Older Adults Join Facebook Frenzy

The hottest growth segment on Facebook and other online social networking sites is guys like Richard and Ray and their lady friends.  No, Richard and Ray aren’t two college kids enjoying the party life.

Richard and Ray are what most people might call “geezers.”  In fact, these two gentlemen are members of a special group of the elderly population.  They belong to the “oldest old” group – Americans who are at least 85 years of age.

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And that’s what makes this story so interesting. Richard Bosack, age 89, joined Facebook recently, after his buddy Ray Urbans, age 96, recommended the ubiquitous social networking site a few days earlier. (And I’m still trying to get quite a few 50- and 60-something neighbors to check their emails regularly!)

The two older men might be viewed as exceptions in a space that is considered the proprietary realm of teens, young adults, and moms.  But Grandma and Grandpa are joining Facebook and other social networking sites in record numbers.  As the Pew Research Center recently described this trend, Grampy and Grammy are getting down with “the Face.”

Social networking use among Internet users 65 and older grew by a staggering 100 percent in the last year, a recent Pew Research Center survey reports. In 2009, social networking use by folks 65 and older stood at 13 percent. This year, 26 percent of people in that age group who are using the Internet also are delving into Facebook and other social networking sites. Social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled—from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010.And it’s not only social networking sites that are attracting seniors. Looking at adults ages 65 and older who have high-speed internet connections at home, 72% say they use the internet on a typical day. That compares with 77% of broadband users ages 50-64, 84% of those ages 30-49 and 86% of those ages 18-29.

AARP says the top four online activities for people over 60 are Google, Facebook, Yahoo and YouTube.

Tammy Gordon, AARP’s senior adviser for social communications, says a quarter of the organization’s members are using Facebook, and the number is rising quickly. Nearly 19 million people ages 55 and over used Facebook in July, up from about 9 million one year ago, according to comScore.

“Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users,” explains Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist and author of the report.

What does the 60 and older crowd find so appealing in social networking?

1. Older Social networking users are much more likely to reconnect with people from their past, and these renewed connections can provide a powerful support network when people near retirement or embark on a new career.

2. The appeal of social networking for older Americans may also be related to managing health issues. Older adults are more likely to be living with a chronic disease , and those living with these diseases are more likely to reach out for support online. Having a chronic disease significantly increases an internet user’s likelihood to say they work on a blog or contribute to an online discussion, a listserv, or other forum that helps people with personal issues or health problems.
3. Most older adults have been introduced to social networking by their children. Social media bridges generational gaps. While the results can sometimes be messy, these social spaces pool together users from very different parts of people’s lives and provide the opportunity to share skills across generational divides. This has the potential for strengthening family ties and work relationship across generations.

One idea circulating around is to support a “National Digital Literacy Corps” that trains volunteers to teach digital skills to those who are least connected in their communities—including pairing tech-savvy digital natives with seniors. With 86% of internet users ages 18-29 using social networking sites and 60% doing so on a typical day, it is not hard to imagine that some of these young mentors would be eager to share their skills in profile management with older users.

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