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Social media marketing seemed to be the topic of the hour at the 2010 International Builders Show (and other conferences I’ve attended in the past few months, such as the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging event).  Builders and developers – of active adult communities, of intergenerational housing, of continuing care retirement communities – are all wondering how these newer online marketing tools can drive sales with Boomer and Senior homebuyers.

In a new white paper with the “Top Ten Take-Aways from IBS 2010,” tip #9 addresses Untangling the Web.  While the seniors housing industry is buzzing about social media, there are a lot of questions about whether to dive in.

Is Social Media Marketing Worth It with Baby Boomers and Seniors?

For those with 50+ age-qualified properties, question #1 often is: Should I even bother? As we’ve talked about frequently on this blog, YES.  Seniors, Boomers, folks over 40 – they’re online, and actively engaged in social media.  Just last week, eMarketer highlighted the growing presence of Boomers on social networks.SocialNetworkingUseByGeneration.eMarketer

It’s not just Baby Boomers, either.  The stats show that 36% of Internet users over 63 are actively maintaining a social networking profile.  (Roughly 13% of the entire US population is over 65.)

The short answer is every builder needs to be engaged in social media at some level.

Case Study: Using Social Media Techniques to Reach CCRC Retiree Prospects

Recently our team had the honor of working with Willow Valley Retirement Communitiesto revamp their website.  Willow Valley is the nation’s third largest retirement community, and – unlike most CCRCs which draw primarily from their local area – it’s a true destination.  Willow Valley attracts retirees from 37 states.

Their prospects are educated, active and typically in their 70s.  However, the Willow Valley and Creating Results teams recognize the gradual shift that will occur over the next decade, as the Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1942) is joined by Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964).

Our plan for their new website was to make it not only functional and attractive, but to make the website the first stop on a prospect’s journey to retirement.  That means it has to truly engaging.  Social media techniques are built in throughout the site:

* share with a friend features – retirees can email, tweet or post content from any where in the site to their Facebook account
* videos embedded into the site from a branded WillowValley-TV channel on YouTube
* publications piped in from a digital publishing library that encourages sharing
* multiple calls for feedback and interaction (“suggest it to our librarian”)

The site is structured so that, looking ahead, the client can phase in more social engagement opportunities – message boards, blogs and comments/reviews.

Getting Social with Seniors, Strategically

Judging by the turnout at IBS social media sessions, many builders and developers are stuck on question #2 is: Where do I start?

I counsel our clients with active adult or continuing care retirement communities to start with the fundamentals, and that includes a plan.  Any business wanting to incorporate social media into their Boomer marketing should have a strategy, goals, and have a plan that shows how social engagement is integrated into their rest of their marketing program for maximum impact.

(Creating Results also offers clients a bundle of social marketing services, including education, strategy and training … but that’s another story.)

Let’s put the question to you:  In 2010, where will you start in your efforts to untangle the web and reach Boomers/senior homebuyers through social media? How can building community online drive sales for active adult and retirement communities offline?

Please share your thoughts and questions below.

About The Author

Todd Harff

Insights from agency Founder Todd Harff have been shared in Brand Week, Ad Age, Marketing Charts, The Wall Street Journal, The Journal on Active Aging, 50+ Magazine, and Selling to Seniors and from podiums at international conferences. He is the co-author of three national studies/eBooks (Photo Finish; Social, Silver Surfers 2010 & 2013). Todd also developed programs on marketing to Baby Boomers and seniors for George Mason University, Lasell College/ E.L.D.E.R. and NAHB’s University of Housing.