What if… Facebook focuses on baby boomers?

David McNew/Reuters

Introduction

In the last months I have been thinking and reflecting about Facebook, its evolution and how it works for different generations.

*It is important to say that this is a humble and personal exercise. I am totally aware that Facebook gathers much more accurate data that I can find in the internet, and this means that Facebook’s user knowledge can probably weaken all my arguments, conclusions and consequent solutions. I am not either UX or UI designer, I consider myself a fuzzy front end warrior design strategist, simply I am doing this to play and learn, and this is basically my goal. On the other hand, it would be great if it could even serve as spark of inspiration for Julie Zhuo’s team in Facebook Design, and Facebook Research.

Driven by personal curiosity, I decided to explore several dimensions of Facebook social network and to do so, I defined the following research questions:

Which are the differences on understanding and usage of Facebook between Millennials and Baby Boomers?

  • Do different levels of digital dexterity require an intervention in strategic, UX and UI design?
  • Should different users’ mindset and behaviors affect the final design or should users adapt to a standard design?

To start my exploration, I thought it was interesting to check my Facebook timeline to remember when I used it for the first time: 12th of June 2008. Almost ten years ago. Time flies! and even worse: I am getting old!


Context: How did this all start?

My generation, the omnipresent millennials, started to use the social networks during our teenage. At that moment, social networks went viral, and the daily use of Facebook and Twitter became part of our routine. We used it to connect with others through our pictures and share our experiences. We were amateur, naive and inexperienced, and our aim was just to discover a new world of possibilities to connect with friends.

Today, March 2018, it is not too different. Facebook has become an automatic response to boredom, to check it while commuting, to skip dull conversations, and a perfect excuse to join the antisocial social club… it is basically the place to go when you do not know what to do, it is always present and available for you. This is impressive, and it is not a coincidence, it is a matter of exquisite work. Due to this, Facebook has become an important part of our lives!

After youngsters adopted Facebook as a daily companion to have fun sharing their experiences more than one decade ago, older generations have gradually started to get curious about it and try to discover the value of this new world for them.

But, are both generations looking for the same value?

Today, there are over 2.01 billion monthly active Facebook users worldwide for June 2017, which is a 17 percent increase year over year. Among them, there are 1.15 billion mobile daily active users, also an increase of 23 percent year-over-year.

Techcrunch @joshcostine

Although 29.7% of users are age 25 to 34 being the most common age demographic, the usage of social networks by baby boomers (+53 years old) is growing rapidly in the last years.

What is the current situation for Baby Boomers?

In theory, Baby boomers are in their last working years since their ages are between 53 and 71 approximately. This generation was labeled as non conformists: going against social norms, liberal expression of their sexuality, interest in equality, recognition of environmental concerns… Generally, they are defined as committed, motivated, independent, competitive and work centric. Baby boomers have been working really hard during their lives aiming to achieve a comfortable status for the retirement phase.

Today, although retirement age varies depending on the country, this age has increased to be around 65–67 years old due to change in regulations addressing the need of creating a sustainable pension systems to face ageing population and its consequences.

In these days there are 1.1 billion baby boomers alive, this is 15% of the total world population. In 2030 all baby boomers should be retired regarding its age. However, Prof David Blake, director of the Pensions Institute at Cass Business School says:

“The danger now is we will have a generation who really can’t afford to retire.”

Therefore, it seems that Baby boomers will be the last generation to get officially retired.


Retirement as a life event

In 2014 I carried a 6 month research in collaboration with Aegon- Transamerica center for longevity and retirement to understand the implications of the life event of retirement in baby boomers. Since I was targeting the same audience in my Facebook research, I decided to apply my learnings on retirement to this new research.

What do we consider life events?

Life events are defined as major happenings in people’s lives that require a certain level of psychological adaptation (Rahe & Miller, 1997). These happenings create an atmosphere of uncertainty, fear and excitement where people need to adapt themselves to a new reality (Suls & Mulen, 1981).

