10 things you’ll love about Facebook

Social media knows no boundaries — especially when it comes to age. Recent reports agree: more and more Zoomers are embracing social media. In fact, they’re the fastest-growing age group with nearly half of all boomers and roughly one third of people over the age of 62 currently maintaining a profile on a social media site.

Not surprisingly, one of their most popular haunts is Facebook, one of the largest sites around. According to a recent report from eMarketer, 73 per cent of boomers and 90 per cent of WWII generation respondents who use social media are on this popular site.

What’s the attraction? Here are 10 things you can do in Facebook:

Connect with old friends

Life happens, and it’s easy to lose touch. According to research, the biggest reason people of all ages use social media to reconnect and stay in touch with friends and relatives, and Zoomers are no exception. Facebook lets you contact your friends directly, and keep up with their status updates and photos.

There are a few ways you can add “friends” to your profile. You can automatically load your email contacts using the “contact importer”, check your friends’ lists to find people you know, run a search, find former classmates or look for people on your network. Facebook also generates “people you may know” notifications based on names that show up frequently among your current friends.

Follow your family

Wondering what your kids are doing at university, or want to keep up with your nieces, nephews, cousins or grandchildren that you don’t see or speak to often? You can add them to your friends list.

A word of caution: you might learn a few things you’d rather not know… but resist the urge to embarrass or reprimand your relations. (Yes, it does happen — and these mishaps have even spawned a popular blog, Myparentsjoinedfacebook.com.)

Make new friends

It’s called “social media” for a reason, and there are no shortage of groups to join on Facebook where you can connect with people who share your interests — whether it’s a favourite hobby, family history, alumni group, sports, travel, religious affiliation, charity or one of the thousands of novelty groups (like “I bet Canada can get 1,000,000 fans before U.S.A.”). Some groups aren’t shy about their purpose — like dating or “meet new people”.

What can you do in a group? Post and respond to messages, participate in discussions, watch videos and follow the latest updates are a few of the features. Creating a group isn’t difficult, and you can open it up to the public or keep it to invitation only.

Become a fan

Similar to groups, Facebook pages are another way to support (and keep tabs on) your favourite celebrities, brands and publications. (For instance, become a fan of 50Plus.com or Zoomers on Facebook group.) Follow the names and companies you know, or branch out — like checking out a new musician or artist.

If you have a small business, you can drum up interest by creating your own company page and using it to engage with potential customers. (See Make social media work for your business.)

Support a cause

Sometimes social media really can change the world. Many charitable organizations and causes — like World Diabetes Day, World Vision and Earth Hour — have a presence on Facebook to support their fundraising and awareness efforts. Some grassroots organizations even go offline, like The Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament group which organized protests across the country in this winter.

How can you find a cause, group or page? You can run a search, but groups tend to spread virally (i.e. “word of mouth”) so keep an eye on your friends’ updates.

Participate in special events

Many major events — like sports, awards shows, conferences, exhibitions and even elections — have their own online following, and it’s not just about streaming video and photo ops. You can get in on the action, such as posting comments and content while the event is happening.

Current events, like the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and New York’s Autumn-Winter 2010 Fashion Week, offer followers the latest updates, news and behind-the-scenes content that they might not have access to through other media like print or TV.

Have a conversation

Posting on people’s walls is part of the fun, but there are more ways to connect. There’s also an internal email system (which is set for expansion in the near future), and an online chat function so you can send instant messages to online contacts.

Access to a computer isn’t required. You can also connect your mobile devices to your Facebook account, or use your email to update your status. (See Facebook Mobile for instructions.)

Play games

According to new research in the U.S. and U.K., social gaming is becoming a hot trend. Nearly a quarter of social media users are also “social gamers”. Think it’s just the younger generations? (No, we’re not talking about war or fantasy games — think simulations, sports and puzzles.) Surprisingly, the average age of social gamers is 43, and nearly half of all players in the U.S. are over age 50. (Read the press release.)

If you want to be successful, you’ll have to rely on some help from your friends. For instance, in Farmville (currently the most popular social game on Facebook), you can add neighbours and help out on their farms to earn rewards.

Save money

Facebook pages are another way that companies can get the word out about special promotions and sales, and prompt people to visit their websites. You can “become a fan” of your favourite retailers, products and tourist attractions to receive updates about discounts, deals and contests — some of which are exclusive to Facebook fans.

Sell, rent and trade

You can also earn some cash too by selling your unwanted stuff or renting a room. The Marketplace is a built-in classified section where you can post ads and search for items, housing and services. Ads are free for Facebook users, and interested buyers use the platform to contact you.

Tips for new users

Protect your privacy. You can make your content public if you choose, but many experts warn to use the privacy settings to set some limits. In the upper right hand corner of your page, you’ll see the “account” button. This drop-down menu will let you change your account and privacy settings — like not posting your birthday on your profile. You can control who can search for your profile as well as what pieces of content (like photos, videos, etc.) people can see.

Why bother? Like it or not, people can use the content against you. There have been cases where credit companies and employers have used public content to influence their decisions. Many experts agree to keep your personal information private, and keep business separate altogether. (See 10 career-damaging online mistakes for details.)

Be selective. You don’t have to add everyone who sends you a friend request. You may not want your kids, grandkids, relatives, coworkers, clients or your boss to see your profile — or you might want to add them to your “limited profile” list.

In addition, your groups and pages show up on your profile page, so be mindful of the company you keep.

Be tactful. Social media is a public forum, so it pays to use some common sense. You never know who is looking at your content — or repeating it.

Beware. Facebook has its fair share of hackers, hoaxes, viruses and malware. To protect yourself, exercise the same precautions you do elsewhere on the Internet — like don’t click on links you don’t trust and don’t download suspicious files. Likewise, don’t believe everything you see: just because you see an ad in Facebook, doesn’t mean the service or company is legitimate (and you can report the ones that aren’t).

Another thing to watch out for: Applications and quizzes. Many are harmless fun, but a recent report on Global News warns that some only exist to get your personal information. Check out the applications before you add them, and avoid giving out personal information.

Sources: eMarketer, Global News, Yahoo! News

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Yvonne Chamberlain


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