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Savvy seniors embrace social media

Flourish 05 Jan 2017

Older people are adopting Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay in touch with family and friends and build new networks.

Australian Unity client Ruth using the iPad

Social media is often thought of as a young person’s playground. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were started by smart young things and quickly taken up by the world’s youth. But the social media landscape is changing. People of all ages are discovering the benefits of staying in touch with friends, family and extended networks on social media.

A 2016 study released by the Swinburne Institute for Social Research and the Centre for Social Impact, in partnership with Telstra and Roy Morgan Research, provided a detailed snapshot of online participation throughout Australia. It identified that people aged over 65 are Australia’s least digitally included group.

The study found that while seniors have increased their online use, they’re doing so at about half the speed of younger people. They also own fewer mobile devices and are less active online.

According to the study, this slower uptake of technology by seniors, along with their limited online presence, could limit their ability to play an active role in Australia’s increasingly digital society.

Taking Control of the Situation

Graciela Portugal, Wellbeing Lounge Manager at Australian Unity in Victoria, teaches seniors how to use and understand social media.

“A lot of clients have a negative perception of social media before starting my classes,” Graciela says. “They think it’s potentially dangerous, a waste of time, addictive and they are worried about their privacy online.”

Graciela’s classes focus mainly on Facebook and she introduces clients to basic privacy settings and gives participants the confidence to share the information they want others to see.

By setting up a private online Facebook group called IT Wizards, exclusively for Wellbeing Lounge members, Graciela has created a space where clients can safely interact with one another and learn the basics of Facebook, before communicating more broadly online.

The group shares experiences and information about IT matters, including the latest scams and technology trends.

Graciela says clients react positively once they gain the confidence to share their information. “They want to be in control,” Graciela says. “They know that knowledge is power.”

Keeping in Touch

Having an understanding of Facebook and other social media channels is becoming crucial for staying connected to social circles and there is no need for fear.

“Some of my clients are very active in their community so this is another tool for them to get in contact with people around them,” Graciela says. “Within the security of our retirement community setting, they establish connections in their own circles.

“For the ones who have family and friends overseas or interstate, social media can be the only way to connect,” Graciela says.

“Many of the people in my classes use social media to keep up with what’s happening with family overseas or with the grandkids so when someone does call, they have seen the photos and know what the family is talking about.”

Graciela is now expanding her classes beyond Facebook, introducing clients to the world of Twitter. So far the reactions have been mixed but she believes it’s a great way to keep users informed of events happening outside their social circles.

Real-World Success

Ruth Macleod, 87, is an artist, tennis player and Facebook fanatic. “I’m interested in new things,” Ruth says when asked why she joined Graciela’s social media classes. “I wanted to learn as much as I could.”

While on a 35-day cruise in Canada, Ruth was able to share her experiences with friends and family. Taking photos of the incredible views, she was able to upload them to her Facebook account so everyone could share her amazing trip. She plans to continue classes, including an upcoming photography class, at the Wellbeing Lounge. Ruth also just completed an online course in family history from the University of Tasmania, furthering her web-savvy credentials.

John White is involved heavily with his local community at Australian Unity’s Walmsley Retirement Community in Kilsyth, Victoria. John, 84, considers himself a perpetual student and has taken advantage of the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Melbourne and Graciela’s social media classes “to keep my mind agile”.

With a better understanding of Facebook thanks to Graciela’s classes, John has been able to keep up to date with his daughter’s family who live in the United States. “I can keep tabs on what’s going on,” John says. “I’m able to see photos of my granddaughter and keep in contact, despite living on the other side of the world.”

Australian Unity client John using an iPad

Top Tips for Social Media

Social media doesn’t have to be intimidating. Begin by familiarising yourself with one channel, such as Facebook, which has the most users. Read these tips to get a head start.

Privacy settings

You can lock your Facebook account so no one but your friends can see your profile or you can have it more publicly open. When starting out it’s best to review your privacy settings and make sure you’re not accidentally posting content everyone can see.

Accepting requests

Even if your Facebook profile security is high, you may still receive friend requests from people you don’t know. It’s best to ignore these requests, as they are potentially scams.

Different post types

Facebook has three main types of communication:

  1. STATUS UPDATES are visible by all your Facebook friends or those you choose to see them
  2. WALL POSTS are visible to the person you send them to and their friends
  3. PRIVATE MESSAGES are only visible to you and whoever you choose to communicate with

words Nick Adams

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For information about social media sessions in Victoria, contact Graciela Portugal on 03 9896 6519 or

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