Your Grandma on Facebook isn’t just cute; it’s a trend we need to take seriously

Pete Brown
Pete Brown // June 1, 2017
New data suggests Facebook is just the start for senior citizens

About a year ago I received a Facebook friend request from a man named Charles. I didn’t recognize his name, but after further investigation, I realized that I used to ride the school bus with him, back when he was known as ‘Corky.’

So sure, I accepted the request, if only to see what became of Corky, and how/when he dumped his nickname, which was the pretty much the best nickname ever. And shortly after accepting his request, I received a very unexpected second friend request.

It was from Corky’s grandma.

I’ve never met Corky’s grandma. In fact, Corky was pretty much a “kid I knew from the bus,” so I never knew any of his family. Still, I smiled when I received his grandma’s invite. We’ve known for the past few years that seniors are one of the fastest growing demographics on Facebook, but this was the first time a senior I’ve never met before had reached out to me directly.

Seniors have high engagement once online

A Pew study found that in 2016, 62% of US seniors (age 65+) who are online are using Facebook, a 7% increase over 2015. In fact, just more than a third (34%) of all US seniors report using social media. What’s more, the data shows that seniors are heavily engaged online once they’ve gotten there, with 17% reporting that they go online daily, 51% saying they go online multiple times a day, and 8 percent who say they are always online. This is on top of the one in every four seniors who told Pew back in 2015 that they play online video games.

seniors go onlinem ore

A Digital Mindset

At Mindset Digital, we believe that a true digital transformation requires you first to have a digital mindset before you develop a digital skillset. This is why I found it interesting that one study found that 94% of online seniors agree that the Internet makes it easier to find and use information, and 79% of online seniors believe someone without the Internet is at a disadvantage.  

Which is not to say that seniors don’t need some assistance to become digitally savvy. In the Pew study, most seniors described themselves as “needing help” when learning a new technology or device, but once they’ve gotten the help need, they are very highly engaged on digital channels. But taken together, these results suggest to me that seniors are eager to become, in Pew’s words, “digitally ready.”

“…many seniors have a positive outlook about technology and the benefits it can provide. And once online, many older adults engage deeply with online content and activities.”

Pew Research Center, Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults

What do these trends mean?

First off, it’s time to dispense with the notion of seniors as grumpy Luddites grumbling about how things used to be, and rather embrace them as a valuable demographic composed of eager digital learners.

Once we shift our mindset about how seniors think about digital communications, we can develop products and technologies that better meet their unique needs. Because the reality is that more and more baby boomers cross into retirement every day, and we ought to be offering them more than landline phones with giant numbers on them and a special machine to open pickle jars.

In other words, it is time to stop accommodating the senior market and instead start addressing it.

Facebook as the Gateway Drug

The results around seniors’ thinking about digital technologies made me wonder if, having mastered Facebook, they’ve begun to branch out further, hungry for more knowledge or to explore new channels. Plenty of recent data suggests that this is so.

Smartphone Ownership Among Seniors Triples in Three Years

And the recent data suggests this is in fact the case. Another Pew report released this month shows significant increases in seniors owning smartphones, now up to 42% from just 18% three years ago. There have also been significant increases in seniors with home broadband and tablet ownership.

Look out, You Tube! Here comes Grandma!

But what really lays plain the trend is a Nielsen report commissioned and released by Google this month that shows that time spent on YouTube for adults over 55 tripled between 2015 and 2016. Tripled!

Google has only released this topline statistic to bolster their narrative that YouTube is much more than millennials playing video games; the sentiment fair enough, but to its detriment, it fails to gives us any insight into what, exactly, seniors are doing on YouTube.

Are seniors settling in to watch 10 PewDiePie videos back to back? Are they creating their own channels and doing their own Harlem Shakes? Or, like many of us, are they finding in YouTube a valuable resource for just-in-time learning that helps them figure out how to do something new?

My bet’s on the latter, and what’s more, I believe that this curious generation of seniors will only continue to grow, learn new technologies and expand into new platforms.

It won’t be long, I’m willing to speculate, before Corky’s grandma starts following me on Twitter.

Pete Brown is Creative Director at Mindset Digital. You can follow him on Twitter @petebrownsays. We’re looking at you, Corky’s Grandma.