM, 70% got news online, and 81% researched products online.
70% of the respondents to this survey were female and 30% male. The age distribution is as follows:
Slightly over half the respondents had children under 17 living at home and exactly half were married. Half the respondents worked full-time and about 83% worked at least part time.
Facebook Use in General
Of these respondents, 50% had a Facebook account for over a year. Another third had their account for at least four months. I asked respondents how often they checked their Facebook account. The majority (45%) checked it several times a day. Another 20% checked it at least once daily. (Note, however, that frequency varies somewhat by demographic, as shown later.)
The following chart shows the activities users performed and the frequency of each activity:
As might be expected, the majority of people updated their status or commented on others’ status daily or, at least, weekly. However, it may come as a surprise to find that a full 41% reported never taking a quiz or playing a game on Facebook and only 28% reported doing so at least weekly:
While this reflects Facebook use in general, I also gathered demographic data about the respondents. In a future posting, I’ll look at whether and how usage varied by different demographic characteristics. For example, do women post pictures more often than men? Do working parents update their profile more or less frequently than working non-parents?
Expectations of Facebook, in General
I asked Facebook users about their goals for using Facebook. There was general agreement among users. The top reasons for using Facebook were to have fun, stay in touch with friends and family, and reconnect with people. Specifically:
- 69% want to have fun, and agreed strongly or somewhat with the statement “I’m interested in using Facebook to have fun.”
- 83% want to reconnect, and agreed strongly or somewhat with the statement “I’m interested in using Facebook to reconnect with old friends.”
- 86% want to stay in touch, and agreed strongly or somewhat with the statement “I’m interested in using Facebook to stay in regular touch with friends/family.”
Users were split on whether they were interested in Facebook for career purposes. And 50% of users disagreed that Facebook was for finding information about topics of interest, with another 24% indifferent. Users were similarly split on whether they were expecting to learn about new things or about events on Facebook, with about a quarter indifferent, around 40% agreeing, and the remainder disagreeing.
However, as we’ll see in the next section, expectations varied somewhat by demographic, such as age, gender, and parental status.
Expectations of Facebook by Different Types of Users
Let’s look first at the different expectations of Facebook users by age. The following chart shows the percentage of respondents of different ages who agreed (indicated they “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed”) with each goal for Facebook use:
Some findings of note:
- The over 55 set is looking to have fun with Facebook—100% of these users indicated agreement.
- In contrast, the age range directly below them, 45-54, had the lowest interest in using Facebook for fun, with only 50% agreeing.
- About half of users indicated they hoped to express themselves using Facebook. But perhaps not surprisingly, the 25-34 set had a
much higher interest in using Facebook for that purpose.
- The youngest and oldest age ranges had the most interest in using Facebook to learn about events, perhaps reflecting the amount of time they have to attend events.
Some of the big questions that drove me to do this study were around how parenthood and employment status affected Facebook use and expectations. In my next article in this series, I’ll take a closer look at the activities Facebook users do and how those differ by demographic characteristic. For this posting, I looked at how expectations varied by gender, parental status, and employment status.
Let’s look first at the differences by gender. I compared the answers of working parents, men versus women, and the results look as follows:
This shows some pretty interesting contrasts. Women are far more interested in using Facebook to have fun, while men are far more interested in using it to meet new people. (Note, I collected marital status data on users, but haven’t checked yet to see if there was an appreciable difference in the marital status of the men, which could account for their higher rating of “meeting new people”.) Likewise, men are far more interested in using Facebook for professional purposes and to learn about new topics. Women are vastly more interested than men in using Facebook to reconnect with and stay in touch with people.
But how do these numbers change when you throw in parenthood and changes in work status?
For women, somewhat to my surprise, the biggest differences in Facebook goals were not differences between women with children or women without, but between working women and those who didn’t work. On the other hand, there were significant differences in expectations for working men with and without children.
Perhaps not surprisingly, working women without children showed a lot more interest in meeting new people through Facebook and somewhat more interest in learning about new things or about topics of interest. Working women with children showed somewhat more interest in having fun with Facebook. Presumably, women without children have more opportunities to have fun in other ways and more time to explore learning.
The differences, however, are not too great. Look, on the other hand, at the men’s chart for working fathers versus working non-fathers:
Working men with children have very low interest in using Facebook for fun, while men without children show great interest. Working fathers are interested in meeting new people—even more than men without children. These working fathers show virtually no interest in using Facebook to reconnect or stay connected with friends and family. On the other hand, they express more interest than the non-fathers in learning about topics or learning new things.
As for working versus non-working women:
Working mothers had a great deal more interest in reconnecting than non-working mothers. Neither group showed much (or any) interest in using Facebook to meet new people.
Some big differences can also be seen in the working versus not-working women who are not parents. Almost 40% more non-working women without children showed interest in using Facebook for fun. They also showed a much greater interest in finding out about events through it.
Frequency of Facebook Access by Different Types of Users
Lastly, let’s see how the frequency of accessing Facebook differed by demographic. First, let’s look at the frequency of access by age:
The youngest ages checked their account most frequently, not suprisingly. Next, a look at how men versus women fared, by age:
Overall, women check their Facebook pages more frequently than men, though the 18-24 set showed a higher frequency for men. The increase for women is especially notable in the 25-44 age ranges. However, there is a decrease in frequency for working users with children at home under 17, as shown below:
Not surprisingly, working parents check their pages less frequently. The following charts show how dramatic the difference can be:
So, what’s it all mean and how can these findings be applied. For those conducting campaigns through business/fan pages on Facebook, these first findings suggest some ways to tailor the campaigns, based on your demographic target.
For example, if a significant demographic target of a campaign is working parents, keep in mind their lower frequency for checking pages. You may need to run the campaign longer in order to get larger participation. Likewise, if the target is 25+ men, you may want to run the campaign longer.
When it comes to deciding what types of activities to initiate on fan/business pages, keep in mind your target demographic’s goals. (Note, in the next part of this series, I’ll report on the actual activities that different demographics partake of in Facebook, which is also a strong factor to consider.) If your target is working fathers, chances are that quizzes and games aren’t going to work. But supplying information of interest to these men may draw them in.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for working men without children, campaign elements that are just for fun are a good bet. And for men, in general, applications and such that give them a chance to express themselves are likely to capture a good proportion.
If you’re targeting working moms, your best bet is tools or applications to help them reconnect with friends and family. For women, in general, a reasonable percentage can probably be reached with campaign elements that are just about having fun. But if non-working, non-mothers is your target, information about events might be a better way to draw them in.
Coming soon: How Different Demographics Spend their Time on Facebook
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