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Mature Webizens

Socially Networked

Teens, parents, and grandparents are online and connecting.

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— Getty Images

“Our most active users by far and away are grandparents,” says Meeker. “We see them viewing every photo that’s posted, watching every video, leaving comments and signing their names. It’s really cool to watch them get involved.”

The potential for developing avid social networkers out of grandparents certainly exists, especially if the network involves photographs of family. In fact, some users in this group might just be getting started. “I’ll go onto Facebook maybe once a week,” explains Ethel Taft, Ruthie’s grandmother. “[My son-in-law] will tell me when there are pictures posted, and that’s the only time I’ll go.”

Indeed, the idea that only teens are engaging in activities like photo uploads and viewing videos on social networking sites “is a common misperception,” according to Heather Dougherty, director of research at Hitwise, a firm that measures Internet activity. Dougherty notes that these applications are growing in popularity rather than leveling off as the sites becomes more popular with an older audience, implying the more mature crowd is picking up these applications right away.

One of the driving forces behind this adaptation, perhaps, is need: Adults are networking professionally.

Getting down to business

Connecting professionally is especially important to today’s adults who may have lost their jobs or are worried that they soon may. Many are choosing the increasingly popular Twitter. This social network allows users to post 140-character responses to the question “What are you doing?”—a topic broad enough to open the floodgates of news, opinion, social marketing (basically, professional networking online) and more. Recently, members of Congress showed us how it’s done by reminding their constituents they were still at work by posting “tweets” from their cellphones during President Obama’s Feb. 24th address to Congress. Others are using social networks to market their own, personal “brands.”

“I’ve made a ton of connections on Twitter,” says Cari Shane Parven, a writer in the Washington, D.C., area. “You’re reaching out to people you don’t know, and because of that, you can meet so many more people.” In fact, one of Shane Parven’s connections on Twitter resulted in a job referral. She asked her network if anyone knew anything about a particular organization that had posted it was looking for writers. A fellow writer whom she knows only through Twitter gave her an “in” that helped her land the job.

According to Nacoste, social marketing is a natural phenomenon to come out of social networking. “Now it makes the most sense to market yourself online, because that’s where everybody is,” explains Nacoste. “You go where the audience has eyes and ears, that’s how marketing works.”

Business networking and socializing have always gone hand in hand so it makes sense for these worlds to merge on the Web. Additionally, there are now social networking sites like LinkedIn that are devoted specifically to connecting professionals.

“I see LinkedIn as an adult place where you don’t fool around,” says Shane Parven. “It’s kind of like the stacks of the library at college—you go there for serious study, not to chat with your friends. Facebook is more like the social part of the library where everybody walks by and you’re not really getting any homework done.”

This more serious side of social networking seems to be serving those adults who know how to use it. LinkedIn regularly posts “success stories” of how people have beaten the battered economy to find connections and jobs through the site. These stories range from how the vice president of sales and business development at Buddy Media brought in over $2 million in revenue, to how one user’s profile was discovered by a CEO who then reached out to her to offer her a job.

Whether it’s to meet the next boss, stay connected to the grandchildren, or check in on a daughter’s life, millions of people have found real value on social networks. They’re here to stay. Plus, plain and simple, meeting up online can make life easier. As Sherian Simpson says about playing Animal Crossing with her grandkids: “It’s a nice way to have them over. … It’s one of those visits you don’t have to clean your house up for.” And there’s just no arguing the convenience of that.

Alisa Stoudt is a writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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