Arguably the most importance facet of the growth of social media and increasing personalisation of the web has been the resultant growth of the online audience.  

Thanks to the increasing sophistication of both technology and user interfaces, it is significantly changing the nature of how audiences react online, not just in the younger generation, but also older users.

For those born before internet and mobile communication, the increasing simplicity of communicating (through mobile, blogs, social networks etc.) has meant increasing expertise and expectation from the 35+ users.  

This sort of familiarisation is vitally important because there are many people out there who either think computers and the internet are too complicated for them to use or simply can’t see why they are of any interest.

Traditionally the industry has looked at the older generation as ‘silver surfers’. While important, interest has been eclipsed by the young, the iLifers, for whom interactive media is ubiquitous.

Yet the increasing sophistication of today’s platforms allows for a level playing field across the ages. Understanding programming and platforms is no longer necessary – it may be faster for a small child to learn to engage with the Penguin Club than it is for a 60 year old to get comfortable on Facebook, but the reality is that the same drivers are in place.  

Children joining a new school judge their success by the number of friend requests they get, while grandparents can now see video of grandchildren on the other side of the world, or get connected to interest groups from shared hobbies to lobbying.

These changes mean that instead of a universally tech sophisticated audience with similar online demographics, the last decade has seen a transformation of the audience to one using the same tools, just with different levels of sophistication and differing needs. 

The last few years have seen another significant change take place, especially within e-commerce: the only important thing for the consumer is the end goal. And that brings a series of challenges: the more seamless the service, the higher the expectation from the user.  

This can be fulfilled to a degree by personalisation of service, but the real key lies in understanding that facilitating user goals is the best way to support transactions. And the needs and wants of varying age groups still differ, even when their use of services is made easy. 

We live in a society that is ageing, and disposable income is likely to be higher in those above the age of 40. It’s certainly true that older users have a higher propensity to transact.  

The latest report from the British Population Survey earlier in 2011 found that there are three people aged 55 or older shopping online for every two aged under 25. That means talking to older consumers in their language is critical.

The survey found that access to the internet grew faster in 2010, with 2.75m new users, than in 2009. Over-65s are the fastest growing group of new internet users and now account for one in 10 British users.  

In all, eight out of 10 Britons now use the internet, while five out of 10 shop online and four out of 10 use online banking. One of the most interesting findings was that the younger generation is predominantly using the internet for entertainment and communication, while it’s the older generation who are using it for practical and economic reasons. 

The most important aspect of brand marketing may well be the emotional connection made with the consumer but the key to a transaction is to provide the consumer with a seamless, effective, efficient means of achieving those goals.  

Familiarisation is the first step to bringing the older generation online, but to a great extent the needs of that consumer are subsumed beneath the expectations of iLifers.

Easing the passage of a transaction, with targeted information ensuring that the consumer is guided through the site is important, as is ensuring that they can be retargeted if, for any reason, they lose their way.  

While the young may be changing the face of mobile and online communications, we ignore the older generation at our peril.