Seniors On Social Media

By Kristen Castillo

April 21, 2021 6 min read

Social media isn't just for young adults. According to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly 70% of U.S. adults log on to Facebook, including 73% of respondents ages 50 to 64 and half of those 65 and older.

Digital content strategist Renee Clare-Kovacs says seniors are embracing the "communities" aspect of Facebook. "They like the ability to keep up with events at church, their alma mater, sports, friends, and, of course, family all in the same place," she says. "They are less intimidated there than Instagram which requires the additional steps of using their camera and uploading -- throw in hashtags and emojis and they're out."

*Getting Social

During the pandemic, many seniors have been relying on social media to connect with and "see" their loved ones. Maria Leonard Olsen, a 58-year-old civil litigation attorney, uses Facebook; her 79-year-old mother uses Facebook and Instagram to see pictures of her children and grandchildren but doesn't post her own pictures.

"I see that libraries, community centers and village groups do training for how to use social media," says Olsen, who's the author of "50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life." She advises people to "take advantage of these free classes and to watch YouTube how-to videos to learn how various social media platforms work."

David Henderson II, who's now over 60, started using social media to get in touch with his high school and college friends. These days, he uses it to talk about how he manages his diabetes.

"I started sharing my diabetic journey with family and friends because so many of them were dealing with the same issue," he says. "Since some of my friends were positively benefitting from my journey, I started using social media to share with others."

He has pages under the name @savingmyfoot on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. On Twitter, his name is @newsaggregator.

*Social Platforms

While social sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok skew younger, many seniors are on those platforms too. For example, Mediakix ranked the top 10 elderly Instagram influencers, including actor George Takei and trendsetters Baddiewinkle and Iris Apfel; these three each have more than a million followers.

Seniors are finding success and connections on TikTok, too. The Wall Street Journal reported that Stephen Austin's cooking videos, which he posts under the name @omsteve, short for Old Man Steve, netted the 82-year-old over a million followers.

"There are some adventurous seniors who are joining TikTok," says Clare-Kovacs. "TikTok embraces an authentic aesthetic so they don't mind poking fun at themselves."

She says many senior celebrities are on TikTok, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elton John, Mandy Patinkin and Patrick Stewart.

*Creating and Consuming Content

Social media -- which includes sites such as Pinterest and LinkedIn -- offers a mix of entertainment, news, hobbies, sports, virtual socialization and more. Users can share articles, photos, recipes, tutorials and present their opinions. Or, they can just consume other people's content and not create any content of their own.

"Even though the older generation is using more social media, around 32% of senior users don't post at all, they only see and consume what others post," says Sharon van Donkelaar, chief marketing officer at Expandi, a LinkedIn automation tool.

*Social Safety

Be careful not to overshare, advises Jolene Caufield, the senior advisor at Healthy Howard, a nonprofit organization advocating for healthy lifestyle choices.

"Seniors have the misconception that people on the internet will not use their anecdotes or information for malicious purposes, so they overshare," she says, noting that some seniors even post that they're home alone, which could attract the attention of criminals.

Caufield warns that oversharing also increases the risk of unauthorized access to a senior's social media accounts, since security questions might be things they share on social media.

Van Donkelaar wants older adults to be wary of fake news on social media. She advises them to follow newspapers, news programs and respected journalists, "so when they see news that seems alarming, they can check if any established media has spoken about it and if it's true or false."

Cybersecurity experts warn all social media users, especially seniors, not to click on any links they receive via private messages or on the advertising posts they see on the sites. That should reduce the chances of malware invading their computer system.

Still, seniors don't need to be scared about social media. Henderson tells fellow seniors that "Unless you have a flip phone, you've already embraced the technology, so you may as well use it to stay in touch with your grandkids, friends, and relatives you rarely get chance to see."

It's a convenient tool to stay in touch, as well as find and share information. And the many seniors already using social media prove that it can be for anyone.

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