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How the Department for Business is encouraging older people online

How the Department for Business is encouraging older people online


The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) wanted to look at fresh ways to get people who are older or on low incomes to use the internet. Most digital participation schemes rely on ‘pull techniques’ where people have to go to their library to try the web or sign up to an internet course. But vulnerable people don’t always have the motivation or support to seek out these opportunities and nine million people in the UK still don’t use the web.

BIS asked Digital Outreach, a social marketing organisation that specialises in communicating with socially isolated groups, to develop a new approach that targets people who experience multiple barriers to getting online. Ofcom managed the campaign.


Digital Outreach had already reached over 600,000 older and disabled people as part of a campaign to raise awareness of digital TV switchover. BIS wanted to test whether the ‘embedded outreach’ marketing technique used successfully in this previous campaign could also be employed to boost internet use.


During the Get Connected, Get Online project, web taster sessions were delivered to more than 1,142 people through existing community events. The ‘embedded outreach’ approach targets hard-to-reach groups who might not respond to traditional marketing methods such as TV adverts or direct mail. Instead, messages are communicated to audiences at existing social activities they already attend such as bingo events, quiz nights, darts clubs, church coffee mornings or keep fit groups. Some vulnerable people might not see the web as relevant to them or they might be fearful of trying something new so rather than relying on them to look for ways to get online, Digital Outreach brought the internet to venues they were already familiar with.

To sustain people’s interest in the web, Digital Outreach arranged for individuals who normally lead regular community events to communicate messages about the internet to their groups. Instead of an anonymous person in a suit who the group had never met before, it was keep fit instructors or social club volunteers who showed their members how to get online. Session leaders already knew the interests of their groups and had strong relationships with them – making it easier to get people interested in certain parts of the web.


Baseline data was collected from 895 participants by issuing a questionnaire at the beginning of the Get Connected, Get Online sessions. The baseline survey aimed to gauge attendees’ existing internet use and their attitude towards the web. An initial follow-up survey was undertaken with 295 participants two months later to capture any change in use and attitude as a result of participating in the programme.

A secondary follow-up survey was then carried out six months later. This aimed to isolate the benefits of the embedded outreach model which are unique from more traditional social marketing programmes, and test the effectiveness of the model in encouraging positive behaviour change.

Results showed that 77% of participants reacted positively to the session when it was delivered by someone they already knew. 62% reported that having the session take place as part of their group meeting encouraged them to find out more about the web.

64 per cent of respondents said that taking part in the Get Connected, Get Online session helped them to see the personal benefits of the internet. Over 67 per cent of participants went on to make a positive behavioural change as a result of taking part.

Digital Outreach also looked at the long-term impact of the project. Results showed that session leaders who had been trained to give people information about the internet were continuing to encourage a wide range of groups to get online, demonstrating the legacy of support that had been left.

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