Social Media – Getting Started Guide for Old People (30 and up)


Collage by Chris Bell, frame creative commons: Temari


Targeted at social-media novices 30 and up, here’s a getting-started guide for social media for us crotchety old folks who haven’t really dived in so far.

Short Version / Super Quickstart:

It’s worth trying out social media if only to see what all the rage is about. No guarantee you’ll “get-it.” It may not be your thing — sort of like how Justin Bieber may not be your idea of good music, but it’s at least satisfying to know what’s going on. That said, I’ve seen graphics  that show that Facebook’s largest population is 45-54 year olds, so maybe Facebook, at least, is more Rolling Stones than Ke$ha. Jump in. Give it a try. Here’s a start:

Get a Facebook Account

  1. Go to
  2. Give them your real name so others can find you (that’s the point).
  3. Tell Facebook a little about you. High School, College, age, all help make connections.
  4. Find your friends who are already on. FaceBook will step you through this. It wants you to make connections. Go for it. Make ’em. That’s the point.

Get a Twitter Account

Twitter is crazy popular but folks who don’t get it worry about inane posts such as “I’m getting a haircut. ”  That’s not really the case. Give it a try. Start out by reading, later consider tweeting:

  1. Go to
  2. Sign up with a handle/username — probably something recognizable by others in case you want to later choose to post/tweet.
  3. Find people you want to follow. Click “Who to Follow” at the top right and browse the categories. Once you find an account to follow, just click “follow” on the person’s twitter page. From now on, any posts/tweets from that person will appear on your twitter page. Do this for a few others and you’ve got your twitter feeds running well.
  4. Visit Twitter later and see what’s up.
  5. If you’re so inclined to up the ante a bit, post your status any time you’d like. Share your twitter name with your friends so they can follow you.

Live with those two big-players for a month or so. Visit the sites frequently to catch up. Visit more often if you would like. Ask yourself if you “get it.”  If not, keep trying. Connect to more people.

Be Smart

As a person new to social media, it’s easy to forget that you’re really not just sharing with people you know. At some point you may be followed or friended by folks you don’t know. Your privacy is dictated by what you share.

  1. Careful of what you share. Although there are decent privacy settings in Facebook, they can get reset to wide-open quite easily. You should assume that everything you put on the web will be found by your family, boss, mom, kids, neighbors, and strangers. Whatever info you share, do so with that in mind.
  2. Things you just shouldn’t share on Social Media sites:
    • address
    • phone numbers
    • names of other family members
    • personal or financial information
  3. Don’t sell out your friends. Facebook will ask you if you want to send your non-facebook friends an email inviting them to join. I suggest waiting on this move. I don’t think anyone likes form-letter invites to join in on something.

A Bit More – The Real Getting Started Guide:

What is Social Media?

Social Media is an umbrella term for web sites that let people write or upload things and share them with other people through the web site. You can share things like how you’re feeling or a funny photo and your friends can see it on the site. Or, you can pay attention

The Number of Sites Can be Overwhelming

A few years ago in the course of my work at Colorado Law, I saw a graphic that blew me away. It came to my attention from a presentation given by Gen-Y interns to their staid and presumably out-of-touch supervisors about how to get smart kids being interested in NASA again. The graphic was about Web2.0 technology and sites they used on a daily basis. The crazy part for me is how many sites there were and how many I wasn’t using:

Source of the above graphic: I’ve tried to find it elsewhere to give appropriate credit, but I couldn’t find it. If I later find the reference, I’ll update it.

Achieving the same overwhelming effect several years later, here’s a 2010 infographic showing another crazy amount of social media sites — this time organized according to type:


As overwhelming and massive as these graphics show Social Media sites to be, you really don’t care about all the little or specialized social media sites. You’re not trying to be the first on them. You just care about the big ones. That means Facebook, Twitter, and maybe a few others.

Why Do It?

Not to get famous.

Not, as Descartes, to proclaim your existence by tweeting and updating your status on Facebook.

Everyone has their own goals, of course, but I suggest that you have one of two overarching reasons to jump into the social media world:

Reasonable Social Media Purpose 1:

See what it’s about; Make connections with existing friends and family; Even make new friends based on common interests.

Reasonable Social Media Purpose 2:

Follow through on a specific purpose such as promoting a restaurant, sharing information on a given topic, or another predictable and consistent message.

I’m sure there are other reasons, but the key here is that it is not a place to get famous or prove your existence. But it could be a place for targeted communications or connecting/reconnecting with friend and family.

No, let’s get to it. Get ready, I’m suggesting that you jump in and sign up right now. Here’s a quick guide:

The Big Ones

As described above in the super quick-start section, getting on Facebook and Twitter are really all you need to experience most of what Social Media has to offer.

Facebook – connect with friends, family, and people from your past

This is the #1 most popular web site in the world. People come to and they stick. There is a lot to do. The coolest part is connecting with folks you may have lost touch with or have common interests with. I have Facebook friends from high school and others who connect over mutual fan-worship of Poi Dog Pondering.

Twitter – Real-time News Feed from Folks All Over the World

This one is a bit harder to grasp, but I like to compare it with an old ticker tape machine where rich business men would watch news of stocks and perhaps other news as it rattled off the wire. Twitter can function in the same way. This is your live feed from people you find interesting talking about things you like. You never need to post anything to get a lot out of Twitter.  Use the “Who to Follow” link on the Twitter web site to choose a few people’s posts to monitor.

