The study report “How Online Communities Can Make a Contribution to the Social Integration of Persons Aged 60 to 75” completes our preliminary study on older persons and online communities. A review of the literature on activating, motivating and integrating persons 60+ in the context of online communities was published previously in 2011.
The now reported qualitative study aimed to identify the dominant obstacles for persons aged 60 to 75 years in using online communities as well as the reasons for continued or discontinued use of online communities. It also aimed to shed light on the potential of online communities to act as a facilitator of social integration. The study was carried out with 18 internet literate persons (10 f, 8 m) aged 60 to 75 years. Data was collected with a combination of repeated usability test sessions and semi-standardized interviews.
The report shows that unsatisfactory user experiences were common with all online communities tested. A clearly established link between the use of the online community and a person’s everyday life was identified as the decisive factor for continued community usage. Attractive content proved to be more important in activating persons 60plus than a specific focus on age. While the study suggests that socially less well integrated individuals might also face more difficulties participating in an online community, online communities can nevertheless contribute to social inclusion by helping older users organize and structure their lives and by assisting to keep up social integration after retirement. To a certain extent, online communities can also motivate for certain activities and connect people with similar interests. In addition, successful participation in an online community can strengthen one’s self-efficacy and self-esteem.
The report comes up with several recommendations for providers of online communities aiming to integrate a larger share of older persons. In order to turn potential users of online communities into active ones, it is necessary to take action on three levels:
- Firstly, users have to be attracted and activated by appealing content and clearly elaborated and communicated benefits.
- Secondly, they must be guided through the process of registration and familiarization with the online community.
- Thirdly, new members have to be rewarded swiftly for their first contributions and efforts in the community.