Older adults are voracious consumers of digital content. Here’s how health care companies can reach and engage them.
By: Kate Rockwood
A silver-haired man baking biscuits in an apron — and little else. A grandma throwing her walker into the pool. A gaggle of septuagenarians flipping the bird at the camera. This saucy TikTok video from the senior influencers at Retirement House is just 21 seconds long, but it’s raked in 15 million views. It’s also just one of many examples that obliterates the stereotype of tech-fearful older adults.
Today’s seniors are digitally savvy — no surprise there. They own smartphones (61%), access the internet (96%) and social media daily (88%), and have broadband at home (64%). But those stats alone don’t illuminate how far-reaching their tech habits have become, especially after the isolation and anxiety of early COVID-19 lockdowns forced fence-sitters to figure out everything from e-commerce to telemedicine, from wearable fitness tech to, yes, TikTok.
“I love YouTube! I’m a YouTube fanatic. I get up in the morning and get on YouTube,” one 60-something told Google researchers in a 2021 analysis of tech habits among older adults. When researchers parsed the data, they found that the vast majority of seniors (86%) are digitally savvy, spending at least six hours a day online and owning, on average, five devices.
For health care companies that have traditionally relied on TV and print materials to reach this population, the imperative to pivot digitally has never been stronger. But reaching — and engaging — tech-savvy seniors requires more than moving medication brochures online.
Instead, you need to consider their three primary motivations for going online — and then position your brand to fulfill those desires.
Motivation #1: They Crave Connection
Nine out of 10 seniors say staying in touch with family and friends is a top reason they go online, according to Google research. And that motivator bests both organizing their finances and improving their health and wellness. At the same time, we know that strong social connections and mental acuity are associated with better health and greater longevity.
Health care companies have a clear opportunity to help seniors connect with family and friends, as well as like-minded peers. Think: fitness challenges that all family members can join, compelling guides on how to have better FaceTime interactions with young grandkids, and digital social groups aimed specifically at seniors.
“The key is to engage older adults in a way they already live their lives,” says Richard Ashworth, president and CEO of Tivity Health, parent company of SilverSneakers, which offers in-gym and virtual fitness classes, as well as social engagement and mental enrichment experiences, to eligible members through their Medicare Advantage plans.
If your data shows that members are big on text messages or posting on Facebook, explains Ashworth, lean into that momentum. Requiring them to, say, download an app to access a new tool will hobble engagement if they’re unfamiliar with the app store.
The insight in action: For nearly 30 years, SilverSneakers has offered members free access to thousands of gyms around the country, many with SilverSneakers-branded classes as well. While members come for the fitness, they stay for the friendship, says Ashworth.
Since the pandemic began, interest in virtual classes has risen, and SilverSneakers has found new ways to facilitate social connections. After a successful pilot program, they are partnering with senior social site Stitch to offer members in participating health plans virtual and in-person social engagement opportunities. Before they even join, seniors are reassured that all members are verified (no would-be scammers allowed!) and the sign-up is fast and frictionless.
SilverSneakers has also partnered with GetSetUp to bring mental enrichment and learning opportunities to members in participating health plans. GetSetUp is an online community of more than 3 million older adults that offers more than 2,000 interactive classes — everything from art to entrepreneurship to, yes, technology.
Motivation #2: They Need to Know Something — Now
The internet is a tsunami of information, much of it conflicting or confusing. Straightforward, authoritative content can cut through the digital clutter — and seed a surprising amount of brand loyalty.
“The simple truth is seniors are very loyal,” says Ashworth. “But you have to build trust, be consistent, and execute on that trust properly.”
Trust means you have the user’s back: top-notch digital security for their peace of mind; an intuitive, streamlined interface that accounts for aging-related issues like diminished eyesight; and content that’s as highly vetted as it is culturally sensitive and relevant.
And never underestimate the power of an omnichannel approach. Like you, older adults may have their preferred platforms, but creating a digital content destination and then leveraging email, social media, SMS, and even print to drive users to it creates a surround sound too beautiful to ignore.
The insight in action: There’s no better way to deepen brand affinity than by helping people live happier, healthier, longer lives. Linkwell Health’s partners do that in a number of ways, while at the same time leveraging that content to solve business problems. A few recent examples:
- A blog-based content campaign that busts myths and eases fears about in-home health screenings, distributed to Medicare members by email, social media, and SMS, and encourages them to book appointments.
- A video series that simplifies complex medical procedures and guides older adults to the right care at the right time at the right price.
- A new-member onboarding campaign — stories, videos, and downloadable PDFs — that demystifies Medicare, explains plan benefits in clear and engaging language, and drives retention during the Open Enrollment Period.
Each of these examples was an opportunity for the plan to serve the member, tout the brand’s expertise, cultivate a trusting relationship, and then ask for something in return.
Motivation #3: They Want to Get the Most Out of Life
Trying to reach rural, physically active 60-somethings with the same tactics you deploy for 80-year-old sedentary city dwellers? Prepare to fail.
“A one-size approach to engaging seniors is not going to work,” says Ashworth. “They’re individuals, with their own life experiences. In fact, they’re more individualized than younger people, because they’ve had more diverse experiences.”
Toss the tired stereotypes that all seniors love long walks and crossword puzzles. Today’s seniors might be using Facebook to raise funds for a local 5K, doing yoga online before getting to work, researching new plant-based recipes, or launching a novel-writing project. Health care companies looking to knit a closer connection must see these seniors for who they — as individuals — are.
Of course, data is king when it comes to customized and targeted communications. But even in the absence of first-party health care data, strategic audience segmentation and data partnerships can do the trick.
The insight in action: One of the most popular videos on the SilverSneakers blog features a 72-year-old member who embarked on a 3,200-mile cross-country bike ride a couple of years ago.
Why did it resonate so widely? It’s a great question. After all, most 70-somethings don’t share the same goal — they wouldn’t be physically able to accomplish such a feat.
Nor was the video fancy. It wasn’t filmed in 4K — in fact, much of it was shot with the handheld GoPro the member used to document her 58-day journey. There was no slick graphics package or adrenaline-spiking music either.
The answer is simple: It has heart. That member, in pursuing the seemingly impossible, spoke for all older adults: Don’t dismiss me. Don’t ignore me. Don’t count me out.
Ultimately, says Ashworth, it’s this type of authenticity that’s the key to success when it comes to engaging older adults.
Contrary to the cliché, this age group is literally, not figuratively, riding into the sunset. They’re excited about the future. They see their best years ahead of them. And they’ll embrace any brand or technology that ensures a smooth ride.