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Will Your Adult Students Opt-In to Social Media?

April 22, 2009

You’ll be hearing the term, “opt-in,” quite a bit more in the future. As technology and consumer behavior continue to evolve to applications such as mobile communications, it’s a concept that is key to all of us “opting in” to new ways to behave. When those consumers are non-traditional students who are in their mid-20’s to mid-60’s, opting-in to new media communications and marketing is the future starting now.

In January, the Pew Internet and American Life Project published its findings on adults use of social media. Pew found that 57% of adults age 25-34 have at least one online profile on a social network website. While the stats decrease by age, by all measurements, adults age 25-65 are rapidly adopting the use of social media.

Pew Internet and American Life Project by Amanda Lenhart

Pew Internet and American Life Project by Amanda Lenhart

The data from Facebook is in a word, stunning, with the social network adding over 500,000 new users each day. According to Inside Facebook, the majority of the over 200 million Facebook users are now over the age of 25.

Looking at Facebook US audience growth over the last 180 days, it’s clear that Facebook is seeing massive increases in adoption amongst users 35-65. The fastest  growing demographic on Facebook is still women over 55 – there are now nearly 1.5 million of them active on Facebook each month.

The biggest growth in terms of absolute new users over the last six months came amongst users 35-44. Over 4 million more US women 35-44 and nearly 3 million more men 35-44 used Facebook in March 2009 compared to September 2008.

us-facebook-audience1Beyond the ubiquitous name of Facebook, it’s a popular site for older adults because of its brand as a social networking site, rather than an entertainment portal like MySpace. Because of its previous life as an .edu network, the privacy controls for Facebook are appealing to adults. And they are taking advantage of them: the Pew study found that the majority of adults utilize privacy controls for their online profiles; which brings me back to adult students “opting-in” for new media communications.

Your adult students just don’t have the time to be overwhelmed by social media. They are most likely working adults. They have families. They use social media to stay connected with family and friends. It’s personal. But when an adult goes back to school to get their undergraduate or graduate degree, your institution becomes part of their life.

Given a choice, many of them will want to opt-in to hearing from their university and/or their professors in new media space. So, in addition to your your degree completion/graduate/doctoral programs being on Facebook and LinkedIn, how about using social media as a communications strategy? How about student cohorts on Twitter and Facebook? How about communicating to them on their mobile devices, if they opt-in?

In marketing higher education, strategize and then ask your adult students to try out some of your new media experiments. Engage them online about it. See if they’ll be willing to communicate with you in new media. Adults use of social media is increasing at an insane pace. Are you prepared to respond to this growing opportunity?

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