‘Older’ generation gets up to speed with online networks

June 28, 2009

‘Older’ generation gets up to speed with online networks

Online social media can be a valuable tool for business success in savvy hands

By Naomi Snyder

Denise Bentley, a 55-year-old Metro Nashville Public Schools employee, signed onto the online social network LinkedIn more than a year ago. Then she avoided it.

“I didn’t know what to do with it,” she said.

When someone she knew contacted her through LinkedIn, she would send the person a separate e-mail saying: “Is that really you?”

With the economy in a recession, older generations in the work force are beginning to feel increased pressure to communicate via what can be a confusing web of online networks invented by a much younger generation.

Baby boomers, credited with shepherding in earth-shattering eras such as the civil rights movement and the rise of women’s rights, now face the daunting task of learning how to “tweet” effectively for career success and a paycheck.

While one network, Twitter, has helped broadcast protests in the streets of Iran and build hierarchy-crushing information networks across the globe, some are left wondering how to upload photos onto Facebook, what a Ping is, and why they should care.

And while Facebook was invented for college students, many of their parents are diligently trying to figure out how to make money through its electronic pages.

Across Nashville, those who don’t want to be left behind are eagerly signing up for classes put on by groups such as the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Baby boomers tend to prefer in-person training to online tutorials, instructors say.

“They have a sense of urgency,” said Adam Small, the 34-year-old chief executive officer of Strategic Business Network here, who said 80 percent of the people attending his http://www.tennessean.com/section/special0491″>social media classes are baby boomers. “They realize this is the technology that is here to stay.”

Adults who say they have a profile on a Web social network are a growing minority, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project December 2008 survey.

In February of 2005, just 2 percent of adult Internet users said they had visited an online social network the day before, compared with 19 percent in December 2008.

The Pew group found that 75 percent of online adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had a profile on a social network, but that dropped off gradually to just 10 percent of adults ages 55 to 64 — the oldest of the baby boomers.

That may have changed in the six months since December, however.

Like it or not

Baby boomers are being “pulled into a paradigm; it’s happening whether they like it or not,” said David Bullock, a 40-year-old Murfreesboro business consultant who co-wrote with Brent Leary the book Barack Obama’s Social Media Lessons for Business.

Bullock spoke to a group of about 40 people, many of them gray-haired, attending the Nashville Association of Sales Professionals meeting recently at Maggiano’s restaurant. Most of them seemed eager to learn how to translate use of a free online network into sales.

Bullock drew applause, but at one point, one woman just shook her head when he described the massive online conversation about dentists that erupted when he told his network he had an appointment with one.

“Who are these people that have all this time?” asked Joy Warden, the
50-year-old director of business operations for a video production business in Nashville called Stagepost. “I want to know how to use it for something productive. I’m not looking at it from a personal standpoint. I’m looking at it from a business perspective.”

Her boss was more effusive.

“This is buying us a form of freedom,” said Lynn Bennett, the 61-year-old CEO of Stagepost. The Whole Earth Catalog inspired him in his “hippie days,” and now Twitter inspires him.

He thinks online networks will take down barriers to information and power structures and allow people to communicate and change the world in ways that matter to them.

“I don’t think capitalism will ever be the same,” he said.

Others are finding it difficult to fit Facebook into their lives, let alone Twitter or LinkedIn.

Some have started Twitter accounts and not posted a single “tweet,” or update to their profiles. They’ve showed up at the playground but aren’t ready to play with others in the digital sandbox.

“I don’t have time to put together a Facebook page,” said Mark Bloom, a
57-year-old bond trader and real estate investor in Nashville. “I feel like there’s not enough time in the day without a bomb thrown in. There are only so many minutes in the day.”

He also feels like at his age, if he doesn’t have a sizable Rolodex and network of business contacts, “I don’t think Facebook or Twitter is going to save me.”

