“You can ask a person a question face to face, but if you do that, you have to deal with what he might say, how he might react, and how he might look at you,” explains Nacoste. “You don’t have to worry about dealing with any of this if you are on a social network.”
It seems perfectly natural, then, that this easy form of communication would fit into the busy lives of every generation. However, while teens and young adults may be the most loyal and regular visitors to their Facebook or MySpace accounts, it’s adults who weave social networking into every aspect of their personal, family and professional lives. Older Americans, the newest social networkers of the bunch, are logging on to stay connected—and discovering a whole new world.
Serving your social side
The biggest use of social networks is, well, to be social. Ninety-one percent of teens say they use social networking sites to stay in touch with friends and 89 percent of adults use them for the same reason, according to Pew.
For many, keeping in touch online saves time and energy. “Social networking gives me more options for communicating with people,” says 15-year-old Facebook and MySpace user Ruthie Schorr. “It’s not as time-consuming as calling all the people I need to catch up with.”
The classic notion of a teen having a phone glued to her ear may soon be a thing of the past. Even a fairly new form of communication, e-mail, is starting to lose some ground with this group, too. In 2004, 89 percent of teens reported using e-mail, but today this number is down to 73 percent, according to the Generations Online, a 2009 report from Pew. Additionally, Internet consumer research firm Nielsen reports that using social networks has now taken over as the fourth most common online activity across all groups, with e-mail coming in fifth. (Not surprisingly, using a “search” function takes the number one spot.)
Staying in touch with the kids
Parents are also interested in being social online, an interest that seems to have stemmed from their kids. “The number one application of social networking for my wife and me is to keep connected with the kids,” says Andrew Schorr, the founder of Patient Power, a Seattle-based health website, and Ruthie’s dad. “Two of our kids are quite a distance from home, so for them and for our youngest, who’s still here, it’s just to see what’s going on with them, just to be in their world.”
To Nacoste, this makes sense: “Parents now have less contact points with their children in our busy lives. Where else are the structured points where you can have contact with your child? It turns out they’re online.”
This interest in connecting with the younger generation holds true for grandparents as well. According to Pew, only 7 percent of Internet users over 65 are on social networks, compared with 65 percent of teens and 30 percent of adults 35 to 44 years old. But when the over-65 users are online they have a strong interest in finding out what’s going on with their children and grandchildren.
Matt Meeker, the founder of Meetup.com, a social network where users connect with groups of like-minded people, recently launched a new social networking site called Wee-Web. Here, new parents can invite friends and family to view photos, videos and read mini updates about their children. According to Meeker, the most active users of Wee-Web, surprisingly, aren’t the parents.