Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Confessions of a Social Boomer

The following is a true story and an example that will be used to illustrate the power of web ubiquity in an upcoming book/treatise on social media as it relates to business (sorry, hopefully the promotional plug wasn't shameless - got to alert folks of stuff in the works ;)
The point of this piece is also to show how technographics supercede age or economics (unlike the traditional demographics), as well as geographics to a large extent.

I met "Dan" at my mother's Christmas party this last December at her boyfriend's home in Newport Beach, CA. Dan and his wife are relatively new friends of theirs from the neighborhood. Dan was fiddling with his iPhone, which caught my eye, so I decided to introduce myself. He was an affable guy, asked me what I did for a living, and after hearing a little bit about me, told me about his short but colorful love affair with the iPhone...and subsequently, all things social.

Dan is 63 years old and was a car dealership owner for over 35 years. He owned 6 dealerships across Southern California, until he transitioned the business entirely to his son, "Ricky", who is now 36. Dan's initial reason for retiring was, as he stated, "a result of consumer loyalty that was on the steady decline". In a nutshell, Dan felt that he was losing the relationships he had built for so long with his customer base and had internalized this. That is, until he got his new mobile phone.

Dan spends very little time, if any, in front of a computer. But he loves his iPhone; he has a Facebook app installed on it, which he uses constantly, along with his Google search app, eBay app and his Amazon app. He loves the fact that he has everything he needs on his phone. He also has discovered something remarkable about his little piece of technology: it keeps him in constant contact with his friends and family. More so than ever before, and in more ways than he ever imagined.

Here's where the story gets really interesting.

Dan started building up his classic car collection using his eBay app. He connected with "Bill", a 38-year-old guy and father of three in Salem, Massachusetts who was looking to sell a couple of old cars he had, but needed tips on restoration. Dan not only gave Bill the tips he needed, he showed Bill how to upload photos of the cars onto the eBay platform, as well as how to initiate strong opening and closing bids. Wanting to see their true value realized through auction, Dan watched the cars mix into the marketplace, and then, satisfied with the consensus, eventually bought the restored cars from Bill. Bill was so grateful that he started a common interest group on Facebook of restoration aficionados, and told all his friends and family out on California about Dan - billing him as a "real car guy" you should consider buying any car from.

Dan, out on California, started to see a groundswell of activity in a relatively short period of time. People were reaching out to him on Facebook and asking him to join new car consumer groups through eBay. He was building advocacy, simply through participation and sharing his experiences in the industry, as well as his core passion for classic cars. Further, he was fast becoming a subject matter expert, a fairly ironic designation considering his years in the auto industry. 

Dan shared his new discoveries with his son, Ricky, who was elated because he had been talking to all his friends about forming advocacy and common interest groups on Facebook, Ning and MySpace. Ricky went on and on about how a bunch of his friends had younger brothers (Millenials) who were in bands and were looking to stage local events to support certain environmental, social and political causes. A light bulb turned on.

Was it mentioned that Dan is retired? He is. It's just that it's relatively easy to get people to buy cars if they're interested in who you are and they can relate to you. So, Dan is now "semi-retired", and has a new-found love for cars, as well as a reinvigorated desire to advocate the brand that he has lived by for over three decades.

Dan and Ricky hold bi-monthly events at their dealerships, "mini festivals" if you will, that bring local communities together, mostly through philanthropy and in celebration of unique art and music culture. Their attendance has regularly averaged in the several hundreds to a few thousand. And they have a social media business model that is constantly evolving.

Ricky has a MySpace music page that acts as a promotional vehicle (pun intended), sponsored by the dealerships and co-sponsored by everyone from local after-market suppliers to grocers. Through Facebook, they have several group pages catering to different types of car and music aficionados, even those who like certain types of "driving music".  They've even identified an active group of classic "brand X" (their parent company brand) enthusiasts who are into swing and be-bop. 

Through Dan's status updates on his Facebook app, and Ricky's use of MySpace and Twitter, they are able to keep people in the loop on these events, as well as new promotions and related consumer product information. More importantly, they've enlisted the community to help them stage the very events that they sponsor.

As a result, the family dealership sales have been stronger than they ever have been in their 35-year history. And all of this has happened in spite of the parent company's sales being down overall by over 43%.

Fathom that.

Here are a few fun facts to consider:

Nearly 61% of US consumers who recently bought a mobile or wireless phone were influenced by online product reviews and user commentary, while 30% of purchasers were similarly influenced by blogs, according to the Media Influence on Consumer Choice survey by Ad-ology.

41% of Baby Boomer internet users have visited online social networks. A majority (61%) of these users in the US have visited sites that offer streaming or downloadable video (NPD group, September 2008).


laurent said...

wow. Your example illustrated how the technology enables people to do things that we're not possible before to happen faster than ever. And the fact that it's a 60+ yrs old person illustrates what I read a lot lately: Generation X are now very active on social networks and so on...

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Too true, Laurent, too true. The technograhics are certainly skewing older, as Gen X and Boomers are fast becoming the most active new groups within social media.

Mac@Boomer Insight said...

Every day 10,000 Boomers turn 60 years of age. Do they think they are old? No way. Don't try to tell a Boomer that they are old. Read Mac's take on Boomers and aging at http://tinyurl.com/Boomers-Old . Most Boomers are just getting started with their next life stage.