By Glenn Gillen, Senior Account Manager, S & A Cherokee, Cary NC
Seniors are now the fastest-growing social media adopters in the United States. In 2013, 43 percent of Americans over 65 used at least one social networking site, compared with 26 percent in 2010 and one percent in 2008.
Here’s an overview of the most popular social media:
Facebook helps people stay connected with “friends.” After joining, you look for people you know on Facebook and ask them to be your friend. If they accept, you’re connected. Users then post items they want to share with their friends—sometimes a short statement of news (children are coming home, going to Florida, … ), sometimes a photo , or something they found elsewhere on the Internet.
Users can write comments on posts, and they grow into conversations among many people.
Businesses, think-tanks, TV shows, political, civic, religious, sports and other organizations also start Facebook pages, and other people can “like” those pages and thereby receive updates from those organizations.
Facebook has more than 1.3 billion users worldwide.
Facebook gives seniors the ability to keep up with family members. One grandfather in North Carolina said the main reason he’s on Facebook is to see photos of his grandchildren posted in photo albums uploaded by his children.
The SearStone continuing care retirement community in Cary, N.C., has a Facebook page for its residents, their extended families, and employees (https://www.facebook.com/SearStoneRetirementCommunity). They use the forum to post updates, photos, local activities, and interesting facts about the area. Other communities do the same.
LinkedIn is a social media platform primarily for business connections. It has more than 277 million users.
While it may seem odd for retired or semi-retired seniors to use LinkedIn, it’s also a way to keep in touch with former business contacts who may not necessarily be considered friends. According to Social Media Today, 70.6 percent of LinkedIn users use it to reconnect with past business connections.
LinkedIn users can also join various groups. There are groups devoted to professions, associations, interests, geographic regions, and even current and former employees of certain companies (e.g., Current and Ex IBM Employees Group). In addition to networking, LinkedIn users can also “follow” companies and keep abreast of the latest news from those organizations.
Pinterest is a website that allows users to share, collect and organize a variety of items of interest represented by photos or graphics. Think of it as a very large virtual personal bulletin board. Pinterest has more than 70 million users, most of whom are women.
The most popular shared images or “pins” contain recipes, home decor, arts and crafts, fashion, fitness tips and DIY ideas. Many consumer brands also have Pinterest pages and share their content in little images that can in turn be re-pinned to a user’s own Pinterest “board.”
Twitter is like Facebook, with two major differences: each message that users post is restricted to 140 or fewer characters, and instead of friends, as on Facebook, Twitter users “follow” other Twitter accounts (and in turn others may follow them). When you follow someone, you receive their messages (called tweets) on your Twitter page. There are more than 645 million Twitter accounts.
Twitter offers instant communication. News organizations and even police departments “tweet” important messages to the public that can be viewed on their computer or mobile device like an iPad or smartphone. During the manhunt after the Boston Marathon, the Boston PD regularly tweeted updates to its followers.
Local businesses often tweet their daily specials for special deals to their followers.
Users can also share links, photos and videos on Twitter. Or they can “retweet” a message from another account to their own followers.
Twitter has also popularized the use of “hashtags” (basically terms preceded by the “#”) symbol. Hashtags are a shortcut way of explaining what the tweet is about. By monitoring certain hashtags, users can view online conversations about a particular topic.
Seniors can easily test social media or slowly grow in their use. Many community colleges, life-long learning organizations and continuing education centers now offer seminars on social media.
Social media will never replace face-to-face interactions, but they do provide ways to stay connected to friends, family and former colleagues.
What Do I Do? [by Warren Flick]
I have blogged about Facebook before, including some of its dangers.
Still, my wife and I use Facebook, and I use Twitter and LinkedIn. We keep in touch with hundreds of people we would otherwise seldom see or talk with—high school friends, distant nieces and nephews, and others. Keeping up with high-school friends has been a source of particular enrichment.
We joined a volunteer group in 2010 for a month-long assignment in Peru. Most of the volunteers were college students, and without Facebook, we wouldn’t be able to keep up with them.
We “like” several local berry farms on Facebook to learn when berries are available for picking.
I use Twitter to keep up with people posting links to retirement-related resources, which helps with this blog.
I’ve also learned that seniors face special challenges on these media in that we often have a tentative knowledge of computers and the Internet. Our progress may be slow and frustrating, so we tend to be casual users, often asking younger family members or friends for help. But that’s a good thing.
There’s more: seniors have learned through experience to value privacy. We have struggled for years in various workplaces and social organizations to limit what we share about ourselves. When we use social media, we are publishing to a wide audience, and it is wise to proceed carefully.
Young people often expose too much. We hear and read stories of people posting inappropriate photos of themselves. People have lost their jobs over Facebook posts. A rant about your job can easily get back to your employer.
Users may think they have control over who sees their stuff, but that’s just not true. One of your friends can “share” what you post and make it public and therefore available to anyone.
Some people say this: don’t post anything you don’t want the world to know about. That is good advice.