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Staying connected is harder for your older relatives, save a few dollars and create their profiles
The holidays can get to be a serious drain on your wallet rather quickly. And when it comes to family, mine always swore that they loved the gifts I made more than the ones that I bought. In this vein, and because Cyber Monday drained my disposable income, I am suggesting giving the gift of social networking this holiday season.
Social networks have woven their way into most of our lives, 800 million people on Facebook, 100+ million profiles on LinkedIn and 42+ million users Google+ equates to a lot of people choosing online environments to connect with friends and family all across the globe.
But, often, social networking sites (and the internet for that matter) can be overwhelming for the generations like the Baby Boomers and even their parents from the Depression years.
Being left out of the connectivity and sharing happening on the social networks can drive a large divide in even the closest of families.
This year my free holiday gift idea for everyone is to sign up a friend or relative to a social media outlet.
What benefits are there to signing up a luddite
Most parents, grandparents and extended family desire a way to get the latest pictures of the grandkids and want to hear about piano recitals and upcoming family events -- social media is a great tool for that.
I spoke with the co-editor of the web zine Senior Care Corner, Barry Birkett, and he explained that more seniors are gaining access to the internet and Web-ready devices, it is the creation of the profiles that can be the biggest barrier.
"Aging communities want to keep in touch with their relatives and are adopting tablets and smart phones at aa amazing rate," said Birkett, who pointed to the growing number of seniors using the big screen offered with iPads. "But even as more seniors get online, only one in seven have social networking profiles to use."
Pew Research found that 42% of people over the age of 65 are online and list a growing trend of getting online to stay connected with friends or family.
"The holidays are a great time to get the family together and sign everyone up to a service that can be used for family sharing," Birkett told me.
On top of it being a free service to offer your less tech-savvy friends and family, the process can be a great time for bonding and reminiscing over old photos and family stories.
What is important when sharing with family
We can pass right past the obvious -- don't share things that would put grandma into a panic -- and move right to the setting up the family social network.
There are hundreds (possibly thousands) of various social networking sites to choose from and each one has its own focus; from photo-sharing to videos-chatting or creating events.
There is no one direction that any family should be a part of, the biggest factor is to choose a platform that is easy for everyone to use and fits your family's needs.
Consider having a conversation with the family members that want to stay connected and see which of the following fits your community best.
One of the biggest reasons that families look to digital to solve their woes is the price of printing and mailing photos. If the biggest level of connection you have with your family revolves around the candid pics everyone is taking, you may want a family Flickr page that everyone has access to and can share as they upload their pics to their computer.
My mother recently discovered that Flickr has millions of pictures from around the globe and she tumbled right through the site to find lots of pictures of her kryptonite: horses. I'm going to save YouTube for a rainy day.
While cell phones have made it affordable and easy to call anyone in the country and gab for hours without penalty (except that crick in you neck), some relatives start to miss your pretty mug. To solve this problem, everyone in your family can sign up for the free video, voice, and SMS service offered by Skype. This is also a great option for families that many be in sprinkled across several countries. Skype also offers pay services for calling landlines, cell phones and group video chats (for when you all can't be at the family reunion.)
Formerly anonymous families have gained worldwide fame by sharing videos of cute kid interactions on YouTube and why should your family live in obscurity when your kids say the darndest things too? Families can create channels or just sign up for profiles and follow one another to see recitals, birthday cakes, and anything else you choose to share. There are even privacy settings available if you don't want everyone to see your funnest (and most embarrassing) family moments.
Introducing older relatives to YouTube will also be amazing since the site has a fairly expansive archive of footage from "the good old days" that will distract your parents and grandparents with clips of Andy Griffith while you watch viral skits.
eFamily and MyFamily.com
These social sites are specific for family sharing. Both eFamily and MyFamily.com come complete with strong privacy settings, more than 200,000 members, video-sharing, a family tree builder, blog options and event reminders.
This social media platform has the biggest perk of all of them: most of your family is likely already on there. But with that, maybe you don't want to mix family with friends -- there's the rub. Are family members going to be Facebook friends and share everything the same? This is a tricky topic but worth talking about since it can be convenient while still risking the stress of securing everyone's sharing privacy.
Whichever platform you choose just remember to take the time to show your loved ones how to use the site (especially if you don't want a million follow-up emails) and have them store all of their passwords and log-ins somewhere safe and memorable.
Remember -- the holidays are better when you share them with the ones you love.
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