Social network for silver surfers grows in Japan

21 April 2010

TOKYO: A social network targeted specifically at older consumers is gaining ground in Japan, where meeting the needs of an ageing population is an issue of increasing importance.

The Japan Research Institute has estimated that "senior households" delivered 40% of total domestic consumption in the country last year.

Some 28.2 million people, or almost a quarter of the national population, were over the age of 65 years old in 2008, a share that is expected to rise to around a third by 2030.

According to the Japanese government, the average monthly expenditure of retired households reached $2,277 (€1,688; £1,480) in 2008, the most recent period for which statistics are available.

Nielsen NetRatings, the online research firm, has also reported that 25% of the online population in Japan is made up of consumers who are at least 50 years old, with digital literacy levels rising.

Seniorcom, a social network that is dedicated solely to this demographic, now boasts a user base of more than 300,000 people, with 30,000 members of this group regularly contributing blogs to its pages.

To date, Senior Communications, which runs this portal, has conducted 2,600 surveys among its members, providing a range of insights to advertisers and informing its internal plans.

For example, these polls contributed to Senior Communications' development of a new brand of distilled liquor, while the company has also leveraged this audience to promote its own red wine.

"As soon as marketing executives hear the words 'senior citizen' they stop thinking," Shinji Yamasaki, Seniorcom's president, said.

"We have a high-quality community made up entirely of people who want information and who want to be active participants."

More broadly, Senior Communications has opened a restaurant in Tokyo, and is also holding a fashion show for older women later this year, as it seeks to increase its reach among olders shoppers.

"In Japan there's a common misperception that young people are society's leaders," Yamasaki said.

"But in fact the number of people over 50 is already overwhelmingly greater than that of young people. In the future I believe the 'culture of adults' will become increasingly important."

To attract an often sceptical audience, Seniorcom was first promoted via a free branded magazine, which was closed down when the social network reached critical mass.

Seniorcom's revenues for the financial year ending March 2010 are thought to have reached $6.7m, and its diversified approach appears to be the best way forward, according to commentators.

"Online ads in Japan cost about a third of what they do in the US, so smaller social networking sites can't survive on advertising revenue alone," said Motohiko Tokuriki, chief executive of Agile Media.

Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by Warc staff