Gini Dietrich

Is Social Media Forcing Retirement?

By: Gini Dietrich | August 18, 2010 | 

When I speak, it’s almost exclusively to entrepreneurs turned CEOs or “hired guns” – the CEOs/COOs hired by the entrepreneur because they know they can’t (or don’t want to) grow a company. You can guess where that audience typically lies…50+ white men. So you can also guess the resistance I get when I begin to talk about the shift in how we communicate and how technology is not going away, but it’s here to make us more productive and efficient.

Imagine this pretty little girl who comes in and tells them their whole world is changing before their eyes and it’s time to take their heads out of the sand and pay attention. Imagine she begins to tell them their employees won’t talk to them – they want to text and iChat instead. Imagine she tells them the way they’ve always pushed sales out to their audiences no longer works. Would you shake your head and say, “She’s not my generation. She doesn’t know hard work.”? They do.

In fact, last week, the man who introduced me said, “The more resistant you are, the better Gini is, so put all your baggage on the table and let’s have a real conversation.” And resistant they were…which really is fun for me because now there are enough case studies that I can pull up on the screen and show them why they’re wrong.

But the fact of the matter is that they’re still resistant (a gross stereotype; not all of them are) and one audience member a few weeks ago said, “I’m just going to retire before Gen X and Gen Y are the real decision makers. I can’t take where all of this is going.”

Which brings me to…is social media forcing retirement?

Alright. I know that was in jest and that it’s out of frustration. This same man is incensed about citizen journalism and the way we’re getting our news, instead of getting it by reading the good ‘ol Wall Street Journal while you drink your coffee at your kitchen table. As if I’ve had something to do with all of this. That whole don’t shoot the messenger thing? Yeah.

But it does raise an important issue. Are CEOs going to just get by in this technology age until they retire and let someone else worry about the young ‘uns?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Social media may be a good line in the sand to separate the open-minded members of a generation from the others.

    If not social media, there would be something else to make those on the cusp consider spending more time on the golf course. I’m sure there was the same resistance to computers as a business tool 3 decades ago, and before that, telephones, etc.

    What is refreshing is when you DO find some CEOs, regardless of age, who see the potential SM has to solve their business problems and watching them move forward. That’s true leadership.


    • Jack, I totally agree with you! There was an executive in a group I spoke to last week (Freed Bakery in Las Vegas) who is KILLING it! You should check them out on Facebook.I gave him a couple of tips, he implemented them, and his conversations doubled. You’re right – it’s SO FUN to watch!

      • Thanks for the mention Gini… We’re actually planning on consolidating our locations down to one larger spot in 2011 and after you talked about the restaurant that invited all their customers opinions during construction I decided it was a perfect opportunity to test the waters… Based on the response on just that one query (bags or shells?), I think there’s some really awesome potential to get our customers involved in the creation of our new location. Thanks for the tip!

    • Toni Rios

      For the CEO who may be resistant to jump on board, he/she may need to be educated about how HR needs to be searching social media when hiring or checking out future employees! I have found incredible information when looking at possible new employees. For some, it was a deal breaker before the interview process began!

      • Toni – when I speak and show the audience how to use the advanced search in LinkedIn, they get it!

  • I think social media is like any new forward moving concept. There is always something an older generation is resistant too. They fear what they don’t understand. Our generation and the ones following us are all technology based. The generations that came before us fear this will make them useless, so they want to get out while they still feel relevant.

    However, I agree if they get their heads out of the sand they can still be viable and productive. They have a lot to offer us, but they have to be open to what we have to offer and be open to exploring new ideas and trends, otherwise, they are forcing their own retirement. I believe it falls under the phrase “we are all in charge of our own destiny”…these individuals can find fulfillment in new ways! Every generation is relevant in their own way, and by working together we can all offer some kickass things!

  • Great thoughts – I think there’s still a temptation to network at Chamber events and other physical events rather than get involved with social media, where the real networking and conversations are happening!

