Don’t assume your white-haired customers aren’t on social media

08-GreyHairSocialImagine it’s 1955 and your next door neighbor is watching Gunsmoke on his fancy, new TV. But you’re not really into this newfangled gadget with its grainy moving pictures. So, you’re listening to your radio – The Lucky Strike Program with Jack Benny is on.

The way you see it, TV is just a passing fad. Like the Hula Hoop, poodle skirts, or air travel. None of these things appeal to you, so you project your distaste onto the world at large and assume TV will fade away. “TV will be long gone soon, so why waste time and money on it?” you say to yourself.

That’s the thing with social media. Folks who aren’t into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., often assume that since they aren’t fans, these new communications channels are either just passing fads or only for the young. Boy, are they wrong to assume that.

Look, I write this as a 50-something guy who grew up loving radio, TV and – gasp! – newspapers printed on actual paper. If time and the unstoppable march of technological progress had stopped 30 or 40 years ago, I wouldn’t have minded. The Internet, Skype, smart phones, Pandora, podcasting, YouTube, Dropbox – these and so many other communications, information and entertainment technologies wouldn’t exist if the calendar still said today was May 18, 1985. People would still be reaching for a printed Yellow Pages book to find a local company. And life would go on anyway.

But the pages of the calendar keep flipping. And over the years, millions upon millions of people in my age range have embraced the new ways of communicating. Don’t make me whip out a string of statistics—you can see this with your own bespectacled eyes—but middle-aged and senior citizens are all over social media. Yes, Instagram skews younger and Facebook skews older. But it’s quite common to see a head full of white hair cocked over an iPhone, with thumbs flailing out a new social post.

Yet not a week goes by that I don’t hear a white haired client or colleague tell me that their customers are older and, therefore, they don’t see a need to engage their organization in social media. “Our customers/members/clients still like doing things the old way, with pen and paper,” they’ll say. Or, “They don’t really use stuff like ‘Tweeter’ so it would be a waste of time for us to set up an account. Our printed newsletter still works just fine.”

It’s hard to know where to begin in responding to those kinds of statements. But let’s take a shot.

First, no one should assume the people they need to reach aren’t social media users. A simple survey of customers/members/prospects/etc. could be a real eye opener on this one. We should also not assume that someone not using social media today will never become a social media maven. Hey, some folks just got their first cell phone within the past year, and I bet the vast majority of them will never give it up.

Second, if the company or organization in question currently revolves around older customers or members, that should be a red flag. (Or perhaps a white flag to match the dominant hair color.) In other words, the long-term viability of the organization may depend on recruiting younger members or customers. Do you think you’re more likely to attract them with an ad in the printed newspaper or with a highly targeted social media campaign? And does your absence from social media automatically lead those younger prospects to conclude that your organization is only for older folks?

I know. Letting go of the old ways is hard. But one way to evolve into the modern era is to do just that—evolve. Gradually. Take a few baby steps to creating your organization’s social media presence and get comfortable with the basics of how it all works. Start a couple of accounts. Facebook and Twitter are easy to use, and you’ll very quickly pick up on some great tools, like hashtags and sharing, for connecting with your audience.

Remember, effective marketing isn’t about what you like. It’s about what your customers like, where they are, and how they want to interact with you. Hint: More and more of them—of all ages—are on social media. You need to be there, too.