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How Granfluencers are Breaking Stereotypes on TikTok

Senior TikTok stars are captivating viewers by being funny, smart, and real.

Key points

  • Although it still skews young, there has been a 57% rise in Boomers on TikTok since 2021.
  • Granfluencers' warmth, authenticity, and refusal to "act their age" attracts followers from all generations.
  • Virtual eye contact on TikTok fosters trust, comfort, and emotional ties.
  • Granfluencers break stereotypes, modeling healthy aging, body positivity, and vitality.

Now that I’m "Gamma," I am gaining a new perspective on aging. Between professional pressures, social norms, stereotypes, and those sticky, internalized beliefs, it isn’t easy being totally comfortable with aging. But, just as taking on the role of "parent" changed my perspectives (e.g., things I would have considered “social death” seemed OK once I had kids), being Gamma had stimulated some identity complexity as well. You can’t have all the riches of generational relationships without the passage of time. With each shift, I look for new ways of expanding my internal identity to relish the realities of aging, so I can enjoy the Gamma cuddles more and worry about wrinkles less.

Thus, I was intrigued by the rise of the age 50+ “Granfluencers” (a portmanteau of Grandparent + Influencer, as you likely guessed). They have taken to TikTok, the “young person’s app,” with considerable success. These seniors, mostly women, seem totally comfortable with themselves, whether they are being silly or serious, goofy or glam. They inspire me with something between courage and appreciation of their "who cares what anyone thinks" attitude. They are who they are without pretense or filters, and they're gaining millions of followers in the process. But I’m a Boomer. Why is GenZ flocking to these Granfluencers?

ajr_images/Getty Images
ajr_images/Getty Images

Ageist Assumptions About Who Will Use Social Media

When Facebook first launched, pundits predicted that “old” people would never use it. Whatever their definition of “old,” they got it wrong. So wrong, in fact, that Facebook now has the stigma of being “for parents” and the percentage of teen users has dropped from 71% in 2014-2015 to 32% in 2022. Where did they go? For GenZ and Millennials, 95% use YouTube regularly and 67% go on TikTok (Vogels & Gelles-Watnick, 2023).

TikTok has gone far beyond teenage girls doing dance routines. The majority of TikTok users are young, and 80% are between the ages of 16-34. However, there has been a 57% uptick in Boomers on TikTok since 2021. Brands are happy about the Boomers showing up, since that demographic continues to dominate consumer spending and control financial wealth. They are prime targets for social consumption, as marketers hope they will join the millions of #tiktokmademebuyit.

The authenticity of TikTok is a great fit for people tired of the artificially filtered posts on Instagram, and it is the perfect place for people who have cut themselves loose from traditional standards of age or beauty, who are warm, enthusiastic, and creative, and who are not the least bit interested in “acting their age.” Enter the media-savvy seniors making their mark as Granfluencers.

Why TikTok is Persuasive

TikTok checks all the conscious and subconscious boxes driving motivation because our brains were not designed for a digital world. Human evolution lags woefully behind technological development. TikTok sellers make earnest recommendations while making “eye contact” through the camera. Virtual social signals fool the brain, and we interpret perceived eye gaze as a genuine sign of closeness and trust, especially if we like who or what we’re seeing (Riva et al., 2018).

Between the looped replays and the algorithmic adaptation, watching a video once pretty much guarantees that you will see it again another 10-20 times, increasing the likelihood of developing parasocial attachments with influencers and amplifying emotional engagement. It’s little wonder that TikTok users claim that they find TikTok more inspiring, optimistic, trendsetting, and enjoyable than other platforms.

Granfluencers: A Style of Their Own

Into this sea of algorithmic persuasion come the Granfluencers. Their realness is their claim to fame. Granfluencers rarely try to look sexy or cute in earnest. They are more likely to engage in behaviors that violate perceptions of "being old." They make fun, dance, cook, tell jokes, pull pranks, get fit, offer advice, and demonstrate their style and vitality, with confidence. They exude body and age-positivity. Their in-your-face, take-me-as-I-am, and tell-it-like-it-is attitude makes the posts surprising, entertaining and a big part of what makes Granfluencers popular with all ages

Relationships With Grandparents are Special

Granfluencers have another thing going for them. There are positive stereotypes about grandparents. Grandparents can play a pivotal role in a grandchild’s life by being nonjudgmental and accepting, offering a kind ear and an open heart (Smorti et al., 2012). This lack of parental "shoulds" makes a grandparent’s advice more accepting and therefore more meaningful. These positive perceptions of grandparents create a halo effect for Granfluencers, who often offer advice and gestures of support. They also tend to have much less promoted content than most influencers, making them feel less self-serving and more trustworthy. This perception would lower cognitive resistance to persuasion, just as it does when people develop parasocial attachments.

A lot of us are still recovering from the social isolation of the pandemic. For many of Gen Z, this was a formative period where they would normally have been out practicing their social and relationship skills. Instead, they were reliant on virtual connections. While they were a lifeline, the lack of face-to-face experiences left many feeling out of practice and more anxious about how to connect with others.

If you are yearning for a sense of warmth and nonjudgmental support, who is better than a grandparent? If you don’t have one close by, the Granfluencers are there for you. You can connect with an “ideal” grandma on TikTok—someone caring who will cheer you up, look you right in the eye, and be available anytime.

Interestingly, Granfluencers seem to get very few trolls, haters, and meanies. Since bullying of all kinds is about power, attention, and control through diminishing another person, there would be no payoff in being rude or mean to someone who is removed from the social pressures of "fitting in" and isn’t taking themselves that seriously. The haters would just look foolish.

Learning From Our Elders

We can all learn from Granfluencers—from @grandma_droniak’s humor, @iris.apfel’s vamping or @brunchwithbabs’ comfort foods. Conquering new technologies and putting yourself out there on social may be “normal” for Gen Z, but not for Granfluencers. They are not digital natives, so they had to “unlearn” old mental models and embrace some new ones. When Granfluencers show up on TikTok or get covered in the NY Times, they are helping us all by breaking stereotypes, normalizing aging, encouraging self-acceptance, and making social media use more accessible. They remind us that being retired isn't being "done." Most of all, Granfluencers share a uniquely free sense of joy and enthusiasm that is uplifting to benefit anyone who comes along for the ride.


Riva, G., Wiederhold, B. K., Chirico, A., Di Lernia, D., Mantovani, F., & Gaggioli, A. (2018). Brain and virtual reality: What do they have in common and how to exploit their potential. Annual Review of CyberTherapy and Telemedicine, 16, 3-7.

Smorti, M., Tschiesner, R., & Farneti, A. (2012). Grandparents-grandchildren relationship. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 46, 895-898.

Vogels, E. A., & Gelles-Watnick, R. (2023). Teens and social media: Key findings from pew research center surveys. Pew Research.

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