By Brian Lang, Chief Executive Officer, Seniors In Touch
Excerpted from Continuum, April 2011
American College of Health Care Administrators
Long term care professionals must adapt New Media tools to serve their own purposes. While Senior Living executives are increasingly aware of the dizzying array of New Media and Social Media tools that are available to them, leveraged use of these technologies often remains elusive.
“Social Media” has become a shrill buzz-term in our collective ear. What does it really mean? Where New Media is defined as “technologies that enable digital interactivity” by Wikipedia and includes e-mail and a Web presence, Social Media is further defined as “a blending of technology and social interaction for the co-creation of value.”
Most long term care facilities have long embraced New Media in the form of well produced Web sites and distribution of e-mail newsletters. More progressive facilities or larger chains may have even extended their digital marketing to Facebook and Twitter, both of which tend to define Social Media for most people.
Facebook now has 149 million active users in the United States, and seventy percent log on daily. That’s roughly half the population. Senior Living facilities are increasingly creating business pages at Facebook and inviting the families of residents to become “Fans.” These Fans then receive posts to their daily Facebook News feeds whenever a facility makes an announcement or “Wall” post.
The marketing value of Facebook is especially appealing when looking at the growth of the 55+ age group between January 2010 to January 2011. This demographic is the second fastest growing segment on Facebook and increased by 58.9% in the past year, with membership growing from 9,763,900 to 15,516,780 members. When you take into account that an advertisement on Facebook can be scheduled to only appear in certain geographic areas and within certain demographics, the advertising dollars that are spent on Facebook are extremely cost effective.
The very fabric of Facebook starts with knowing the location, age, and interests of it’s members. The average age of an Assisted Living resident is 86.9 years and they will probably won’t be found online. However, the adult child of that Senior is very likely above 55 and increasingly available to be targeted on Facebook. For the children of aging Seniors who are looking for long term care options, this means a well placed ad by a Senior Living facility could show up on their Profile page next time they log in.
Having a business presence on Facebook should not be confused with their third party applications. Businesses in more than 190 countries build applications on the Facebook Platform and users install more than 20 million applications per day. Additionally, globally more than 250 million people use external Web sites to interact with them using Facebook ID.
But it’s very possible the Social Media revolution for long term care providers will not be found in marketing. The real revolution may be in how Senior Living facilities embrace emerging technologies to connect families and improve the quality of a resident’s life. Social Media is life changing because it is enables connections, shared values, and personal expression.
According to Senior Living consultant and pioneer Jim Moore, “Seniors have stories to tell involving a lifetime of distinguished achievements. They want to share these accomplishments with anyone who will patiently listen. Many also have untapped artistic and intellectual talents that, properly structured, would significantly enhance their life satisfaction. Many ladies want you to sit and hold hands while some of the men want to reminisce about war and workplace battles won and lost. The staff hugs them, calls them by their first names and monitors their well-being. But as an 85-year-old lady told me at dinner one evening, ‘I just want to talk to someone from the outside world who is really interested in what I have to say.’”
Accrediting organizations and New Media professionals should increasingly work together to introduce best practices and curriculum that train long term care providers not only for the marketing uses of New Media, but also to extend Social Media in ways that connects families and residents. As “a blending of technology and social interaction for the co-creation of value,” Social Media’s most powerful use for long term care professionals is in how it is used by them to improve the quality of life for their residents and how it is extended to enrich their connection to family.
Activities directors could emerge as the center of the Senior Living Social Media revolution. Where Facebook will increasingly provide a great marketing platform and connection to family for facilities, today’s average resident of a Senior Living facility will likely never use Facebook.
