Senior Living Business Interactive: Social Media: Get on Board

Senior living providers are increasingly recognizing the social media phenomenon and the advantages—operational, cultural, and competitive—of using social networking sites and other online tools for general communications purposes and to promote their communities.

Social media is catching on with everyone, including older adults, according to Julie Fenske, Executive Director of The Buckingham in Houston, a Senior Quality Lifestyles Corporation (SQLC)-sponsored CCRC. “Having operated a number of communities over the last 15 years, the change I’ve seen is definitely significant,” she said, “and especially dramatic over the last three years. It shouldn’t be ignored.”

As of April 2012, 53% of American adults age 65-plus use the Internet, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project; 70% of that age group go online in a typical day, 85% use email, and 48% email daily. One-third (34%) of those Internet users age 65-plus also use social networking—up 150% from 2009—and 18% do so on a typical day. They’re using social network sites to keep up with the fast-paced lives of their adult children, as well as their grandchildren, Fenske explained. Social media helps them connect with their families, old friends, and each other—and senior living operators need to be prepared to accommodate the different communication venues that their residents are using.

Even among the GI generation (age 76-plus), 34% have embraced the Internet, with 20% of that cohort also using social networking. “That’s the group that we serve,” Fenske pointed out, “and they’re really hopping onto the technology wave.” At The Buckingham in Houston, for example, about 50% of the residents are using the computer at some level; at a sister community in Austin, Texas, about 80% of the residents arrive with a desktop or laptop computer. When The Buckingham opened in 2005, having a wireless hub in the café area seemed very forward-thinking.

In just the past year, that infrastructure has had to be enhanced to accommodate the broader use of wireless devices. “We’ve definitely seen the computer usage at our communities and the thirst for knowledge skyrocket,” she added. “The most popular gifts residents received from their adult children last year were readers such as the Kindle and iPad,”

Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and LinkedIn are the social media sites most likely to be used by older seniors, according to Fenske. Twitter, less so. The GI generation still wants to have a relationship connection, a more personal touch that outlets such as Facebook provide.

It’s also very important, of course, to remember that social media is not a replacement for face-to-face interaction with residents—or with their family members —or with potential customers..........Want to read more? Click here for a free trial to Senior Living Business Interactive  and download the current issue today