  • I think the bigger dilemma is that they aren’t retiring, and that there has been a lack of succession planning because of the (stereotype warning!) Baby Boomer reluctance to let go and allow younger generations to move up, become decision makers, etc. The Boomers have a lot to teach us, just as we have a lot to teach them, but we all have to be willing to facilitate that exchange of knowledge.

    (Just came back from a conference where Cam Marston was the keynote speaker so this stuff is fresh in my mind. I dislike your typical conference session about generational differences because they so often seem to devolve into “Kids these days! Get off my lawn” bitch-sessions. But Cam’s session was three hours long, which gave him time to get through the stuff about generational tendencies and into useful, productive ideas about how to work together.)

  • “But it does raise an important issue. Are CEOs going to just get by in this technology age until they retire and let someone else worry about the young ‘uns?”

    Yes! CEO’s are in command of the companies they are overseeing. They will always use their freedom to practice the Henry Ford way of handling the specifics of business.

    And that basically went like this::
    ” I don’t need to know how to do that, I have a box on my desk with a hundred buttons on it. I have at my beckoning call with the push of a button any answer I need”

    CEO’s today are no different. Eventually all CEO’s will know what the young un’s know today. But until then. They will exercise the power given to them buy the company to delegate.
    And if they have no one to delegate to… down line management will be told to hire someone.


  • Steve Jobs is 55, but obviously, he keeps his head in the game. So much of this is about attitude and caring about continuing to be engaged. I believe there’s never been a better time to be alive, and I want to understand and be connected with what’s happening for as long as I can – until my mind turns to mush, I guess!

    Those who want to keep contributing will understand that being comfortable with new communications technologies is part of the game, and they’ll make the adjustments. No one is being forced to retire because of social media. Some are just choosing to check out.

  • Interesting question today Gini. In the discussions I’ve had there has been a significant “resistance to change” and based largely at the CEO level of fear of the unknown.

    Generation “Y” will definitely have an impact on how companies not only communicate but also recruit these “kids” and Social Media is one of the tools they need to at least understand if not embrace if they are to woo them into the rank and file.

    I think there’s definitely a role for “Boomers” and Gen X/Y to co-exist to the betterment of the company especially where it relates to Social Media…whether they see it that way or not is another question. Cheers,


  • Ditto. White C-suite crusties here in Sweden just don’t get it and what’s more, don’t really want to get it.

    Time will change things but in terms of business’s today, I think it is up to people like us to show them what they’re missing. Even aging C-suite guys can get value out of microblogging. I mean: imagine you’re unhappy with your new Dell laptop and you get a tweet from the CEO !

  • YES. Awesome. I think all of this shift in the way we communicate, buy, sell, market & grow is making majority a little uncomfortable.

    OH WELL- out with the old in with the new- or change.

  • I never tell anyone that the world has changed and everything they know is wrong.

    What I do tell them is that there are many exciting new tools that work together with what they’ve been doing to make it more effective.

    Then, I lead into my somewhat unique approach to social media, which is based on community building. This gets people to think strategically without necessarily saying anything bad about what they have been doing.

    It’s all about new tools in the toolbox and ways of approaching them – along with what they already have.

    Forced retirement? Not so much. 🙂

  • Deb Bruser ( JoyFull_deb)

    As a member of the “boomer” generation I find social media and new technology fascinating!! I have had the privilege to serve on two non-profit boards over the past 5 years. Each board was comprised of mostly over 50 or 60 y.o. males. When I started to ask about their use of technology to create a presence on the web, etc., they all looked at me like I was from mars. Amazingly, now, they are rushing to do just what I suggested. Yahoo!
    I was blown away that no one had even thought about social media, texting,yada..yada..yada.Goes to show that not everyone thinks like me. LoL

    I still find many folks in business operating “in the old Henry Ford matter.” And, I do think, given an opportunity, boomers & Gen X/Y can work together towards a new business model.I have hope!!
    Thanks Gini…loved this post!