Once you get comfortable with watching Twitter feeds, you may want to expand or enhance your reach by starting to tweet yourself (quite easy, just do it). And if you like Twitter, as most people who use it do, look at the huge number of tools to enhance your experience in all sorts of ways.

I use HootSuite as recommended to me by Bill C. Berger and have been quite happy with it. It works on the iPhone and makes reading and posting quite easy. But HootSuite is just the beginning. Want to be overwhelmed by another infographic? Take a look at this amazing graphic of the Twitterverse.

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Quora – Ask Questions, Answer Questions, Read the Conversation

This is the trendy site of the moment. It’s the next big thing. Questions and answers. You can ask questions or answer them. You can follow questions or people. It’s really a terrific concept. Search questions, post your own questions, and because it’s trendy and folks are pouring in as members, your questions get answers. I asked “What makes a good IT department” and got several very helpful answers.

The Specialized Ones

Flickr – Post and share your photos. Find other photos.

This old-standard is really terrific for putting photos up for your friends and family to view. Flicker not only lets you share your photos and see others’ photos, but you can find lots of wonderful shots that you can use — just remember to check the copyright notice and look for Creative Commons.  Flickr also integrates with other sites quite well.

YouTube – Post and share your videos. Find other videos.

Most people think of YouTube as a place to watch funny videos. Well, I guess that’s mostly what it’s about. But you can treat YouTube as the Flickr for your videos. Sign in, create an account. Share away. Other can follow your YouTube “channel” so when you share your videos those following you will be notified.

FourSquare – Use GPS phone features to tell your Twitter Friends your location, play the FourSquare game

I should admit that I just don’t get FourSquare. I am not into announcing my location all the time on twitter. But some folks love it, and it was the big thing just a little while ago. The thing that does seem kind of fun is that you can “check in” from your favorite cafe location over and over and eventually be dubbed “king” of that location in the FourSquare game. Check it out or not.

The Ones You Can Ignore

LinkedIn – Business networking

I’m on LinkedIn, and while I do believe in the power of business contacts, I’m not sure if this accomplishes it. LinkedIn just feels not that worthwhile to me. I think this is mainly because there aren’t enough people on it. It doesn’t feel like a big deal. Still, it might be worth joining to see if there are connections that you can make worthwhile.

MySpace – Skip It, just use Facebook

‘nuf said.

Delicious – Social Bookmarking Site is Dead

I think Delicious is actually dead already — they’re pulling the plug on it soon. But I include it because I loved Delicious as a universal bookmark set. I didn’t care so much about sharing those bookmarks with others. I think that others may have felt the same thing. (By the way, for bookmarks I use XMarks now).

The Ones I Missed

What did I miss? Tell me in the comments below.

Create a Fake Life on Facebook

[EDIT: I’ve now opted to treat Facebook as a primary means of real communication — primarily for sharing all things tech, so some of the following information does not apply to my Facebook account any more. But the possibilities are still there]

Short Version

I looked into creating a fake life on Facebook, but in the end gave it up because of social dynamics — the very thing I was hoping to poke fun at.

If you are diligent with the friend requests you accept and reject, you could have a lot of fun.

Here’s What Happened

The idea of posting public photos and status updates for the world to see is anathema to some. I see it as a creative outlet. Once an old high school girlfriend made contact, I realized that I had the opportunity to create another whole persona. Ahh, an alternate life. What life to choose?

Option 1: Go with a more positive braggy life wtih the smug tone of, say, Colbert but go all materialistic and brag on my Tesla and things.

Option 2: Go the other way and have horrible things happen in my fake facebook life, but still have a happy attitude about it, in the spirit of Candide. Aha! What a great vision, I thought. A parody Facebook page, based in spirit on a parody novellette!

I chose Option 2 and took the first few baby steps in this direction when I updated my Facebook image. It’s still there today:

Here’s how I really look:
Here’s how I look on Facebook:

I imagined two groups of people seeing my Facebook page:

Group 1: Close Friends and Family — the folks I’ve stayed in touch.

Group 2: People I haven’t stayed in touch with.

I originally tought that all people in my world fell into these two categories. And so, for Group 1, they’d be in on the joke.  Group 2 folks would be the jokees; they’d read the alternate reality and perhaps think it was real.

I really wanted to take it all the way with funny (to me) posts that were outrageous lies about my life. I could hint at a sex-change operation perhaps, or about a vague tragedy that I’m recovering from, talk about how “despite it all, I know people are good and the world is beautiful.” Talk about which affirmations help me the most.

But then something happened: I realized that there are way more than two groups following me on Facebook. There are people I wish I had kept in touch with but just hadn’t, there were in-laws of all sorts: cousins by marriage in Franceand Florida; and there were old dear friends the family. There were people I work with who all have great senses of humor. And there were others who don’t. There was my mom.

I realized that if I were gong to take this Facebook thing extreme as I had imagined, it might backfire in many big ways.

So, I just stopped.

I sit paralyzed between sharing true life things that may be mundane but true, or follow a fake life story that may be tragic in its vision, but creatively interesting to me? I have yet to decide. But I think I’m going to go for truth.

The Big Payoff

The other day, a best friend told me that someone asked him, with hushed concern: “What happened to Chris?”  It took my friend a few minutes to realize the guy had looked me up in Facebook seen the picture and was gossiping. Ahhh. At least I got that satisfaction of at least one person taking the bait.

What Should One Really Do with Facebook?

  • Set the privacy settings just right.
  • Keep in touch with friends new and old.
  • Be light but honest.
  • Avoid the mundane.