Joan MacDonald’s health was in shambles at age 71. She was overweight and on numerous medications with high cholesterol, rising blood pressure and kidney trouble. Her daughter, a fitness coach, warned that she’d wind up an invalid if she didn’t turn things around. She did, hitting the gym for the first time and learning to balance her diet with the help of a brand new tool, an iPhone. Now 75, MacDonald is a hype beast for health with a bodybuilder’s physique and 1.4 million loyal followers on Instagram.
She’s among a growing number of “grandfluencers,” folks 70 and up who have amassed substantial followings on social media with the help of decades-younger fans. “It’s so rare to find someone her age being able to do all these things,” said one of her admirers, 18-year-old Marianne Zapata of Larchmont, New York. “It’s just such a positive thing to even think about.” Both aspirational and inspirational, older influencers are turning their digital platforms into gold. MacDonald has paid partnerships with the sportswear and supplement brand Women’s Best, and the stress-busting device Sensate. And she just launched her own health and fitness app not so many years after learning how to use digital technology herself.
On TikTok, four friends who go by @oldgays — the youngest is 65 — have 2.2 million followers, including Rihanna. They have an endorsement deal with Grindr as they delight fans with their clueless answers to pop culture questions. Others focus on beauty and style, setting up Amazon closets with their go-to looks and putting on makeup tutorials live. Lagetta Wayne (pictured), at 78, has teens asking her to be their grandmother as she tends to her vegetables and cooks them up in Suisun City, California, as @msgrandmasgarden on TikTok. Wayne, with 130,500 followers amassed since joining in June 2020, owes her social media success to a teenage granddaughter. Her very first video, a garden tour, clocked 37,600 likes. “One day my garden was very pretty and I got all excited about that and I asked her if she would take some pictures of me,” Wayne recalled. “She said she was going to put me on TikTok and I said, well, what is TikTok? I had never heard of it.” Most people ages 50 and up use technology to stay connected to friends and family, according to a 2019 survey by AARP. But less than half use social media daily for that purpose, relying on Facebook above other platforms.
Just 37% of those 70 and older used social media daily in 2019, the research showed. Since coronavirus struck, older creators have expanded their horizons beyond mainstay Facebook and gotten more voracious, often driven by the growing number of feeds by people their own age, said Alison Bryant, senior vice president for AARP.