  • As one of the demographic with respect to age (not position) I would come down on the side of – its a tangential effect.

    Tangential effect? Yes – if an employer doesn’t connect with their perspective or current employees of the 18-35 yoa demographic, they will (not may) have a retention and attraction issue.

    I define connecting as understanding and engaging the workforce using the Web 2.0 technologies of collaboration, the power of the vblog, the value of IM and the perspective of how fast solutions come to be when crowdsourced (even if limited to the internal engagement).

    The new employee showing up at the front door may never have done long-division w/o a calculator; they may use pencils for drawing, but an ipad for note taking; the Voice mail is now a video-mail – it is evolution and those who choose to move forward will be more attractive employers than those that don’t or won’t.

    This may cause the tangential change in leadership (umm retirement) within the company.

  • Do they realize when they check the “Morning Headlines” on their smartphone that fully engaging in Social Media isn’t that big a stretch? They are already participating in the changes they find challenging. If these C-level execs can’t take the next step it is time to retire.

  • Converting the C-Suite is definitely a process, but I have seen a conversion among the members in my Vistage group over the past 6 months.

    I will be speaking in front of a Vistage Key group in September so it will be interesting to see their response to my presentation.

  • Jennifer – Mr. D and I talk about this all the time. I’m such a tech geek that I cannot imagine ever being resistant to something new. He always teases me that someday our grandkids will have to show me how to fly a car.

    Brian – Could not agree more! I don’t think social networking replaces the in person events, but it does enhance them and you can now network with people around the world, not just in your own city.

    Karen – REALLY interesting thinking in the resistance to even retire. You bring up a very salient point – I don’t have a succession plan for Arment Dietrich because I think I’m going to be around, able to run the business, for another 40 years.

    John – I had a boss really early in my career who didn’t know how to use the copy machine. It made me crazy that she thought she was too good to learn how to make a stinking copy. I wonder where she is now…and if she’s using the Internet??

    Peter – Steve Jobs is my hero! You are, too! I definitely most a gross generalization in the blog post, but you’re in the minority.

    Andy – Do you see yourself that far removed from Gen Y? I don’t. In fact, I sometimes forget I’m Gen X. 🙂

    Jon – And aren’t most CEOs, no matter their age, using their smart phones to get information??

    Kevin – Hi! 🙂

    Erik – You and I agree. My point was that the CEOs that I work with think the world is changing and they’re scared. They’re paranoid about privacy and peoples saying negative things about them/their companies online. They’re scared the human interaction of talking to people is leaving our society. If you’ve always done business a certain way, today’s digital age is scary!

    Deb – You, like Peter, are in the minority. I’ve LOVED getting to know you on Twitter and now Facebook. We would never have run into one another without the big scary web.

    Christopher – I spoke to a Vistage group yesterday and there was a man who was extremely resistant when I arrived. By the time I left, he was ready to do just as you suggest – create a vlog so he can communicate with his 200 employees in four different offices. He won’t be retiring out of fear!

    Barry – EXACTLY!! One of the first questions I ask them is how they get their information and what they do when they want to buy a new camera or appliance. They ALL go online first. They all have smart phones. Not all of them text, but they are absolutely using social media without even realizing it.

    Roy – I CANNOT wait to hear how your presentation goes! I find Key groups are a bit less resistant because they’re still in the trenches. Let’s compare notes when you’re finished!

  • This is an interesting post. I have a professor who is in his 50’s and he definitely gets it – but it’s frustrating to him to keep up. He’s seen the communications industry change more in two years than it had in previous decades.He uses social media, he gets the purpose, and he can definitely agree with what new media can do – but there are parts that he can’t accept because he feels that they compromise certain levels of professionalism and lower standards.

    What advice would you give him to ease his mind?

  • I think you know where I stand on this, I wanna kick butt! But I definitely see old model thinking out there in terms of expectations, level of commitment to being transparent, required manpower, and costs. They’d rather stick with what has always worked because they know how to measure it, organize it, and react to its results.