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You’ve Got a Friend Request. From Your Mom… The Changing User Base of Social Networking Sites.

College students be warned. A friend request from your Mom could be headed your way. Facebook, a digital haven and social hangout originally created for college students, is experiencing a dramatic shift in its user makeup. According to a May 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, older web users are rapidly increasing their presence on social networking sites, most notably on Facebook and Linkedin.

Once the least represented demographic on social sites, internet users 50 and older are now the fastest growing age group. In the past year alone, these mature users have nearly doubled their usage from 22% to 42%. More specifically, 47% of internet users ages 50-64 and 26% of internet users ages 60+ have indicated that they now use social networking sites.

The Pew Center offered three reasons for older users’ increased interest in social networking:

  1. Social networking sites bring people of all ages into one space helping to bridge the “generation gap.”
  2. Sites, like Facebook, allow people to reconnect with friends from their past and keep up with the lives of their children and grandchildren.
  3. Older adults are more likely to be living with chronic diseases, and those with diseases are more likely to seek support online.

However, eMarketer suggests that the first two reasons may adversely affect the participation of younger social network users. If the matriculation of parents (and grandparents) causes young people to perceive Facebook as “uncool,” younger users may shy away and engage in conversations elsewhere. Sites, like College Only, have begun to capitalize on this sentiment and intend to provide young people a more specialized and college-focused alterative to Facebook. However, College Only’s ability to digitally manage users’ offline lives as seamlessly as Facebook is yet to be seen.

With the early adopters, college students, and young professionals already on board, social networking sites have inevitably become more accessible to an older audience of web users. Older adults and seniors are flocking to networking sites, but with this digital space traditionally dominated by a younger crowd, the long term implications of such a shift are uncertain. Students – how do you feel about the aging  user base of Facebook? Adults – what appeals to you about Facebook, and do you plan on befriending your children?

As for me, I’ll patiently sit back and wait for my mother’s friend request, because I know it’s coming. One of these days…

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