Earlier this year, I taught a class called Social Media 101 to introduce older adults to the basics of three frequently used social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Below is a summary of the class content:

Positive and Negative Effects

Social media is a lot like credit cards. If used responsibly, there are positive impacts:

  • Convenient purchases
  • Money-saving rewards points (credit cards) 
  • Education
  • Collaboration
  • Community building (social media).

On the flip side, if used in negative ways, credit cards can result in overspending, debt, and anxiety related to unpaid bills. Negative impacts of social media include:

  • Privacy 
  • Time-use concerns
  • Connecting people to do bad things
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety
  • Depression
  • FOMO (fear of missing out).

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Outreach Potential

Facebook and YouTube are the most widely used social media platforms. If Facebook were a country, it would be the largest in the world with a “population” of about 2.6 billion users, which exceeds the populations of the world’s two largest countries, China and India.

It is, therefore, not surprising that many businesses and non-profit organizations actively engage with Facebook, in addition to millions, or the case of Facebook, billions, of individual users. India has the highest number of Facebook users, followed by the United States and Indonesia.

“Whys” for Social Media Use

Effective social media users have a “why?” In other words, one or more reasons why they take the time to use one or more social media platforms.

Common “whys” include:

  • Stay connected with friends and family
  • Obtain local and national news
  • Promote a brand/business or get hired for a job
  • Learn new information
  • Follow respected thought leaders
  • Share opinions
  • Be part of a group of people with similar interests

Social Media Game Plans

 Each social media platform needs a game plan. For example, will its messaging be “professional/business use only” (e.g., LinkedIn), “personal use only” (e.g., Facebook), or both?

If someone wants to combine personal and professional messaging on one social media platform (e.g., Twitter), will they use one account or two?

Answering these questions is especially important when someone has a business-related account. Posting personal information on an account meant for business can confuse followers and raise questions about the account owner.


Messaging “Guardrails”

It is useful for social media users to determine their “wheelhouse,” i.e., topics that they will post messages about because they are an area of interest and/or expertise. In addition, content creators should determine “off limits” content, such as politics or controversial topics.

Having these “guardrails” established in advance can help users determine what (and what not) to share online and to “stay within their lane.”

Examples of guardrails are:

  • Positive words
  • Pretty pictures
  • Useful information and links
  • No politics or controversial topics
  • No shaming or blaming

Visuals Increase Engagement

Visuals attached to social media posts “slow people down” and increase the odds they will stop reading the text of a social media message. Research has found that visuals increase social media engagement  (i.e., likes, comments, shares, direct messages) by about three times.

Examples of social media visuals include:

  • Stock images
  • Personal photos
  • Hand-drawn sketches
  • PowerPoint jpeg images
  • Images created using online platforms such as Canva
  • Bitmoji avatars
  • Photo collages
  • Charts and Tables
  • Short video clips called gifs

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Strong Profile and Quality Photos

Social media platforms provide an opportunity for users to describe themselves within a designated number of words. Personal descriptions should be consistent with a social media user’s game plan (i.e., is the platform for personal or business use?).

Retirees will typically have different profiles than workers and will likely list leisure, versus career-oriented, pursuits.

Experts in web design recommend using two high quality (1,500 x 1,500 pixel) photos or logos for the headshot of the account owner and the header image at the top of the page.


Requests to Connect

Whether they are called followers (Twitter), friends (Facebook), or connections (LinkedIn), social media platforms have mechanisms for people to reach out to others and connect so that they can view each other’s content. Similarly, there are commands (e.g., “unfollow” on Twitter and “unfriend” on Facebook) where people can “disconnect” from each other.

Before accepting a request to connect, answer four key questions:

  • Do you know the person?
  • What is his/her relationship with you?
  • Do you have things in common?
  • Is he or she a positive person in real life?


In summary, social media can be a force for good…or not. It depends on how you use it. 

This post provides general personal finance information and does not address all the variables that apply to an individual’s unique situation. It does not endorse specific products or services and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.


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