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SeniorNet classes can help the 50-plus crowd get a handle on Instagram

Jeri Usbay leads a SeniorNet Facebook Basics class

Jeri Usbay leads a SeniorNet Facebook Basics class at the Family Service League in Huntington in October. Come November, SeniorNet will offer its first Instagram classes. Credit: Barry Sloan

When Maureen Boyle wants to promote a cause or charity, like platelet donations for cancer patients or the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, she picks up her cellphone and posts a photo onto @moebmom, her Instagram handle, or username.

Boyle, 59, of East Islip, said she does this “to help raise awareness about important groups that need support that people might not be aware of.”

Though Instagram may predominantly be the province of younger people chronicling the minutiae of their daily lives, the photo- and video-sharing platform is growing in popularity among the older set, too.

For Boyle, a six-year Instagram user with nearly 500 followers, postings are not just for high-minded social action, but to share pictures of dogs, flowers and “finding the beautiful in the everyday,” as @moebmom states.

‘‘When I first started, I didn’t see many people from Long Island,” said Boyle, adding that she followed #fromwhereistand, with its photos from around the world, to learn from other amateur photographers.

Instagram allows Bob Giglione, a professional photographer, to explore his more creative side on his personal account, @giglioner.

The application, he said, offers him an avenue to express himself to his 500-plus followers. “I like to show some other things I can do, so I can expand my markets,” said Giglione, 64, of Greenlawn.

On @giglioner, Giglione often posts black-and-white photography, a medium he rarely uses in his professional work or shares on his professional Instagram account, @businessshooter.

“I want people to see the creativity in the composition of the photos: Color sometimes takes away from that,” Giglione said. “I try to tweak people’s interest with something they haven’t seen from me before.”

Giglione also finds using the platform quite enjoyable, particularly perusing other artists’ work.

“I find Instagram to be a good place to learn stuff as well as to post stuff,” he said. “I find other people have different ideas about art than I do. I pick up pointers here and there — everybody does. You learn from each other.”

Get started by being digital-savvy

Learning how to use social media apps such as Instagram is easier when you start with a basic foundation of computer skills, noted Jeri Usbay, a teacher for SeniorNet, a Huntington-based organization that brings technology to people 50 and older.

“Once you learn something, it’s easier to learn something else,” Usbay explained. “The classes kind of build on each other. The classes are paced to the individuals in the class.” For example, once people are skilled with one social media app, like Facebook or Twitter, it’s easier for them to learn to navigate another, such as Instagram, she said.

Eight years ago, when she started teaching Facebook at SeniorNet, Usbay, 64, of Huntington, recalled her students didn’t have their own accounts. Today, she said, most students have Facebook accounts and come to learn the finer points of navigation or protecting their privacy.

“Everybody comes to class with a different skill set,” she said.

Next month, Senior Net, which offers classes in Facebook and Twitter, will hold its first-ever Instagram class.

“We just thought people would be interested,” said Diane Asser, the organization’s education coordinator. “We’re always looking for new things to do. Our first goal is to find somebody who’s willing to teach a class and develop it.”

“I hope to show them how easy Instagram is to use and what fun it is — because it really is just photos with some words,” said Cheryl Clifford, who will teach SeniorNet’s Instagram class. “It’s really easy to use. It’s something you can learn pretty quickly.”

“For 55-and-overs,” she said, “it's a way to stay connected to the younger generation.”

Mario Facinelli, 92, of Northport, who recently attended SeniorNet’s introductory seminar on Instagram, is considering learning more about the app.

“I have pictures, but I’m not sure I want to share them on Instagram,” he admitted.

When he started using computers about 15 years ago, Facinelli said, there weren’t as many options.

Now, said Facinelli of the countless options for computers and personal devices, “It’s gotten to the point where it’s too much. I got to keep up with the times — try anyway.”

Another one of the dozen or so seminar attendees at Harborfields Public Library in Greenlawn, Linda Bokuniewicz, recently set up an Instagram account, but admitted she’s not very well acquainted with the app. “I’ll have to play around with it some more,” she said.

At first, Bokuniewicz said she was hesitant to trade in her flip phone for a smartphone.

