With access to social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, people around the world can connect and interact with their family members, friends, and communities (both near and far) within a virtual space.
This digital forum of communication and entertainment promotes the extension of personal networks and helps maintain strong relationships within them by increasing our perceived proximity to the people we care about.
There are many benefits for older adults living in retirement communities to use social media on a regular basis:
- Decrease feelings of isolation
- Provide users with the abilities to share narratives about themselves
- Post pictures and videos from their daily lives
- Read updates from other users
- Participate in free video calls with loved ones
- Play games with others
Social media websites keep us more connected with the people and communities around us than ever before.
To utilize these social media tools fully, it’s important for seniors to understand what they are, how they work, and just how easy they are to use with a little practice and support. The following descriptions are meant to help communicate the key elements of Facebook and Twitter to new users and to highlight the value of each tool.
Facebook is the largest online social network, with over 1.1 billion registered users from all over the planet. The purpose of Facebook is to allow people to connect with others that they know, once knew, or have met. At a minimum, the people you add to your Facebook network are your acquaintances, but most will be family and friends. An acquaintance, for example, could be an old classmate you lost touch with or maybe a coworker from a past career.
On Facebook, they refer to all the people in your network as a “friend”. You choose who your “friends” are and you can deny accepting someone as a “friend” if you want to. Your Facebook “friends” can view your personal profile, which is a collection of information about you. You decide what information you share in your profile.
Typically, people share their birthday, a few photos, and maybe a couple of personal interests, such as your favorite book or hobby. Whenever you share something on Facebook, for instance a picture or a comment, your “friends” can see it. Essentially, your “friends” have access to all of the things you share on Facebook, and you have access to all of the things that they share.
Another fun feature of Facebook is the multitude of free games you can play, both alone and with your “friends”. It’s amazing to think that we can play a match of Scrabble with someone online, even if we are at different ends of the country :)
Twitter, unlike Facebook, is a social networking tool that enables users to connect with people and organizations they do not know personally, like an author, celebrity, or a brand (like Coke or Microsoft). Friends and family can also be in your Twitter network, but knowing everyone personally is not necessary.
Twitter calls the people in your network “followers”. All of your “followers” can see everything you decide to share on Twitter. The idea here is that you share small comments that describe what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, or maybe an opinion you have; all said in 140 characters.
Each user, including the brands/organizations, put Twitter updates online regularly for all “followers” to see, which means there is a lot of information floating around. As a result of its vast user base and instantaneous connectivity to everyone using the tool, Twitter has become one of today’s leading news/media sources.
As news happens, updates are put on Twitter in real time, spreading the information like wild fire. It almost makes newspapers, which report stories the day after they happen, seem obsolete.
Having access to basic computer technologies and the Internet makes the virtual world of social media available to everyone who knows how to use it. For this reason, it’s essential that retirement communities provide free use of computer devices that are current and well maintained.
More importantly, seniors need guidance and support when moving into this digital realm, to help point them in the right direction, build confidence and establish comfort with technology. With these elements, retirement communities and the people who reside in them will be part of the normal, digital world that continues to unfold.