The label “social media influencer” typically conjures the image of what Taylor Swift describes best on her new album: “A sexy baby.” And while I might be dazzled by a poreless 22-year-old’s contouring transformation on TikTok, there’s only so much I can listen to skincare endorsements from someone whose knowledge of crow’s feet is strictly conceptual.
Luckily, newly instated product review queen Bethenny Frankel is ready, willing, and able to tell me what to put under my eyes. Former head of Bank of America’s Global Wealth and Investment Management and Ellevest founder Sallie Krawcheck is imparting seasoned financial advice to every generation on TikTok. And a recent Instagram reel of Michelle Obama discussing menopause resolved months of indecision and influenced me to finally go on progesterone.
Platforms that were recently viewed solely as a virtual playground for the Millennial-and-under crowd have been experiencing an influx of older users. An October study titled “Not Too Old for TikTok: How Older Adults Are Reframing Aging” analyzed videos by users aged 55+ with between 100k and 5.3 million followers, garnering over 3.5 billion views. Researchers found that glammas (glamorous grandmas), senior comedians, and other granfluencers are providing diverse portrayals of what aging actually entails and following viral trends — debunking stereotypes and providing comedic relief along the way.
And while some might be tempted to roll their eyes and say “Ok, Boomer” to TikTok’s latest demographic, Seniors’ organic arrival on newer platforms is providing opportunities for collaboration and creation between the generations.
As can be said about a lot of things, COVID changed everything.
Seniors began expanding their digital presence by necessity. Healthcare moved online. Social events took place on Facetime. Instead of buying movie tickets, Boomers expanded their streaming service catalog. Instead of calling a handyperson who might expose them to sickness, they started watching DIY YouTubes.
Prior to the pandemic, Boomers were on a need-to-know basis of how to interact online. They’d embraced Facebook, seeing it as a means to stay in touch with friends and family, and maybe dipped their toes into Instagram. But when families were forced apart and people started noticing that their Facebook newsfeeds were generally lacking regular updates from grandchildren, a migration to other media began. Whereas my mother used to complain that my daughter never answered the phone, they are now DMing on Instagram. She is seeing her granddaughter’s day-to-day, her artwork posts, and is adding a new dimension to their relationship.
Although older people weren’t native to social platforms, with time comes expertise and embracing viral trends. Just look at the late Leslie Jordan, who I fell in love with as a gay republican on Will and Grace over 20 years ago but Gen-Z learned to love as he sang and danced on TikTok.
This embrace of the digital world is fun for everyone to watch, and it opens up a whole new window for us as marketers to organically reach this generation as well.
The Power of the Older Influencer
Prior to COVID, marketers had to go a very traditional media route of print campaigns in newspapers and magazines, direct mail, and the beloved 6 o’clock nightly news — a haven for Medicare and pharmaceutical commercials. But we now have the chance to do something more exciting and break stereotypes alongside innovative, older content creators.
Boomers are known for their brand loyalty and once you’ve gotten them to trust and connect with your product, they can be your best ambassadors and advocates. Although seniors are opening themselves up to new opportunities and trends on social media, that doesn’t mean that they will attach their name to something that they don’t actually value. No one has time for that. And the instant credibility an older influencer has when endorsing a product holds incredible value to marketers.
Walgreens is an example of a brand that is doing things right. Over the summer, the retail giant partnered with the wildly popular influencers dubbed The Old Gays, who have 9.2 million TikTok followers and counting, to promote the Walgreens app to a senior audience. While those ads lived on TikTok, Walgreens nods to seniors’ expansion to social platforms in television commercials as well. A recent ad that opens with a teenager teaching her grandmother a TikTok dance concludes with grandma refilling a prescription on her iPad.
An Opportunity For Generational Synergy
Although the four members of The Old Gays had been friends for decades, it was their 35-year-old neighbor, Ryan Yezak, who first suggested they film videos for Grindr, where he worked. While Yezak introduced them to TikTok, the granfluencers made it their own.
Call me corny, but I see romance in this intergenerational coalescing of talent and creativity. Malcolm Gladwell said that it takes 10,000 hours to gain mastery of something — and while Gen-Z can share their expertise of social media, senior influencers can then go on to share their life knowledge with millions of people on the platforms.
And I, for one, and more than ok with these Boomers taking over my feed.