“I didn’t like the technology and too much information being out there,” said Bokuniewicz, 69, of Greenlawn, adding, “I don’t know what I’d do without it now.”

Instagram vs. Facebook, Twitter

Many people use a number of social media applications but have preferences for how they use each one.

For Boyle, Instagram and Facebook are her go-to apps, but she’s mindful to not duplicate her posts across the accounts.

“It’s important to think about what the purpose is of each application,” Boyle said. “People are going to see too much of your stuff, and they’ll turn a blind eye to it.”

Twitter, Boyle said, no longer resonates with her.

“I think that people use it as their own sounding box, but they don’t read other people’s posts,” Boyle said. “I don’t think that it’s authentic. I think it’s just a lot of talk.”

Facebook is word-heavy, but Instagram is really set up for photos, explained Clifford, 55, of Seaford.

“It’s quicker and faster,” Clifford said of Instagram. “On Facebook you get bogged down with what people have to say. People put their opinions out there, and they share everything.”

Instagram, Clifford explained, is different because it's a photo app. “So, whatever people are doing, it’s based upon the photo they’re showing, like if they went on a trip. It’s always positive stuff. I’ve never really seen anything negative.”

As simple as Instagram is, Facebook is complex, with event notifications and groups, said Beth Granger, who teaches social media for business development and branding and is a board member of Social Media Association, an organization of entrepreneurs interested in media innovation.

“Facebook groups are a way to be part of community with similar interests or concerns,” explained Granger, who’s in her 50s.

Twitter, Granger explained, is a great place to get breaking news, like updates on train or plane delays. People often use social media platforms for issue and political advocacy, in particular, on Twitter, Granger noted.

"I see lots of advocacy types of things on Facebook as well, less so on Instagram and LinkedIn," she said, referring to the professional networking service.

“It is often confusing for people new to the [Twitter] platform because they don’t understand the hashtags and handles. Plus, it appears there are more fake accounts there than any other platform,” said Granger, of Port Washington.

Instagram for business

Though Instagram is often just used for fun and frivolous endeavors, it's also a great platform for promoting business, said Hilary Topper, founder of Social Media Association and chief executive of HJMT Public Relations in Long Beach.

“People who follow you will see your posts, and if you use hashtags and if you use specific hashtags that have a certain amount of people following those hashtags, other people, other than the people who just follow you, will also see those hashtags,” Topper said.

If you add the name of the town of your business in a hashtag, for instance, “People are more likely to see it who are more geocentric.”

For an HJMT client with a catering business, Topper said, they not only target consumers through Instagram, but they’ll include event planners’ hashtags to drum up business.

With a little research, Topper advised, business owners can search for Instagram ambassadors: people who write specifically about a business area.

“It does have a younger demographic, but it’s great for older people in business,” she said.

For Boyle, some of her most popular missives — and ones she took particular pleasure in posting — were photos of small decorated rocks and stones on which she'd written such inspirational messages as "You are Loved" and placed around her town. Often, people would remove the rocks, moving them to different spots so other people could find them.

"It was just paying it forward, " she said of her participation in the "Kindness Rocks Project," a viral trend to cultivate compassion. "And," she added, "it helps you, too."

SeniorNet’s Cheryl Clifford’s Instagram tips

  • Download the free Instagram app (there are add-on apps that look similar);
  • If you see a post you like, save it by clicking the “Bookmark” icon under the photo;
  • Follow people as well as hashtags. For example, some popular hashtags: #instadogs (dogs), #gardening, #natgeo, for National Geographic magazine. To search on a particular subject, use # (hashtag) followed by the word, i.e., #decorating;
  • Before posting a photo, trying editing it using Instagram filters.

Upcoming classes

WHAT Instagram Class

WHEN | WHERE 9:30 a.m. to noon, Nov. 20, SeniorNet, 790 Park Ave., Huntington

INFO $25; 631-470-6757, SeniorNetLI.org

WHAT Instagram and Twitter Class

WHEN | WHERE 7 to 9 p.m., Dec. 12, Levittown Memorial Education Center, 150 Abbey Lane, Levittown

INFO $18; 516-434-7275, levittownadulted.edu

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