About Face

Omaha World-Herald

By Emily Babay

It’s a daily routine for many teens and young adults: open the laptop, log on to Facebook, send messages to friends.

And learn about their grandfather’s knee replacement and view a former teacher’s vacation pictures?

More adults are using social-networking Web sites such as Facebook to communicate with friends and family, marking Facebook’s shift from a place where college students interact with their peers to one that attracts a more mainstream audience.

From January to July, the number of Facebook users older than 55 jumped by more than 500 percent, according to iStrategyLabs, a digital marketing firm. People 35 to 54 now are the largest age group on the site, accounting for 28.2 percent of users in this country.

The iStrategyLabs data is based on the numbers Facebook gives its advertisers. It is not exact, but is a general overview of Facebook’s demographics.

Older users say a simple desire to stay in touch is driving the trend. Younger users say they’re noticing that more of their elders are on Facebook and, in many cases, they welcome that as a way to maintain contact with moms, dads, other relatives, teachers and friends who have graduated and moved on.

Of course, some younger users aren’t all that crazy about their parents as Facebook friends. Scott Stewart, a University of Nebraska at Omaha senior, said he and his dad don’t communicate through Facebook even though both have accounts.

Being Dad’s friend, he said, would be “just weird.”

On the other hand, Reed Munsell’s young relatives have no such restrictions.

The 82-year-old Hastings, Neb., man joined Facebook about a year ago to communicate with his eight out-of-town grandchildren and other relatives.

“My wife and I enjoy the pictures” that his friends and family post, he said.

He checks the site a few times a day and occasionally posts his own messages.

When Munsell went to the hospital for knee problems, he wrote about it on his Facebook page. Family and friends wrote back, wishing him well.

Ingrid Borghoff, 62, also joined to stay connected.

Borghoff intended to use Facebook to contact young graduates of Mercy High School, where she is the development director. But she also has acquaintances and family on the site — and now boasts more than 800 Facebook “friends.”

She enjoys viewing friends’ pictures and said Facebook lets her keep up with people she can’t see often.

On Facebook, she said, “you share little happenings in daily life that you wouldn’t think of through e-mail.”

Helen Cloyd, 60, uses Facebook to contact family, out-of-state friends and former students of Omaha Christian Academy, where she has taught since 1978.

Cloyd recently returned from a vacation in North Carolina and was preparing to post pictures from the trip.
“When I post my pictures, all my friends will know that and will be able to view them,” she said. “It’s not like I have to e-mail every single one.”

She also likes that the site reminds users of their friends’ birthdays and lets her send quick birthday wishes.

“I would never send that many cards,” Cloyd said.

Most local older Facebook users said their younger relatives were willing to connect with them online. For their part, students recognize that they are no longer the site’s sole users — and are taking advantage of Facebook’s wider reach.

A Harvard University student founded Facebook in February 2004. It was first only open to Harvard students, then expanded to other colleges before opening to the public more than two years later.

Stewart, the UNO student, said the site is maturing as its early adopters look for jobs, join the work force and need to communicate with other professionals.

“Our social networks are starting to expand to more of those people,” Stewart, 23, said.

As a reporter and editor at the Gateway, UNO’s student newspaper, he said he finds it convenient to use Facebook to contact the school’s public relations staff.

UNO senior Neal Bonacci said he sends advisers and UNO staff members both e-mails and Facebook messages, so they can respond to whichever is easier.

Because more adults use the site, Bonacci said, he has cleaned up his profile and adjusted his privacy settings so only certain friends can view his pictures and wall posts.

Adults aren’t just on Facebook. Older users dominate some other networking sites. Fifty percent of Twitter users are older than 35, while 73 percent of those on LinkedIn fit that profile, according to data from Quantcast, an online measurement firm.

The biggest mistake older users make is sharing too much, said Jeanne Leitenberg, co-founder of myparentsjoinedfacebook.com.

The Web site asks users to submit examples of their parents’ Facebook faux pas — such as a mother alluding to her hot flashes.

“Menopausal updates are not cool on Facebook,” Leitenberg said.

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