It's a young person's game, this social networking stuff -- right? Sites like Facebook and MySpace are populated predominantly by the (well) under-35 set, and you can tell, with all those beer-and-cleavage shots and expletive acronyms. One might think the "old folks" were entirely absent.
Not even close. Not only are the so-called Baby Boomers, typically defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, flocking to mainstream sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, but Internet trailblazers have even, finally, begun launching networks specifically for the Kennedy-era crowd, most of whom have little if any interest in what happened at last night's kegger.
Statistics show that more than 40 percent of this demographic is on a social network [source: Miller]. A lot of that is at Facebook and MySpace; but an increasing amount of that Boomer traffic is headed to sites designed just for their age group.
Here, five of the sites where Boomers are more than welcome, from the mainstream to the niche, beginning with one that's a little of both: LinkedIn. It's a site that can serve not only a tangible purpose, but also as a comfortable entry point for Boomers not yet in the game.
What the youth take for granted many Baby Boomers shake their heads at: Why wouldn't I just call my friend if I want to know what she's doing?
It is indeed a different world, socially speaking. But it's also a different world career-wise, with many Baby Boomers continuing to work well past 55, even 65, and lots of those who do retire maintaining some type of connection to the working world.
LinkedIn is a social-networking site that focuses on the business end of things: finding work, offering jobs, making business connections, planning seminars, seeking new clients … really anything to do with earning a paycheck or expanding a business. It's this clear direction and purpose that makes LinkedIn a great place to start. Those who need some time to get comfortable with the social side of the online network can dip a toe into the business side -- and access some very easy-to-follow tutorials on setting up an online presence.
And when all that water-cooler talk, missed by so many Boomers no longer working full-time, becomes a natural part of digital interaction, it's easy enough to delve into more open-ended social networks, like MySpace …
Conventional wisdom tells us MySpace, even more so than places like LinkedIn and Facebook, is exclusively a kid thing, with its totally customizable profile pages that are so often, well, "colorful," and its deep connection to the new-music world.
As is so often the case, this wisdom is not entirely correct.
Over-55 users are a strong presence on MySpace, holding well over 3 million accounts at the start of 2011and making up 5 percent of total users [source: SMT]. And who says Baby Boomers don't care about new music, anyway? Or getting into discussions with the under-30 set? Mixing with the youth can help keep you vital, and Baby Boomers, as a group, are pretty set on that.
While MySpace is a social space where Boomers can feel at home and experiment with new skills, it may not be the place where most of their friends are hanging out. That would probably be Facebook …
Conceived by college students, for college students, Facebook can seem intimidating to those with crow's feet. But believe it or not, the Boomer presence on this well-known site is incredibly strong, with as many as 9 million users over 55 in 2011, up from about 1.2 million in 2009, and comprising about 10 percent of the Facebook demographic [sources: Middletown, WPRW, SMT]. It's the fastest growing segment, by far [source: WPRW].
There's good reason for that. For so many seniors, the driving force behind joining Facebook is simple: Their kids and grandkids are on it, spilling their guts. People who for the life of them cannot get a grandchild on the phone can simply go to Facebook.com, check out what the little ones did this week, and send a message.
Most soon discover, however, that their more-mature friends are on there, too -- and their college sweethearts, childhood best friends, and former work colleagues are all, suddenly, very much within reach.
And then the real fun starts, especially when Baby Boomers figure out there are social networks dedicated to them. Spaces like AARP's social network can be game changers …
The fact is, common experience counts for a lot. When it comes to feeling truly at home, social-networking sites designed specifically for Baby Boomers can be a breath of fresh air.
One such site is the network created by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). Whereas sites like MySpace and Facebook lend themselves extremely well to personal reports ("I love donuts!) and excessive "friending," the AARP online community takes a slightly different bent. This site encourages peer discussion about issues and trends affecting those over the age of 55, and revolves around common-interest groups.
This is where most of the action takes place, in the thousands of groups ranging in topic from politics to gardening to dating to book clubs to cycling. The AARP's home page is built to direct users to discussions they might be interested in and groups they might want to join. For those over 55 who may not have as much opportunity to meet -- and get to know -- new people, a site like AARP can offer a more fulfilling experience than sites devoted mostly to keeping up with friends you already have.
Which brings us to Eons, which is one of the most popular Baby Boomer networking sites today.
Eons was born in 2006, founded by the man who built Monster.com from the ground up. From the beginning, it was about attracting, entertaining and keeping the Boomers, and it seems to be doing just that.
It has 800,000 registered users and gains hundreds more every day, all over 50, all interested in connecting, all interested in remaining entirely relevant and involved in what can sometimes seem a world built for the youth [sources:della Cava, Italie].
Like the AARP site, Eons revolves around groups the range of which is stunning. There are groups devoted to, for instance, Boomer-style travel, finances, health care, athletics, music, favorite childhood TV shows, genealogy, dating -- groups for Christian Boomers, "RV singles" and over-50 "kinky sex." There's an obituary database that not only never expires, but also allows users to upload photos and stories and videos about the friend or spouse or freshman-year boyfriend who passed away.
And Eons seems to lend itself extremely well to in-person meetings, with groups gathering all over the country to indulge in common interests with online friends.
Eons has, truly, something for everyone -- as long as they're over five decades old. If you didn't live through Kennedy, you wouldn't get it.
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- AARP Online Community. (May 18, 2011) http://www.aarp.org/online_community/
- "Boomers Social Media Stats-Rocking Out on Twitter, Facebook, AARP." Wired PR Works. April 9, 2009. (May 18, 2011) http://wiredprworks.com/2009/04/09/boomers-social-media-stats-rocking-out-on-twitter-facebook-aarp/
- Della Cava, Marco R. "Boomers zero in on social networks." USA TODAY. March 26, 2009. (May 16, 2011) http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2009-03-26-boomer-social-networking_N.htm
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- "Social Media 3Q Update: Who Uses Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, & MySpace?" Social Media Today. (May 19, 2011) http://socialmediatoday.com/paulkiser/199133/social-media-3q-update-who-uses-facebook-twitter-linkedin-myspace
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