In an age where social media has long been regarded as a youthful enclave, a new trend is emerging: older adults are breaking the mold and joining the ranks of content creators on platforms like Instagram and TikTok. From skits and recipes to fashion and life advice, these older influencers are creating content across an array of genres. A good number of them have racked up followers in the order of millions, with big names including Helen Winkle, Lynn Yamada and Lillian Droniak.
The rise of older influencers throws up some interesting questions regarding their place in the digital sphere. Exactly what kind of “influence” can these older influencers have on society? Do they currently hold any influence? Who consumes their content? What are the possible ramifications of their presence on social media? Where do they fit in the influencer ecosystem, especially as compared to their younger, more seasoned counterparts? What lies in store for them in the future?
The Influence of Older Influencers: Their Impact and Potential
The impact of older influencers extends far beyond entertainment. They can serve as beacons of inspiration and motivation for their peers, who may be seeking ways to stay active, engaged and fulfilled in their later years. By sharing their journeys and showcasing their vitality, they dismantle the notion that aging is all doom and gloom. In doing so, they encourage others to embrace new experiences, pursue their passions, and lead purposeful lives.
Older content creators also can be pivotal in shaping societal attitudes toward aging and perhaps even in influencing the way public policy is designed. In a recent study of more than 300 videos, we saw that some of these older TikTok personalities leveraged their platform to confront ageism head-on. Social media presents a powerful opportunity for older individuals to lead the ongoing charge to reframe aging. They can initiate important conversations, mobilize support, and advocate for policies that address the unique needs and challenges faced by older adults. Crucially, social media serves as a significant and complementary avenue through which ageism can be combated, alongside traditional interventions such as educational campaigns.
A remarkable 78% of Generation Z and Millennials said they gain valuable knowledge from content put out by older adults.
The presence of older content creators on social media can even be a vehicle for fostering intergenerational solidarity. While some may assume that older content creators primarily attract an older crowd, evidence shows that younger generations are some of their most avid followers. In fact, two-thirds (66%) of Generation Z and Millennials enjoy watching videos featuring older adults. Younger individuals, often on the lookout for alternative and diverse perspectives, are drawn to the authenticity and wisdom that older influencers bring to the digital table.
A remarkable 78% of Generation Z and Millennials have affirmed that they acquire valuable knowledge from content put out by their older contemporaries. Whether direct or indirect, cross-generational interactions can decrease hostility and nurture a more inclusive digital community, where people of all ages can learn from and inspire one another.
Possible Drawbacks: Ageism?
Even as we revel in seeing older influencers make their mark on social media, it is crucial to contemplate the underlying reasons behind their success and its possible repercussions. Take for instance, an older influencer who becomes a hit for being a “fitness junkie.” Does the appeal of this individual arise from them being an exception rather than the rule among older adults? If so, what implications would this have for ableism? Likewise, picture an older influencer who amasses a large fan base simply because she is a “cute grandma.” Would this count as an example of benevolent ageism, where older adults are infantilized and denied their agency?
How do perceptions of older content creators translate to perceptions of the older cohort as a whole? While we celebrate the presence of older adults on social media, it is essential to interrogate the broader implications of the content they produce.
Older Influencers on the Influencer Map: Opportunities and Challenges
Where do older content creators stand on the influencer map where younger voices preponderate? As brands and marketers recognize the value of reaching out to a diverse audience, they increasingly seek collaborations with older influencers. This trend not only challenges ageism within the industry, but also offers older adults a chance to monetize their content. Through their active presence on social media, older content creators pave the way for a more inclusive influencer ecosystem where old age ceases to be a barrier to entry.
However, although a growing number of brands have cottoned on to the value of collaborating with older content creators, ageism continues to rear its ugly head. Ageist attitudes can prevent older content creators from receiving sponsorships or participating in collaborations with different brands.
Moreover, even as they bask in their growing popularity, older content creators must grapple with their fair share of detractors. They are often disparaged by users—both young and old—for being “too old” for social media. Such ageist remarks are a blight on the overall user experience of older content creators.
As the global population ages, it is critical to tap into the silver economy and create distinct roles for older influencers. Notwithstanding the obstacles they face in the influencer landscape, the impact of older influencers continues to grow steadily. By recognizing their value and actively supporting their endeavors, we not only empower older influencers but also foster a more inclusive and vibrant online community, thereby ushering in a new era of intergenerational unity.
Reuben Ng, PhD, is a behavioral and data scientist at the National University of Singapore, and a 2023–24 Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice focusing on advancing health equity for older adults. Nicole Indran, BSocSci (Hons), is a research associate based at the National University of Singapore. Her research interests include ageism and intergenerational relations.
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