Retirement is one of the most important life events in people’s life covering a long period of time and experiencing several emotional and contextual changes. Taking into consideration the changes experienced throughout retirement, Atchley (1987) defined six phases in the life event of retirement: Pre-retirement, retirement, disenchantment, reorientation, retirement routine and termination of retirement.

User research. Retirement

To understand the needs, behaviors and experiences of the users around the context of retirement, qualitative user research was carried based on the following research questions:

Research questions

I. How retirement affects people’s lives?

II. Which individual actions are needed to go through retirement?

III.How would it be the ideal retirement experience?

Methods:

4 Co-creation and generative sessions: Timeline, Personas, Diary, Card Sorting.

8 In-depth interviews with Baby boomers

User research sessions

Findings

Availability of time

Time availability is the main difference between the working life and the retirement life. Time is not perceived anymore as a restriction, in fact, time is the key factor that provides relaxation and freedom of choice during retirement.

“I have time to do what I like” , “I do not like to suspend activities for the future”

Discovery

Discovering foreign cultures, finding new interests and meeting new people are some of their desires once they get retired. Pre-retirees perceive retirement as an ideal stage to broaden their knowledge and to live new adventures bringing together the experiences accumulated during their previous life stages. Retirees feel nostalgic about the feeling of freedom from their youth, however their experience is a key aspect that might help them to live a more delightful time in this new stage.

“It is good to plan to go from A to B, but retirement is to go for discovery again”

Understand yourself

The adaptation process to a new life stage requires knowing yourself on depth in terms of interests, desires, goals, etc… Retirement is understood as a phase which offers total freedom to decide what to do. Despite freedom could be seen as the ideal situation, in some cases it could represent a problem due to the countless possibilities to choose from. Therefore, it is essential to know the activities or groups one wants to be part of and the process to achieve this goal.

“You search in yourself about what you like to learn, to play, to do…”

Keep responsibilities

After working for many years people get used to dealing with structured schedules, handling responsibilities and taking important decisions within their contexts. When retirement life starts everything changes and those daily responsibilities disappear. At this moment the scenario changes completely and a severe life restructuration is needed. Finding new responsibilities or maintaining some of them from the working life could help to gradually adapting themselves to the new life stage.

“I need to find new responsibilities, I would like to take care of my sisters and grandchildren”

Health

The degree of importance of health in retirement is significantly high. Either mental or physical health has high impact in people’s lives during this period. Both together are the responsible of any human action and if one of them is missing the performance is limited or inexistent. Even though health is usually related exclusively to mental and physical status, a third dimension has been found in this research as a key point in retirement: Social health. It refers to the interaction between individuals within society. It seems unrelated to the traditional concept of health but it has been discovered as a fundamental part of retirees’ health status. Social interaction helps retirees to keep an active lifestyle which stimulates them mentally and physically.

“Health is essential, but I prioritize to be socially active”. “I need intellectual challenges everyday”. “I will play golf with my friends”.

Paradoxes

During the user research I also found several behavioral paradoxes:

  • Freedom vs find responsibilities: After a whole working life being productive they need to be satisfied with their daily journey, in other words they need to be useful for someone. Lacking time it is as difficult to manage as having nothing to do.
  • Plan vs improvisation: The process of adaptation to the new lifestyle requires thinking about the future in advance in order to define goals and targets. However, retirees see this new stage as an opportunity for discovery where plans are general drafts and improvisation plays the principal role in the journey adding daily excitement to their lives.
  • Working vs relax: This circumstance is strictly linked to the attachment to work and the degree of passion on your working activities. People who are passionate about their jobs tend to continue working after retirement age. On the other hand, some people work exclusively to get an income and to ensure their financial stability, therefore the work attachment is lower being understood as a stage where people are free to do all type of joyful activities that they could not enjoy during their working life.