Easy first steps in adopting Social Media for residents involve sharing pictures, exchanging memories, and direct conversation with family via video conferencing. The following suggestions assumes that a facility has already collected e-mail addresses for the family members of residents and have added them to an e-mail distribution list (for a free distribution list, visit GoogleGroups.com):
1) Since Seniors can’t get enough of photos, family members could be invited via e-mail to participate in an upcoming photo sharing activity. Using a free photo sharing service such as Flikr.com from Yahoo! family members could get be contacted via an e-mail distribution from a facility and be given a week or two to organize their photos. Many people already have accounts at Flikr and this could be an easy first step for an Activities Director to coordinate. A newer, free Social Media site for photo sharing can be found at CoMemories.com and is set up where several family members can collaborate together to create shared photo albums. Seniors could privately view the results, or share photos with friends during an afternoon activity.
2) Family members would be invited to start sharing memories about their loved one at Blogger.com from Google, a free blogging service. This could chronicle the Senior’s life beginning with childhood and include schooling, marriage, and children. Military careers can be honored, academic accomplishments celebrated, and careers chronicled. A model for how families could share these memories with their loved one can be found at 1000Memories.com, a Web service that helps digitally honor the memory of a loved one.
3) To super charge the Social Media experience for residents, schedule an afternoon or evening of free, face-to-face video conferencing using Skype.com. To coordinate times for this event, use Doodle.com, a free scheduling tool that will help you coordinate when family could sit down and Skype with your resident. Or use LiveStream.com, a free service that will allow facilities to share a broadcast from the computer where residents will be viewing pictures or reviewing the results of the online creation of their life story.
Facilities need only invest in a computer connected to the Internet with an inexpensive webcam to bring these Social Media activities in-house. Invest in a touch screen desktop computer with a built-in camera from Hewlett Packard or Apple – your Seniors will never have to touch a keyboard to participate. Add a tablet to your inventory. Apple just released the new iPad, complete with a forward facing camera (for video conferencing). In the second quarter of 2011, Motorola and Samsung will be introducing a touch tablet with a forward facing camera using the latest operating system from Android (by Google) that will be as fully featured as the iPod but cheaper. Residents could use these tablets to comfortably sit in a great room with friends and share pictures or memories over a cup of tea, or staff could use these devices with Memory Care patents to review life experiences together.
It’s these kinds of technologies that not only will increase the quality of life for your residents, it could also contribute to the length of their stay. “In these economically challenging times, it may be difficult to consider investing in technologies,” reports a recent issue of Long Term Living Magazine. “Yet, quality-focused communities are finding that investing in technologies can enable them to better fulfill their mission and objectives. Technologies can give them a strategic marketing advantage, help better manage risk, and generate additional revenue.”
Senior Living executives and accrediting organizations can expect to see many new technologies and “mash-ups” of New Media emerging in the near future that are being appropriated for long term care related fields. These will likely include hardware and software combinations that embrace ease-of-use products and services that keeps Seniors connected and helps eliminate feelings of isolation.
Innovation for the residents of Senior Living facilities is going to come from forward thinking companies, accrediting organizations, and professionals who understand Social Media as it applies to the aging demographic. By now we all know that Facebook was launched by a 19 year old who wanted to meet girls. Social Media for Senior Living will succeed when it helps facilitate family connections and improves the quality of life for residents of long term care facilities.
Authored by Brian Lang, Chief Executive Officer of SeniorsInTouch.com, a family communications product for residents of Senior Living facilities. Mr. Lang is also the author of the best selling guide for families from the 90s called “Making the Internet Family-friendly.”
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Our patented family communications system for residents of Senior Living facilities makes it easy to stay in touch!
Text and Video E-mail Messaging. A camera built into the touchscreen with video e-mail technology creates a simple communications solution for senior adults. Those who wish to type can, but it is not required.
Photo Album. This feature allows for family members to upload photos for immediate viewing by the Senior without the delivery delays of mailing traditional photos. Multiple family members can create photo folders and upload pictures.
News, Weather, and Sports. Seniors can select the zip code from whatever city they'd like to get news, weather, and sports, allowing them to stay in touch with either their local community or one that reflects their roots.
Life Story. A very unique feature, this allows the Senior and their loved ones to create and maintain a living legacy and journal of the senior's life. This story section of Seniors In Touch creates a touchstone for interaction and genealogy for the entire family group.