Last week, I served on a panel at the National League of Cities Congress in Denver, Colorado. Fellow panelists included Harvard's John O'Leary, The Performance Institute's Alan Shark, Muni Gov 2.0 co-founder Pam Broviak and Social Media for Responders founder Mark Basnight. Each of us offered our insights about the state of social media in local government followed by opportunities for the 100 or so members of the audience to offer feedback and thoughts.
As these local government officials - most of them city council members from across the country - approached the microphone, it seemed like they had a prevailing question on their minds:
How do we better educate and engage senior citizens with social media?
This question runs counter to the dominant trend, which largely focuses on engaging the next generation of citizens - teens and twenty-somethings. In fact, just before attending the event, I was impressed with a recent post on GovLoop by Nick Doctor entitled, "The Case for Youth Engagement."
But I think it's an important and largely unexplored question. So I'd like to get the conversation going with 3 reasons why seniors are an important, untapped portion of what Beth Noveck has called "citizen surplus."
1. Senior Citizens Have the Time to Help: I think of my grandmother in a care facility in Texas who has relatively limited activities available to her every day. I don't know if she's looking to become savvy with social media, but I'll bet she'd be open to learning a new skill that can create a bit more variety in her weekly routine. And once she's learned how to use it, are there volunteer or stipend-based activities that a local government could coordinate with care facilities to leverage her latent energy?
2. Senior Citizens Are Less Mobile: My grandmother doesn't drive anymore. In fact, believe it or not, she never drove. So how did she get downtown to city hall to complete important transactions? My grandfather drove her there, and now that role has fallen to my aunt and uncle. But what if she could learn how to access the Internet and complete basic activities online? That would be immensely helpful and allow her to retain a sense of independence.
3. Senior Citizens are Open to Learning: Community centers and libraries are increasingly offering courses for senior citizens to learn how to use Facebook and Skype and mobile phones so that they can stay connected with their children and grandchildren. So why aren't cities taking the lead to ensure that seniors receive this education and empower them to do more using new technology. By the way, check out this tutorial.
I have more ideas, but I'd like to hear from you:
- How is your municipality educating senior citizens about social media and mobile technology?
- How is your municipality empowering seniors to use social media and mobile tech as transaction and interaction vehicles?
- How is your city engaging seniors - inviting them to blog or interviewing them via podcast or video - to share their knowledge or insights?
I can't wait to see what's happening in your town...