Social Media Ignorance Not an Option for Business

A blog post a few days ago by the very savvy “Community Guy” Jake McKee, Why is a lack of knowledge cool? struck a chord with me.  Jake was commenting on the fact that in an otherwise quite interesting set of comments about social media and specifically Twitter, US Secretary of State Clinton made a joke which was to the effect that she did not really know what Twitter is or does.

And Jake asked “Will there be a time when older people don’t think it’s cool to joke about their tech cluelessness?”. As a card-carrying “older person” I was not offended, although at least one commenter, younger than I, took umbrage at the generalization about age groups.

One reason I was not offended is that I do hear, especially from people over about 55, those jokes about not understanding the technology – usually, I believe, with a sub-text of “and I don’t want to know”.  Up till now I’ve tended to “go along with the joke”, as the saying goes, although I don’t actually find it funny. But now that I’ve read and reflected on what Jake is saying, I think I might emulate young Jake and start getting a tad peeved. Because however jokingly, however implicitly, being proud of ignorance is surely not a good look for anyone, at any age.

And ignorance of social media, at this point in time, is no longer an option for anyone who has a serious desire to be successful, or continue being successful, in business, government or other walks of life.

Social Media Club SFSV

Speaking earlier this week at a conference on Government 2.0, on the theme that parliamentarians and public sector managers need to become active participants in social media, I mentioned that at at another event a couple of years ago, in the private sector, I’d been asked by a member of the baby boomer generation how people who did not become knowledgeable and skilled with the new media would get on, and I’d said “they will just become irrelevant”.  I did not spell out, but left the thought hanging in the air, so to speak, that the same would apply to politicians and public sector managers.

Not that I want to preach to the choir here. I just wanted to share the “Ah ha!” moment I’d had in reading Jake’s post and participating in the comment discussion:  ignorance about social media is no laughing matter.

More to the point, I am guessing there are many people besides me, who are active users of social media, participants in social networks, and are starting to find it frustrating in business to have to deal with people who are not participating.  Minor irritants perhaps, in themselves – “you’re not on Skype and you don’t want to check it out?” “you’re not on Twitter and you think it’s a waste of time?” – but indicating a mindset of resistance to learning and adapting.

I believe some of those people are in for a shock, the day they find that their unwillingness to learn new skills, new ways of communicating and collaborating, has left them out in the cold. Some of us just won’t want to put in the effort to do business with them and will seek out people who are more tuned in to these modes of communication and collaboration.

It won’t be joke time any more.

In short, I can see a time, if it hasn’t already arrived, where being able to use social media effectively and, for the digital immigrants among us, as natively as possible, will become a requirement for doing business. And, for those who feel they are behind the game, putting in the time now to learn and be more skilful will surely pay off in providing an edge in a tough world.

The age discussion is just a distraction.

But as I was asked on Monday by conference convenor Senator Kate Lundy,wh ere can those people who want to learn go to get the information they need? One suggestion I made, which would work for people in business as well as those in government, is to join one of the Social Media Club groups, where the motto is “if you get it, share it”. Other ideas or suggestions?

Picture credit: Social Media Club, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Kristie Wells, via Flickr – Creative Commons

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About Des Walsh

I show business owners and other professionals how to navigate the social media maze and use LinkedIn effectively. I'm an author, speaker, business coach, social media strategist and LinkedIn specialist. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get my weekly Social Business Bites.


  1. @Darrell Yes, and those relationships as you suggest can be global or local. Just in the past 15 minutes I’ve used social media to get information from people in my own neighbourhood on Australia’s Gold Coast and from someone in Wyoming!

    @Mary Emma
    Yes, as I see it, many of the politicians and businesspeople focus on the risk of doing something and do not calculate the risk of not doing anything.

  2. Mary Emma Allen says:

    Right on, Des! Social networking, blogging, and a knowledge of the “new” technology is imperative to advancing one’s business, especially if it’s Internet based. Politicians and others in public life are ignorant if they’re proud of their techie ignorance. A major factor in Obama’s election to the US Presidency was the use of blogging and social media whereas his opponents were way behind in reaching the public in that way.

  3. Hi Des

    Social media is becoming more important to all of us. With social media we have the opportunity to work with people from all over, for the benefit of everyone.

    Using social media is a wonderful way to build relationships.
    .-= Darrell Hyatt´s last blog ..Upgrade computer now or later? =-.

  4. @Sheila Thanks – and I’m glad you make the point that it’s not all days of wine and roses: there is work involved – as so often when you want something worthwhile.

    @Carlos – I love the irony of “return on ignoring”: I’m borrowing that!

    @Connie – I love quoting Gary Vaynerchuk on a short video about ROI of social media: the smart companies will do it (social media) and then they’ll win, the dumb ones won’t and then they’ll lose

  5. Great post, Des. It’s that “and I don’t want to know” subtext that drives me crazy. And like you, I’m older than most of my peers in this field. For Pete’s sake, my 85-year-old mother is on Facebook, and it only took me a few minutes to show her how to use it. It’s way past time to get beyond the stereotype that the Internet is just for young people, and time for businesses to wake up to the fact that they’re being left behind when it comes to critical communication tools.
    .-= Connie Reece´s last blog ..Reclaiming Twitter =-.

  6. Your point was accentuated recently at the “140 Characters Conference”, in New York City.

    Jeffrey Hayzlett, @jeffreyhayzlett, Kodak’s Chief Marketing Officer quipped while moderating a panel that ROI can also mean “return on ignoring”.

    Who among us can afford to ignore a major movement that is evident about social media? There are a fortunate few, but for the rest of us, I think not.

    There is a price to ignorance and it is not attractive.
    .-= Carlos Hernandez´s last blog ..Staying Connected yet Enjoying Life =-.

  7. Thanks for this, Des. When I dove into blogging in February 2006, I knew instinctively and intellectually that the world had changed, and I needed to know how to operate in the world as it is and as it is becoming, not in whatever it used to be.

    Now, it is 3 years later and I will admit, I am impatient with those who are just waking up. I am not at ALL impatient with those who woke up and are saying, “Lemme at it!” I am impatient with those who don’t know what they don’t know and worse, don’t want to know. Intellectual laziness makes me crazy.

    If that’s judgmental, then here comes the judge, baby. I ask no more butt-busting of anyone else than what I’ve required from myself in 3+ years of study and learning. 🙂
    .-= Sheila Scarborough´s last blog ..When should you remove or shut down comments on a blog post? =-.

  8. Thanks Dennison
    I believe we owe it to our friends in business, our clients, to get this message to them. Too many see social media as just some fancy new Web tools: they don’t understand that Web 2.0 has changed the game, irrevocably.

  9. Dennison Uy says:

    I can see what you are trying to point out, and I wholeheartedly agree. The advent of social networks has made web evolve into a powerful, organic entity – the pulse of the masses. Business need to learn how to leverage on this power. The result of ignorance could be quite catastrophic!


  1. […] I wanted to call your attention to my Aussie friend Des Walsh’s excellent post on why social media ignorance [is] not an option for business. […]

  2. […] Des follows up on this topic. Good stuff, Des. var ecov = "sh"; document.write(unescape("%3Cscript […]

  3. […] Does social media ROI mean Return on Investment or Return on Ignoring? Filed under: Web Communications — Sheila Scarborough @ 10:56 pm Tags: ROI, social media, social web, vision I wanted to call your attention to my Aussie friend Des Walsh’s excellent post on why social media ignorance [is] not an option for business. […]