August 21, 2013 — Now that you are retired you probably have a little more free time to pursue the interests you always wanted to. You probably also have a desire to re-connect with old friends and family. The Internet and its so called “social media” sites like Facebook are a great way to fulfill both of those desires. Their easy to use tools can instantly and effortlessly put you in contact with family, friends, acquaintances, old school mates, army buddies, long lost lovers, etc. They can also help you pursue hobbies and interests with like-minded folks in a most enjoyable way. Unfortunately, they have downsides too. Used without some common sense precautions, social media can be destructive to relationships, dangerous to you and your property, or just plain annoying. This article will first discuss the concept of social media and then outline our list of the worst mistakes retirees can make in social media.
Growth and Use
Social media is one of the fastest and most pervasive developments of all time. Facebook, the first and by far the biggest social networking site, was only available to students at Harvard University when it began in 2004. That handful of users has exploded to over a billion today; the New York Times recently reported one out of 7 people in the world use Facebook now! The Pew Internet Project reports that 72% of the U.S. online population uses social media (more properly called social networking sites). Older people are less likely to be users than younger (43% of internet user over 65 vs. 89% for those 18-29), although those differences are changing. The number of social media websites continues to grow. New sites, hoping to become the next Facebook, are added every day.
What is social media?
Facebook allows users to share information about themselves with the friends and colleagues that they let join their personal network. The ‘social’ part of the name implies that people use these sites for communication purposes to broaden personal interaction and communication. Social media sites used for business purposes have taken off as well, with Linkedin being the most successful of those. At the classic social media sites like Facebook and Linkedin you can register to create a personal profile with photos, biographical details, and more. Then you ask your friends, relatives, and business associates to join you as Friends (Facebook), Connections (Linkedin), “Followers” (Twitter), etc. You can use these sites to share personal details, photos, and videos about what you are doing and thinking about, where you’ve been, and whose company you have enjoyed – anything at all. Your contacts in turn can comment about those updates, which results in a reactive environment at a speed and frequency never before possible. Further interactions take place as your colleagues share their “likes”, “comments”, and “endorsements”.
Some of the main social media websites
By now there are thousands of social networking websites, all hoping to be the next big thing. Meanwhile, here are some (but by no means all) of the biggest and more interesting players that retirees might be interested in using. We have linked to the Topretirements pages for those social media we used so you can get an idea of what an actual site looks like (feel free to become our Friends and Followers)
Facebook.com – The original and most successful social media site with more than 1 billion users. If you don’t have a page, you should consider creating one. Google+ is Google’s less successful answer to Facebook.
Twitter.com – Used more for business, celebrities, and for those who need to keep up on popular culture, your “Tweets” are limited to 140 characters. Interesting to see what is trending, but hard to so how it applies to most retirees.
Linkedin – Created more for business networking purposes. Used to find new clients, look for new employment possibilities, and generate publicity.
Pinterest – This site is a wonderful creative outlet. You can create as many themed “Boards” as you want, adding photos to express your creativity. They haven’t developed a business model yet, but it is cool.
Instagram – Younger people are using this site in droves. They snap a photo on their smart phone, doctor it up with an image editor on the site, and minutes later all their friends know what they have just done.
Flickr – Great for showing off your photos and seeing the photos of others.
Tumblr – Hard to explain, but very successful: “Follow the blogs you’ve been hearing about. Share the things that you love.” They have over 132 million blogs (many of them photo blogs) and 59 billion posts.
Goodreads – Although not one of the largest sites, it is very big in one area – letting readers tell each other which books and authors they like – and why.
List shares like Google Groups – You can add your friends and family to a group email list. Great way for a group to stay in touch.
In a way, almost every other types of website is a social media site, as they have rushed to add social media features to increase their use and popularity. At Topretirements, for example, our Blog and our Forum could both be considered social media, because they allow you to share your opinions and suggestions with everyone who comes to this site.
Top 10 mistakes baby boomers make with social media
The most serious type of mistakes that retirees make with social media is sharing too much personal information. Some examples of this are included on our list of don’ts below.
– Publish and personal information. The safest thing is to assume that anything you post or say may end up in public. You can and should manage your privacy settings on Facebook by going to the little wheel in the upper right hand corner. Privacy settings change frequently, so be conservative. No phone numbers, or emails, or messages with grandkids’ names and locations. Online criminals can use this info to hack into your other accounts.
– Including your email address in a post or comment. Millions of scammers are waiting to harvest your email to try to trick you into something bad. Don’t publish it!
– Get taken in by a scammer. If it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t. Don’t send money to anybody, including your best friend who emails to tell you they lost their wallet in Paris (they are probably home drinking coffee). That includes sharing personal information with a stranger.
– Fall in love online. Sure, legitimate dating sites can be a great tool for singles. But just remember that the anonymity of the web means the person you are emailing might not be who they say they are. And if a beautiful blonde half your age falls in love with you online, and needs money for a ticket to come see you – beware!
– Sabotage your career. You might be retired now but someday you might want another job. Don’t go online with negatives or confidential information about an employer. Don’t say things you wouldn’t want a future employer to see (because they will!)
– Issue an invite to burglars. Don’t post that you are on vacation or away from home. Wait to tell everyone about your awesome trip until you get home.
– Embarrass yourself or someone else. Forgetting that anybody might see your post. As an example, recently we helped a neighbor add photos to her Facebook account. While there we saw some very personal comments a friend had made about the bad behavior of one of her family members. It’s important to remember that if you comment on a post, this can be seen by all the other friends of the person posting. If you make a comment on a public blog, anyone on the Internet can see it. Avoid political rants. it just makes you look bad. And for heaven’s sake, don’t type in all caps, which most people find very irritating and amateurish.
– Over communicate or post too often. Nobody wants to hear you innermost thoughts too often. If you overwhelm others with your stuff, they might de-friend you, or worse, report you as a spammer.
Using robots or other automated tools to make posts for you is another sure way to get your friends to drop you.
– Get sued. Be certain you have the rights to pin the photos you are using. Lawsuits have been filed and won by photographers who felt their work was stolen for use on Pinterest.
– Forward apps invites to your friends. Don’t fall for all of the apps and games that ask you to forward them to your friends. These apps often invade your privacy and become a nuisance. Keep them to yourself.
– Be profane or salacious. What was Anthony Weiner thinking! Stick to the high road and don’t say or post anything you wouldn’t want your mother to see (because she might!)
– Forget to update your page once in a while. Your friends and colleagues will be more interested if you have something interesting or recent. So don’t let your pages get stale.
Used correctly, social media can open up whole new worlds, especially now that you are in retirement and have a little more time on your hands. Speaking personally, your editor has found that social media has added a lot to his life. However, if you don’t exhibit a bit of caution you can embarrass yourself or others, hurt your career, lose a lot of time or money, or even endanger your family or property.
We are sure that almost all of our members have some experience using social media. Please share your thoughts and experiences – the best sites to use, how you take advantage of them, as well as the pitfalls you have seen. Please add yours in the Comments section below. Also, we are thinking of creating an article with suggestions and examples of great ways to use social media. Let us know if you would like that.