January 01, 2014

Social Networking for Seniors

Jeffrey M. Allen

Seniors have moved into social networking online. In fact, although the percentage of users remains somewhat lower than other age groups, seniors represent the fastest growing demographic for social networking users in the United States. A chart, published online by Mashable, http://mashable.com/2013/08/08/senior-citizens-social-media, shows the increase in the use of social media and networking by seniors over the last five years. It reflects a far more dramatic growth for those over age 65 than for any other age group. It also shows the 50–64 age group as the second fastest growing adopters. The chart also shows that despite the recent growth, the 65-plus age group has not yet cracked the 50 percent mark, while all other age groups have, and the 50–64 age group (second lowest) has already reached 60 percent.

An infographic prepared by Wishpond, http://blog.wishpond.com/post/51827002974/infographic-how-senior-citizens-interact-on-social, shows that seniors currently make fairly broad use of the Internet and its features, including participation in social media. It gives you some idea of how seniors use the Internet and social media sites.

While most people (including many seniors) believe that seniors as a group are technologically challenged, that generalization (which may once have had some truth to it) is rapidly going the way of the dinosaurs. More and more seniors have acknowledged technology, and many of those who acknowledge it have adopted and even befriended it. Now we find seniors regularly using e-mail accounts, text messaging from smartphones and tablets, keeping up with friends and family by interacting through social media sites or through Skype, exchanging videos and photographs, and streaming media for entertainment.

The big three social media networks for young and old remain Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. LinkedIn has a reputation for providing a more professional or business-oriented venue than Facebook and Twitter, although both have business aspects. Facebook and Twitter have a more social-oriented image. Facebook remains the number one social media site in the United States for younger and older users.

If you do not yet have Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter accounts and want to learn how to use any or all of those systems, you have a variety of tools available to you. Those tools range from books, to Internet posts, to how-to articles. If you use a search engine, such as Google, to help, you can easily find those resources. If you go that route, use a search term that includes “seniors” to access information particularly oriented toward older users. For example, “Facebook [or “LinkedIn” or “Twitter”] for seniors” worked very well to generate a vast array of such resources, and a tremendous amount of instructional material oriented specifically toward seniors.

In addition to the big three, a number of sites designed particularly for seniors have come on the scene. A sampling of available sites designed specifically for seniors includes:

  • Gen Kvetch (www.genkvetch.com), which describes itself as the social networking site for “those who recall rotary phones and 45-RPM records.”
  • Third Age (www.thirdage.com), which describes itself as the “50+ woman’s go-to site for a healthy body, mind, and spirit since 1997.”
  • AARP Online Community (www.aarp.org/online_community/), the social media connection for AARP.
  • The Cool Grandma (www. coolgrandma.com), which is not just for grandmothers, but does help seniors explore the Internet and provide them with information to make that exploration easier and more productive.
  • Senior (www.senior.com), which supplies “the most recent information on healthcare, recreation, financial planning, housing and current events” and strives to “provide a comprehensive portal for people ages 50 and above.”

The Internet and social media networks offer many benefits. I won’t try to list all of them in this article, but I do want to give you some idea of the kinds of benefits you might glean from using social media networks. So, for you Letterman fans, I present what I consider to be:

The Top 10 Reasons for Social Media Networking for Seniors

10. Special Offers

Social media networks provide access to many special offers and money-saving opportunities through business social network pages, coupon exchanges, and the like.

9. Entertainment

The Internet offers a tremendous amount of media generated relatively currently and from years gone by. Social networking sites can help us identify media that we may find interesting. We can also enjoy games against live opponents from all over the world using social networking sites.

8. Sharing Experiences

Senior citizens have, by definition, been around for a while. They have accumulated a lifetime of personal and professional experiences. Through social media networks, they can tell others about their experiences and the lessons they learned from those experiences. By doing that, seniors can benefit from the opportunity to gain the fulfillment and pleasure that comes from teaching others, and younger people can learn from seniors’ experiences through interactions that would not otherwise occur. Seniors can blog about how life was when they were growing up or how things have changed during their lifetime. They can also share their experiences with other seniors and grow from that interchange as well.

7. Finding Work

Many seniors would like to (or have to) work after they reach “retirement age.” Sometimes they can stay in the same job. A sole practitioner or member of a small firm may have greater options in that regard. Attorneys in larger firms will more likely have a mandatory retirement age in their firm agreements. Social networks can facilitate finding opportunities for part-time or full-time work to supplement retirement income or to keep seniors busy and productive.