Conclusions

The findings from the user research lead to a reinterpretation and the creation of a new vision for retirement:

Finding a comfortable and rewarding lifestyle while being socially involved, physically and mentally active and financially safe.

Design challenge

From this vision and taking into account that more and more baby boomers are organically joining Facebook, I have brought together both facts to define my Design challenge:

How can I help Baby boomers to find a comfortable and rewarding lifestyle being socially involved, physically and mentally active and financially safe in their upcoming or current retirement phase through Facebook?

Secondary research: Social media & Baby boomers

Once my design challenge was defined, I decided to dive on baby boomers’ behaviour on social networks, to do so, I did a secondary research on internet to spot relevant data and trends. The most relevant findings I was able to discover were the following:

An overwhelming 82.3% of Baby boomers belong to at least once social networking site, being Facebook the prefered site.

Jeanel Pangindian’s research

A significant group of Baby boomers (15.5%) spends 11+ hours per week on Facebook.

More than half of Leading-Edge Boomers will visit a company website or continue the search on a search engine after seeing something on a social networking site.

Baby boomers use Facebook to stay connected with their friends and family, as well as to reconnect with folks they haven’t seen in some time since members of this age group highly value community involvement.

Among the online adults, 45% of people aged 65+ use Facebook and in age 50–64 demographic 60% use Facebook.

Women are 26 % more likely to share content more than once a day when compared to their male counterparts.

Baby Boomers are 19% more likely to share content compared to any other generation, reinforcing the notion that Facebook’s demographic is trending slightly older.

This data illustrates that this target group might be a promising customer segment to look at and design for. However, there are some aspects to consider before jumping into them because not only baby boomers think in different terms but also their knowledge and education was completely different regarding the digital world, which definitely requires special treatment.

The Barriers of Baby boomers

Even though they are trying to catch up technology wise, their learning process is slower than younger generations’ and to get updated represents a big effort for them. Therefore, it is important to consider what are the barriers of this generation to help them using Facebook at its maximum potential.

  • Non digital native

Baby boomers are not always familiar with how to use the settings of different sites, and they can find themselves overwhelmed with notifications, windows, required actions… Common interactions for youngsters can result in bad headaches for baby boomers who are not used to manage swipes, figurative icons and drag & drop actions.

In conclusion, surfing the internet is not easy for them, they can get hooked easily by digital advertising tricks and get lost on their way. They know the basic features but once they need to use more complex ones they have a hard time.

  • Visual capacity

Visual problems are very common in 50+ people and this influences the interaction with screens sustancially. Mobile phones have small screens which are not easy to navigate and sometimes this represents a big limitation for this type of users.

  • Security & Privacy

Most of them are very concerned about their privacy on social media yet are not fully aware of how to effectively use the privacy settings found on the sites they frequent. They are very cautious to show personal information. A similar situation happens with payment, although they are getting used to pay online, they are not totally confident with the payment process.

  • Information management

Some get overwhelmed with the amount of information that flows into their Facebook news feed. They need guidance in how to filter these feeds so that they can only see information from people who they are most closely connected to.

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Older generations tend to have a more relaxed routine, spending time at home and going out fewer times than in previous stages of their lives. This lifestyle can generate health issues.


User research: Facebook users

After finding so much interesting information, I wanted to carry my own research to validate the behavioral patterns and data found in the internet. To do so, I build a questionnaire of 60 questions of different types: quantitative (yes/no and scaled) and qualitative (open questions).

The objective of the questionnaire was to validate some hypotheses related to the use of the platform and users’ behaviors, the degree of interaction between users and the connection of digital and physical worlds through Facebook.

I used my personal network to find participants, so I decided to do it in Spanish to increase the participation hoping to have a decent amount of answers. The final sample was 28 people, from Spain and Colombia, men and women, ages from 50 to 72.

I used typeform to make the questionnaire, which helped me to report the quantitative part automatically. I analyzed the open answers manually.

