Boomer Business Owner Challenge – Emotional Resistance to Social Media


Share on LinkedIn

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

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Des Walsh
Des Walsh is an executive leadership coach, social media strategist and LinkedIn expert. He is passionate about sharing his understanding of the benefits of social media in a way that makes good sense for business.


  1. People make decisions with emotions and back them up with facts . . . That’s one piece of wisdom I got about 20 years ago, and it keeps coming back, like a flying mallet with a boomerang handle.

    I feel your pain. So much so, that I recently asked one client to stop providing me anecdotal information about the good and the bad of specific social media tools, and requested her to confine her discussions to research findings.

    This is a rare request for me, but the F.U.D. (Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt) was past just getting in the way. She became utterly hamstrung because of all the negativity she was processing. Anecdotal information is rarely wrong, but extrapolating it to make decisions isn’t a successful long-term strategy. When it’s available, there’s no reason not to take advantage of more empirical fact-finding.

    I’m not predisposed to social media as a way to achieve sales, marketing, and business development goals, but it deserves consideration when it can be embedded productively. Doing that requires an open mind and a rationale that testing, measurement, failure, and ongoing improvement are part of the process–not things to be avoided at any cost.

  2. Thanks so much for the sharing and observations Andy.

    Doing the Sandler Sales Training program some years ago was really when I first started to realise that we make buying decisions emotionally. Your gloss on that, backing up the decision with facts, makes good sense.

  3. OMG! I can’t count how often I’ve been in conversations like the one you described above, ever so often being left speechless after having given more than enough good reasons for social media. You’re so right: The more good points one makes, the more angry the resistant business owners become.

    Many thanks for your advice to concentrate on the ones ready for an open conversation about social media and leaving the hardcore resisters behind. Great post!


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here