Boomer Business Owner Challenge – Emotional Resistance to Social Media

I keep telling myself I won’t do it again, but there I was yesterday, having another fundamentally frustrating conversation about social media with a Baby Boomer business owner who did not really want to listen.

It started with his making a polite enquiry about what I “did” by way of business and – once I had answered – it quickly moved to his expressing what seemed to be a quite visceral hatred of anything going by the name of social media or social networking.

At least this one didn’t complete his tirade by turning on his heel and storming away, as I had experienced at a business networking event not so long ago. In fact, the one yesterday seemed to want to keep talking.

But what had brought on the tirade? Well, Facebook featured in both of those conversations. Or rather, the protagonists’ views of Facebook. Yesterday it was about the harm perceived as being done to the younger generation through being on Facebook. For the other it was the disruption of his office when their page suddenly attracted a huge amount of attention (yes, what for many would have been public relations manna from heaven was for him a catastrophe of unproductive activity).

In the conversation yesterday, being not totally deterred by the initial outburst, and with what in hindsight was a ridiculous exercise in optimism, I tried quietly to suggest ways in which some strategic engagement with social media might actually help his business.  The conversation, as you will have guessed by now, went nowhere in any productive sense.

Don’t try to confuse the issue with facts

Typically with this sort of conversation, the haranguer of the day will tell me, as a matter of objective fact, that his (usually a “his” – I find women Boomers more open to listening to the facts) customers are older and aren’t “on” social networks. I’ve discovered, through a few other conversations on the topic, that a good way to get such people even more angry is to point to research that shows the rapid growth of social network usage by older Internet users.

Such as the Pew Internet study report published in August this year that found a whopping 60% uptick in Baby Boomer (ages 43-64) participation on social networks, up from 20% of American Internet users to 32%.

Pew Internet social network site usage by online adults 2005-2011

So it’s not about facts. Which means that asking these business owners to just “think” about how social media can help their business may well be a futile exercise.

It’s about emotion.

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know of any study that has been done on the role of emotion in business owners’ decision processes about social media. But I have on several occasions, not just the couple I mentioned above, been struck by the forcefulness of the resistance to any discussion about social media.

Which does suggest to me a very strong emotional undercurrent is at work.

Implications for marketing social media strategy services

Up till now, my next day reaction to these situations has been to tell myself once again that I am not really interested any more in evangelizing social media and that I just want to connect with people who are ready to roll and looking for a strategist guide and coach to help them get where they want to be, faster and more effectively.

But lately I’ve been reflecting on some advice I had once in sales training, to the effect that the person who is most resistant to your initial presentation is worth spending time on and may turn out to be a good customer, whereas the person who appeared initially more open is likely to be the one who never buys.

So in focusing my attention on those who are ready to rock ‘n roll, am I leaving some good business opportunities untapped? And thinking of those more resistant business owners and the opportunities I see them as blocking from sight and hearing, is there something different I could do, or could I do something differently, that could help them move into a more open-minded, more receptive frame of mind (and “frame of emotion”)?

Some fear about social media can be quite understandable

Of course not everyone is going to be hostile to the idea of engaging with and through social media. Others may be more or less fearful or anxious, and often with good reason, depending on what they’ve heard or read about the risks involved.

So I’m thinking that in offering my social media strategy services to Boomer business owners I will to well to take more notice of how the owner feels about social media for business, and seek to address that effectively.

I”m not really thinking here about the hardcore resisters – I’m not masochistic – but more about people who are feeling uncomfortable or even a bit fearful about social media and are ready for an open conversation about that.

If you know of any research findings, or case studies, on this topic, and you’d like to share a link to those here, I would be very grateful.

Credit: Chart from Report, “65% of online adults use social networking sites” Pew Internet & American Life Project, August 26, 2011, p. 6, accessed on October 18, 2011

Des Walsh

Business coach and digital entrepreneur. With coach training from and its Graduate School of Coaching, and a founding member of the International Association of Coaching, Des has been coaching business owners and entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. Over the same period he has also been actively engaged in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy. He is a certified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coach, and a certified specialist in social media strategy and affiliate marketing.

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One Comment

  1. Fear of any type of change is natural. But it’s those companies who can recognize when changes are needed and implement them accordingly and effectively that will inevitably succeed.

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