Insights

After analyzing the answers from the interviewees I was able to find the following key insights:

  • Facebook is the favourite social network for this audience (50+)
  • Mobile phone is the prefered device to visit Facebook (79%)
  • Facebook is used while waiting, when having spare time, boredom and moments of relax.
  • 50+ people use facebook to be updated about news, keep friendships, stay tuned on specific topics of interest, be updated about relatives living abroad and as a entertainment tool.
  • Their usage of Facebook is basic. They perform simple actions: Read, publish, share and play.
  • Frequency of use: 79% of interviewees visit Facebook everyday.
  • 29% visit Facebook once a day
  • 36% visit Facebook between 2–5 times a day
  • 21% visit Facebook between 5–8 times a day
  • 95% of interviewees think the time invested in Facebook is worthwhile
  • If they are not working, the time spent in Facebook rise considerably
  • Publishing: Baby boomers like to publish (59% of interviewees do it) about topics that they consider relevant for their friends, or to share their own experiences.
  • Privacy: They are aware of the consequences of publishing publicly
  • Information management: They think they select the content which they are consuming, they are not aware about Facebook’s filter.
  • The social circle of this audience is reduced to family and close friends. They are conscious about the content of their publications but they do not know how to set up a controlled audience for their posts.
  • They like pages and check the news feed, but they do not tend to participate either in groups (just 28% are part of a group) nor events. Since they do not know Facebook’s complete offering, their behavior is contemplative. They focus on consuming and sharing content rather than creating it. 92% of interviewees claim they have a medium-low knowledge of Facebook’s features.
  • Regarding events, they focus on weekend events with their closest group of friends. Cultural entertainment is the prefered category, followed by exploration of new places. 38% of interviewees attended to events found in Facebook and 62% of them would go to events recommended in Facebook which fit their personal preferences. They trust more on events created by friends than corporate or strangers’ events.

Behavioral patterns

Digging in the key insights found, I was able to identify several behaviors that Baby boomers have while using Facebook.

  • Contemplative attitude rather than active. They consume content, they do not create it.
  • They are basic users because they do not have either dexterity or confidence to research all features that Facebook offers.
  • They joined Facebook due to social influence from their closest relatives and their interactions happen within this trustful environment.
  • They do not see Facebook as a tool to expand their social circles but to maintain and be updated about their current relationships.
  • Baby boomers look forward weekend events to enjoy with friends and family. Week events need to be planned in detail to fit their routine.

Essential ingredients for the solution

In order to build a relevant solution for Baby boomers that enhance their lifestyle and create a more gratifying routine, I found the following ingredients:

  • Proactive feed of information about entertainment activities. Facebook should become a reference point for baby boomers to find relevant activities. The current system of Facebook events could be the initial step to launch this solution.
  • Basic and selected features , choosing only those which add real value to baby boomers in their interactions.
  • Regarding digital design, the solution must apply mainstream digital interactions. Moreover, it should minimize the use of icons without text.
  • Event recommendation based on user preferences, and linked to friends and relatives activity.
  • Creating events must be extremely easy, similar to a whatsapp group. The process must not represent a barrier to launch the activity.
  • The solution must take advance of baby boomers’ publishing routine to share information and events in different platforms aiming to reach a broader audience.
  • Increase trust in events created by strangers. Recommendations from friends or friends of friends and public opinions help to create trust on the events.
  • Friends of friends are key to expand social circles. The platform should facilitate introductions between users to break initial barriers.
  • Push notifications: events and promotions in the neighbourhood.
  • Tracking of users’ activities and sending recommendations to maintain an ideal lifestyle. The solution should not only focus on entertainment but also in health and mainting an active lifestyle.

Crisp, the place to be.

Crisp is an extension of Facebook’s platform that lets baby boomers build an active lifestyle finding interesting events related to their preferences, opening their social circles making new connections and monetizing their personal knowledge.

Solution characteristics:

Targeted community: Exclusive community for baby boomers. Bringing the concept of social club to the digital world without any social barrier, being accessible to anyone in this age group. In other words, a digital meeting point to make your daily life more gratifying.