6. Education

Many schools offer online curricula for interested students of all ages and levels of education. In addition, considerable programming offers the opportunity to study new subjects informally, inexpensively, and at your own pace. One good example comes from our friends at Apple, who offer educational material through iTunes U. Social networking sites can help seniors identify such programs and choose among the offerings.

5. Creating or Expanding a Business

An online presence can help people of all ages set up a new business endeavor. Similarly, those who have not yet retired can use social networking sites to promote themselves and their businesses.

4. Researching and Exploring

Seniors can use social networking tools to investigate subjects they find interesting. They can engage in discussions with others (seniors and younger people) who share their interests. The process can help them learn about new concepts, new ideas, new hobbies, political issues, social issues, and various projects.

3. Getting Help

Senior citizens can reach out through social networking sites, videos, blogs, and live chats to get technical support and advice.

2. Making New Friends

Social networks allow us to meet others and to interact with them, both online and even in face-to-face meetings. The use of these sites can facilitate a sense of community and a sense of belonging for many who would otherwise feel alone and, perhaps, abandoned.

And, the number one reason for using social media sites:

1. Staying in Touch

The number one reason for using social media sites is to keep in touch with friends and family. Social networking sites also offer a mechanism to reconnect with friends from earlier periods in one’s life, such as high school or college. Social networking facilitates finding and communicating with old friends and acquaintances.

Some Words of Warning

We all know that clouds have silver linings, but silver linings represent a two-way street. The flip side: silver linings have clouds surrounding them. The cloud that surrounds the silver lining of the Internet, social networking sites, and related virtual structures relates to the security of the user. Issues such as financial scams and identity theft continue to raise their ugly heads. While I do not advocate running and hiding from the Internet or social media sites, I do strongly encourage you to exercise caution. Here are 10 precautions you should employ when dealing with the Internet in general and social media networks in particular.

  1. Recognize that some scammers use social networking channels to facilitate their schemes.
  2. Don’t open e-mails or e-mail attachments from people you don’t know and trust; the bad guys continue to use e-mail attachments to deliver malware capable of stealing your identity, capturing data from your computer, sending spam from your e-mail account, spying on you, and doing other bad things.
  3. Don’t give out personal data or financial info such as bank account numbers or Social Security numbers.
  4. Be wary when a site redirects you to another login page; check your browser to ensure that it still reflects the site you wanted. If not, leave the site and, as a precaution, shut down your browser and then reopen it (not the window, the entire program—quit the browser).
  5. Be wary of links in e-mails and on websites. If something doesn’t look right, don’t click it.
  6. Don’t give out information about comings and goings on social media sites. It may not cause problems, but why let people know when you will not be home, particularly for prolonged periods of time. Similarly, think about the wisdom of checking in from various locations on your social media networks. Ask yourself whether that “check-in” will advertise your absence from home for a prolonged time period.
  7. Don’t advertise on a social media network the fact that you are home alone.
  8. Responsible social media sites have privacy settings. Learn what they are and use them judiciously. You would be wise to set them more tightly when you first join a site than you might otherwise do. If things seem to work out well on the site, you can always opt to relax the settings if they appear to get in your way. Start out tight; better safe than sorry.
  9. Don’t give out credit card information to identify yourself or in order to get a trial version of something. It may be legitimate, but chances are that you will get billed for services you had no intention of buying.
  10. Many browsers will allow you to limit “cookies” or block them entirely. These cookies do not come with chocolate chips or raisins. They are small programs inserted on your computer by websites you visit that provide certain information to the website and its operators. Sometimes the information is innocuous and will actually make your life a bit easier. Other times, it provides details you may not want third parties to have about you. If you completely block cookies, you may have problems with some websites. If that limits your access to websites you want to access, you may want to set your browser to reject cookies from sites you do not visit and accept them only from sites to which you navigate. Alternatively, some browsers will allow you to approve a cookie from a site before adding it to your computer. If you go that way, choose which you approve wisely.

Closing Argument

The Internet offers many things that can help seniors. Social media networks can provide many benefits to seniors, but expose them to significant risks. If you exercise reasonable caution, the benefits should outweigh the risks. I am hopeful that reading this article will encourage you to avail yourself of the benefits, but exercise sufficient caution to successfully manage the associated risks.

Jeffrey M. Allen

Jeffrey M. Allen is the principal of Graves & Allen in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker and writer on technology topics, he is editor-in-chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport, an editorial board member of the ABA Journal and Experience magazine, author of jallenlawtekblog.com, co-author of Technology Solutions for Today’s Lawyer (ABA 2013) and iPad® for Lawyers (West 2013), and a liaison to the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Services. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He is an associate professor at California State University of the East Bay. He also works extensively as an arbitrator and a mediator.