oh my gosh, facebook is for families

On Feb. 2nd, InsideFacebook reported that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women over 55. 

In just the past 120 days, usage of Facebook by women over 55 has grown by an astonishing 175.3%.

Our team at FamilyLink.com is particularly excited as social networks attract older users because our mission is to connect families to each other using technology, and the glue that keeps most families (and extended families) together often happens to be the older female family members–moms and grandmas.

As they come into social networks in droves, a very large percentage of them do so with the primary purpose of communicating with their children and grandchildren–and not necessary just with their friends.

My mom started using Facebook actively just a few days after Christmas. During the holidays we had a big family discussion about how we could all keep in touch better. Everyone talked about their Blackberries, iPhones, Facebook and even Twitter. 

I am now friends on Facebook with my mom, my siblings, my 82-year old aunt, and dozens of cousins, children of cousins, nieces, nephews, and other extended family. And we all use We’re Related. In fact, the primary way we found each other was through this application.

Time Magazine published a “Nerd World” column this week titled “Facebook is for Old People” in which author Lev Grossman listed 10 reasons (all in jest) why older people love Facebook. Reason #7 was:

We have children. There is very little that old people enjoy more than forcing others to pay attention to pictures of their children. Facebook is the most efficient engine ever devised for this.

That’s pretty funny. But more based in reality than Grossman’s claim that old people want to force others to see pictures of their children is the fact that most older people care more about their family members than younger people do and they themselves want to continually see new family photos

Young people are busy with school, friends, and work. All of life is ahead of them, and they are optimistic about the future. It’s well known that college students phone home mainly when they are out of money. ;)

On the other hand, as we grow older, everything changes. What once was important in high school, college, and in our work years, no longer seems to matter so much. We have so many more memories to think about and we become more thoughtful about the past. As we age, watching children (and from what I hear, grandchildren) grow, and learn, and experience life, and staying in touch with our own remaining family members, becomes the most interesting and meaningful part of our own lives.

I think there is quantifiable evidence for this. While working at a previous company (from 1998-2002) my team discovered that the older people were the more times per month they logged into their private family web sites. It was pretty astonishing to see this hold true even for people up into their 80s. 

Because older people are flocking to Facebook, the We’re Related application (by FamilyLink.com) has jumped in the last few months to become the #2 most popular application on Facebook as measured by Weekly Active Users. For a few days, it was #1 in daily active users, but that number fluctates often as various apps experience occasional surges in traffic.

When we launched We’re Related in October 2007, we reached our first million users in 29 days, and our second million a few weeks later. We were surprised that our application spread so quickly, especially because Facebook had already clamped down on the “unlimited invites” that had helped the first successful apps reach millions of users in just weeks or months. Our cap was 20 invites per user per day, so Facebook users with a thousand friends couldn’t tell all of them about our app at once. And yet we still grew like crazy.

But what surprised us even more was our discovery that half of our first two million users were from Canada, and that 17 of our top 20 cities were in Canada. We teased our product manager (who is from Canada) about making this happen on purpose.

We discovered, through further investigation, that even though the US population is about 9.1 times greater than the population of Canada, at that time there were actually more women over age 55 in Canada using Facebook than here in the US.

Then it made sense. Older people, especially women, love the We’re Related application. In fact, it might be the primary reason they use Facebook — like it was for my mom.

We weren’t 100% sure why Facebook had more members 55+ in Canada than in the U.S. But this is our theory: since Facebook was originally for college students (first at Harvard, then at 60 Ivy League schools, then for all US colleges and universities) and then for US high school students, and only in September 2006 was opened to the general public, the perception was widespread in the U.S. was that Facebook was for young people only.

In fact, the famous NY Times article from June 7, 2007 titled “omg, my mom joined facebook” reflected a reality at the time in the U.S. that young people didn’t want older people (especially their moms) to see what they were doing online.

For some reason in Canada Facebook spread quickly to all ages. Maybe it hadn’t really taken off in Canadian universities. Maybe Facebook had launched in U.S. high schools but not in Canadian high schools. Or maybe Canadian youth don’t have as many things to hide from their parents. ;) 

Who knows? But whatever the reason, there were literally more men and women over 55 in Canada than in the US on Facebook.

When We’re Related launched, it became especially popular in Canada, probably because the large population of moms and grandmas embraced it and shared it.

We don’t know if our growth will continue at the current rate, but if it does we will have more than 50 million users by the end of this year. Not bad for an app that will turn 2 years old in October.

The challenge for us now, is to design a user experience that meets the widely varying needs of millions of families. Families come in all different shapes and sizes. 

We are anxious to create an experience that works for your family, that helps you stay in touch regularly with your siblings, parents, children, and extended family, in meaningful ways.

We would like to know what you want We’re Related to do for you and your family. How can we make it better?

Please comment on this blog about what features or design changes would lead you to use We’re Related regularly to keep in touch with your relatives.

We would really appreciate your suggestions.

Or, if you want to vote on each other’s ideas, please visit our customer feedback forum on Uservoice, where thousands of our active users are suggesting ideas and voting on them.

Please let us know what we can do for your family.

3 Comments

  1. Something warm and magical happens when you become a parent. Then when you become a grandparent, your feelings of love for your children and grandchildren deepen. You enthusasticly share your joy (and your photos) with anyone who will pay attention. I can’t fault grandparents for this. After all, I am one! :-) My wife and I have the cutest eight grandchildren in the world. ;-)

    We enjoy connecting with our family on Facebook, MyFamily.com, twitter, blogs, video-chats, and many other technologies. It’s especially fun to discover other family and friends online. That’s why We’re Related is so cool. It has found and suggested family members to me that I didn’t know were on Facebook.

    I would like to see more of this type of inteligent connecting in We’re Related. The other thing I would like to see is a smoother user workflow. For example, it took several attempts to connect me with my wife and daughter. May I suggest a usabilty study to help identify improvements in the user interface and workflow? All in all, it’s a great app.

    Thanks, Grandpa Shayne (56 years “old”)

  2. At 55, and with an empty nest, we have found that the social media has really blessed our lives. When our youngest left, we longed for the fun banter and conversation that had permeated our home for over 30-years. These electronic networks full of pictures and conversation have increased the memories and make us proud to be at this point in our life.
    We have even used some of our creativity to contribute to the conversation and assist others to connect in a meaningful way.
    Great tools like We’re Related and other family applications will continue to grow the ranks of Facebook with Baby Boomers like us.

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