Bruce Plummer, a
63-year-old banker from Murfreesboro, said he tried Facebook, but now he won’t touch it. He used the online social network to connect with old high school buddies. But about three months ago, his wife let him know he was on the computer without noticing that his grandchildren had been in the house for some time.

“I got to thinking, I’ve made it 45 years without connecting with these people from high school,” he said. “Why do I … need to connect with them now?”

Security fears

Plummer also doesn’t like the fact that people would put photos online without asking for permission.

“I may be your guest at a party, but I don’t want my face printed all across the country,” he said. “I’m afraid we’ve gotten away from some decorum.”

Bentley, the 55-year-old Metro schools administrator, worries about security online and connects scary news about an alleged murderer on Craigslist with her own fears about Facebook.

“It kind of chills the whole aspect for you,” she said.

Jake Greene of Nashville speaks about generational issues in the workplace, offers career advice to young people and wrote, Whoa, My Boss is Naked!

He and Adam Small said baby boomers often have concerns about their privacy, safety and time wasted online.

Greene said the generation gap is between those who grew up with computers and those who didn’t, a similar divide to those who grew up with rock ‘n’ roll and had to adapt to it.

“Things sped up; they’re more rapid, with more beats,” he said.

The baby boomers are having to contend with a generation who grew up with MTV’s Real World, a broadcast that throws a bunch of young people together in a house and follows every thought, betrayal and petty argument, the nastier the better.

“You’re going to sit in that confessional booth and tell all the world this inner monologue,” Greene said. “That doesn’t mean baby boomers ought to do that.”

Older generations value what’s concise, he said. They may be less interested in the minute-by-minute reports of someone’s thoughts on Twitter than a link to a useful online article, he said.

Boomers in all sizes

Baby boomers are not a uniform group. Some have figured out exactly how to make LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter work wonders for them.

Some have jumped into the fray with both thumbs.

In fact, a baby boomer CEO, Michael Hyatt, is the No. 1 ranked Twitter user in Tennessee, graded by the Web site, twitter.grader.com, which gauges how active users are on Twitter and how often they communicate with others.

Hyatt is the 54-year-old chief executive officer of Thomas Nelson, the Nashville-based Christian publisher with 400 employees. He “Twitters” several times per day, posting such news to his roughly 32,000 followers as: “I just finished a short run, but I’m dripping wet.”

Or he links to his blog post: “Does God Send Negative People Into Our Lives?”

Hyatt said he tracked himself once and found he only spends about 15 minutes per day on Twitter, plenty of time to get his other work done. And he doesn’t let privacy concerns stop him from making contact with people he meets online. His view is that people can misrepresent themselves anywhere, including in the old-fashioned telephone book.

“A guy shows up at my door saying he’s from Comcast. For all I know, he’s a serial killer,” said Hyatt, who is in the midst of hiring a consultant for Thomas Nelson whom he met through Twitter.

“We are seeing a complete reaggregation of society,” Hyatt said. “It’s a major cultural shift. Not all of it is positive, to be sure. But I think Twitter is one of the few technologies that has the potential to connect people like never before.”

Aileen Katcher, a 57-year-old partner in public relations firm Katcher Vaughn & Bailey, said she’s about to hire someone found through online social media networks. Normally, she uses national paid Web-posting sites such as monster.com to find talent, but she didn’t do that this year.

She also got a referral to a potential client through a contact she made on LinkedIn.

Because of the growing influence of online social networks, Dan Ryan worries that people who don’t have access to the Internet, particularly the poor or those who live in rural areas, will have an even tougher time competing.

Ryan is the senior consultant for jobs recruiter The Human Capital Group in Brentwood. He uses social networks to find employees for corporate clients.

“What does it do for people who are already disadvantaged?” he said. “It’s one more blow that keeps them out. There are a lot of really positive things going on, but we have some nagging issues that need to be addressed.”

Source: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20090628/BUSINESS01/906280338/+Older++generation+gets+up+to+speed+with+online+networks