Although many older adults have broadened their horizons when it comes to technology during the pandemic, some have upped their game by becoming “granfluencers” on social media, according to new research.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville conducted what they say is a first-of-its-kind study of social media usage by adults aged 50 or more years. People in this age range, they said, generally have fewer, but richer, relationships that come with age and provide more meaningful interpersonal interactions, leading to a decreased need to keep up with friends on social media.

But the survey of 414 adults — divided into two groups, those aged 50 to 74 and those aged 75 or more years — revealed a new trend of what the researchers dubbed granfluencers — primarily socially active adults aged 50 to 74 who use social media to document their stories and to “show off.”

“This finding about older individuals using visual media to promote themselves was a little surprising to us,” said Pavica Sheldon, Ph.D, a social media researcher in the Department of Communication Arts at UA Huntsville.

The study found that people aged 50 or more have come to rely on Facebook, especially, but also Instagram, to compensate for the lack of social activity and face-to-face interactions in their daily lives. People in this age range tended to list diversion and entertainment as reasons they use Facebook, whereas Instagram users cited social activity, travel and real-world leisure activities as reasons to use the platform.

The researchers highlighted @baddiwinkle, a 91-year-old Instagram influencer with 3.5 million followers on her performance art page. 

In an article about the research, the AP highlighted several other granfluencers who have amassed substantial followings on social media with the help of a much younger fan base. Among them are a 75-year-old health and fitness influencer on Instagram with 1.4 million Instagram followers, a group of four friends on TikTok who collectively have 2.2 million followers, and a 74-year-old voice of fashion with 37,900 followers on YouTube.

AARP Senior Vice President Alison Bryant told the AP that the pandemic expanded the horizons of many older creators. 

“They’re showing that anybody can do these things, that you don’t have to be afraid of aging. The 20 and 30-somethings don’t often think about that,” Bryant told the media outlet. “The authenticity that we’re seeing in some of these older influencers is really refreshing. That’s part of the complexity of their narratives.

“They’re bringing other parts of their lives to it. They’re grandparents and great-grandparents and spouses. They’re more comfortable in their own skins.”

An AARP 2020 Tech and the 50+ Survey of 2,607 older adults in 2019 reported that most adults aged 50 and older (76%) use social media on a regular basis, primarily Facebook. The 70-and-older age group favors Facebook (59%) over other social media platforms, including YouTube (23%), Instagram (8%), LinkedIn and Twitter (4%) and Snapchat (1%), according to the study.

According to a Pew Research Center social media use analysis conducted by telephone between Jan. 25 and Feb. 8 among 1,502 adults, approximately seven in 10 Americans reported using social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves.

Young adults were among the earliest social media adopters and continue to use these sites at high levels, but older adult usage has increased in recent years. According to Pew, the percentage of older adults aged 65 and older who used social media grew from 3% in 2005 to 45% in 2021.