Don’t Panic, but Mom just Joined Facebook (..and so did everyone else)

There are certain moments in life that are so  personally jarring, so profound, that they tend to stick with us as we grow and mature into productive members of society.  Realizing there is no Santa Claus, or rather that Santa is affected by the economic downturn just like the rest of us, is one of those moments; as is running into the devious bully who tormented you for nearly a decade of your youth only to find him pumping your gas at the local Sonoco- all jarring and profound moments….

…..So is the moment you log into facebook only to see that one friend request you’ve been dreading.  Mom would like to be your friend.  Confirm your friendship?

My own mother jumped head-first into the facebook deep end earlier this year and, at least for me, provided countless hours of entertainment and laughs.  Apparantly she thought you needed to message someone, everyone, in order to connect as friends rather than using the helpful “add as friend” button.  I really wish I could see some of those messages.  “Hi, Robyn.  Would you pretty please be my friend? Let me explain the reasons why we should be friends.  Sincerely Yours, Jake’s Mom.”  Who knows how many messages were sent before I set her on the straight and narrow; hell, there’s an entire website devoted to these funny anecdotes.

Of course, my experience is by no means out of the ordinary or even remotely different than the majority of social media consumers.  The demographic breakdown of facebook users is rapidly changing.  A new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that between April 2009 and May 2010, social networking usage rose 88% among Internet users aged 55-64, and the presence of those 65 and older grew 100% in the same time frame.  Additionally, the number of those aged 50-64 who spend any time on social networking sites at least daily doubled during the same time frame.

Facebook is no longer the super-secret hip college hangout for those in their 20s and 30s, and twitter is not the destination for early-adapters to discover what their friends just had for lunch (though I’m sure you could find that out as well).  With each passing day, more and more Americans jump onto these sites to keep in touch with their friends and family, share information and links, discover new information on topics they care about, and share pictures and videos.

My point, in keeping with the theme of this blog, is that the barriers of entry to the online interwebs keep diminishing, and with the ballooning of these sites and their importance in our daily lives, organizations and activists working for social change no longer can afford to sit on the sidelines and refuse to engage your audience where your audience is currently spending their time.

I remember back maybe 10 years ago teaching my mother how to use a mouse and navigate the internet.  We called it two-handed-mouse-driving.  It was, by far, the most hilarious sight I’ve ever seen– my panicked parent grasping that poor mouse with both hands with a massive death grip, flailing her way to hotmail.com.  Yet today, here she is tagging family photos on facebook and giving feedback to brands and companies on their facebook page walls.

When I’m approached or cold-called by an organization seeking support of one kind or another, the first thing I do is track them down on facebook and twitter.  If you don’t have a presence, you likely won’t get my support.  There’s simply very few reasons, with such low barriers to entry and such massive mainstream adoption, for any non-profit or other organization that effectively works within their community to leave these important communication tools out of sight and out of mind.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, as is the inherent way we communicate with one another, and how organizations communicate with their supporters.  Gone are the days when you can chuckle at your internet-ineptitude and leave these important tools to “those crazy kids and their facebook.” If you want to remain relevant, you must stay educated and engaged.

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