What my 60 year old father reminds us about Facebook

This is my dad with his granddaughter (my niece), Bella, during a visit to North Carolina.

In the spirit of full disclosure, my dad doesn’t actually turn 60 until this October. Nevertheless, he’s nearly hit this extraordinary milestone, so I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

The story, itself, is pretty simple. I was traveling from Grand Rapids to Lansing yesterday in my mobile office. As is generally the case, I took this opportunity to call my mom for one of our weekly gab sessions. You know how those calls go: “Here’s everything important that’s happened in my life since last week,” and vice versa.

By the way, my sister and I both have a proclivity for doing this – and yes, mom, we know it makes you crazy, but it doesn’t mean we love you any less. I’ll take a moment here to publicly blame it on generational differences. Right or wrong, outside of client engagements, I generally text or Facebook or Tweet or LinkedIn way more than I actually pick up the phone to “catch up” with someone.

Anyway, I mentioned to my mother how surprised I was that:

  1. Dad set up a Facebook account.
  2. Dad and I were now friends on Facebook.
  3. Dad responded to a Facebook status update.
  4. Dad “liked” a Facebook status update.
  5. Dad “liked” my Facebook business page.

I’m surprised not because of my dad’s support. Rather, I’m surprised because prevailing assumptions in the association community is that Baby Boomers either aren’t on social media platforms or aren’t actively engaged with us in those spaces.

Certainly, my dad could be an outlier, but I don’t believe that to be the case. In fact, I think there are a number of people out there – just like my dad – who are beginning to take the leap. The only problem is that we’re not providing these individuals with the support they need to be successful in our online communities – and, more importantly, we’re not giving them unique, valuable content.

Here’s what I mean:

  • My dad needed help. So do your members. My dad just this year got an iPhone. I don’t even have an iPhone (I’m a loyal Droid fan). He’s certainly interested in experimenting with all of the features of his new phone, but the sales reps at his store only have so much patience and it’s not likely he’ll Google or YouTube directions. That’s where you can step in. A simple social media kit identifying which social media platforms your organization is on, as well as very basic tips, tricks and best practices for actively engaging with others in these communities.
  • My dad is watching. So are your members. Whether they’re still actively engaged in the workforce, have long since retired, have received life membership with your organization or volunteer for your cause a couple of hours a month, most associations have a subset of Baby Boomers they’ve written off when it comes to social media. I hear it time and time again: “They’re just not interested,” or “We’re not reaching them.” I think these are myths – and I think it comes down to sharing appropriate and informative content with this demographic.

Following are a few additional thoughts that have bubbled up for me since chatting with my mom:

  1. Know what social media platforms your members, volunteers, speakers, advocates and supporters are using – and don’t be surprised to find them there. With a steady stream of updates and valuable content, as well as an approachable identity, Facebook can be an important mechanism for membership development, sponsorship procurement, attendance building, reminiscing, recommending and more. (The sky really is the limit.)
  2. My dad has nothing but time on his hands. Yes, he is retired. And, yes, he still works full-time to stay busy (the man could not sit still for any extended period of time if his life depended on it). Nevertheless, he still has time to check Facebook and engage with his peers. Won’t you please set him up for success?
  3. Believe it or not, my Dad is using his iPhone to check Facebook posts, updates, news and information. I was sure he was using the computer, but that’s just not the case. My mom claims he hasn’t even turned the thing on in two weeks or more. This has strong implications for your website, as well. If it’s not yet mobile-friendly, it’s time to start moving in that direction.
  4. With a little help and the right content, I think there’s an entire group of individuals out there who are, first and foremost, loyal to a fault. In many cases, they’re either new to the idea of online communities or they just haven’t been actively engaged with their professional associations in this space. A little resources could go a long way to developing your fan base. Ultimately, I think you’ll find a pretty significant return on your investment.

So, my question to you is this: Has your organization found this Baby Boomer presence online? What have you found most successful in actively engaging this important demographic? What outcomes have you experienced as a result of this renewed commitment to more seasoned veterans like my dad?

4 Responses to “What my 60 year old father reminds us about Facebook”

  1. June 27, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Aaron, this is such a timely blog post. I love the message and will sent this to my clients who NEED to hear this message. All generations rock once we give each other a chance. Joyce Weiss, Conflict Resolution Consultant.

  2. July 1, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Hey, Aaron, after my mother died I used to call my father from my cell while driving home from work (that’s no longer legal in a lot of places). I know he was miffed that he didn’t have my full attention, but it was a convenient way for me to communicate with him.

    Don’t generalize about boomers. They range from the high-tech to the no-tech with everything in between. There is often not an aversion to technology but a demand to first know its benefits.

    Regardless of anybody’s beliefs or habits, though, you should always communicate with your members in the way they want to communicate, notin the way you want to communicate. Your parents may indulge you, but your members often won’t.

  3. July 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Interesting comments, David. We’re of one mind here. So, if I’ve led you to believe anything else, I apologize. My point is that many associations do generalize about boomers – and not enough credit is given to the especially tech-savvy (or tech curious). Often, organizations are already successful at reaching this population by more traditional communication mechanisms; however, these can be limiting. Knowing your audience – and knowing whether or not they are active in online networking communities such as Facebook – will help determine if a social media engagement plan is warranted (including both training and resources). I think that not engaging these individuals (if, in fact, they are active in social media platforms) can be just as offputting as “forcing them” to communicate in a way that doesn’t honor their unique preferences as industry veterans.

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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