Energetic tone. The community must not be perceived as a place for retirees. The community members should not feel they are getting older, this community must represent a place to enjoy a new stage of life trying to push a proactive and healthy lifestyle.

Locally connected to the physical world. Despite being a global network, this Facebook’s solution addresses the local context and the social and business relationships that are developed during the user’s daily activities. Moreover, it connects Facebook’s digital platform with brick and mortar small businesses.

Simplification of features. Facebook has many features but baby boomers focus on the basic ones. there are so many options in the menus that most users do not use them. Same happens with groups and events. The navigation must be straightforward and intuitive, prioritizing the most relevant activities for them.

Events as social activator triggering an active lifestyle. Events for baby boomers organized mainly by baby boomers. The type of events should be curated taking into account the taste of the target audience.

Integration with Facebook. 50+ people who are new users to Facebook should join the community automatically. To those already registered, an invitation process similar to Facebook messenger’s strategy must be planned. It is an extension of the current platform but targeted to this specific audience.


Once the value proposition with its high level characteristics was conceptualized, it was time to start designing the digital solution. I decided to build an app because the mobile phone is the prefered device to visit Facebook for baby boomers.

UX & UI

Before building a prototype, I illustrated a user flow to help me understand the user interactions to perform different tasks within the app.

User flow chart

Based on the key insights found in the research and the essential ingredients defined, preliminary wireframes were sketched to prioritize the content, visualize the screens and start thinking about the user flows and the ideal navigation.

Initial wireframes of the solution

Digital screens and an interactive prototype were developed in Adobe XD following the design guidelines defined in the paper wireframes. Aesthetics were not prioritary in this phase, the objective was to select the most relevant content and define an intuitive navigation.

Work in progress. Adobe XD

The last part of the process was to add the visual style to the app. Following are some of my UI design outcomes. However, I am still refining the design iteratively to polish details.

Crisp app Screens.

To test the final concept of Crisp, I talked personally with potential users of the app and ask them their willingness to use it, the intuitiveness of the design and the perceived value of the solution. After using the interactive prototype, 82% of the interviewees found value in the app and they considered the design simple and intuitive. On the oher hand, most of them will like to try the final product to assess the accuracy of the event recommendation system.

Business design

One of the main goals of this solution is to help baby boomers to become financially safe. Most of baby boomers are getting allowance from the government but sometimes it is not enough to enjoy a comfortable and gratifying lifestyle.

“By 2020 older adult (60 and up) spending will reach $15 trillion. It is no exageration to say that the world’s most advanced economies will soon revolve around the needs, wants and whims of grandparents.” Joseph Coughlin
Visualization of the business model

Crisp can provide an extra revenue for baby boomers sharing their expertise with other users and getting paid for it (similar model as Airbnb experiences).

On the other hand, this new platform can create new revenue streams for Facebook with sponsored events and strengthing the alliances with local partners. Moreover, using track record of events, Facebook can offer personalized suggestions of new events.

Local businesses need to reach their audience through new channels and Facebook can deliver a segmented advertising platform to maximize their promotion efforts. Activation strategies like free trials for courses like zumba, painting, furniture restoration… or promotional discounts for one time activities such 50% discount in the local golf resort could be interesting options to get new customers.

All these business assumptions must be validated with potential clients. As we are talking about a multi-sided market, it is important to test the different value propositions with local businesses, baby boomers and local population.

Final reflection

This design process was a great exercise that let me applying my skills in user research, synthesis of information and data interpretation, insight definition and business design. At the same time, it helped me to practice my UX/UI skills. I enjoy and learn doing this kind of exercises, and hopefully they will help me keep growing and become a top-class design strategist, UX researcher, service designer or whatever the label is.

It would be great to hear your comments, opinions and ideas. I love to learn from others and chat about design, so do not hesitate to contact me or visit my website for more information.

Thanks for reading!