The missing link in social media pitches to business: “Bridgerati,” tech savvy older professionals

Steve Lubetkin podcasting at Leadership New Jersey 2009
Steve podcasting at Leadership New Jersey 2009

I attended a social event for a communications and advertising organization last night, and in the course of many conversations, spoke with several younger digital media consultants (OK, compared to me that’s just about everyone!), who expressed some frustration about how difficult it has been to get some older clients to embrace social media and digital content strategies.

It occurred to me that the biggest stumbling block in this relationship between consultants and clients is the AGE gap between the consultants and the client.

Baby Boomers, who are often running successful small businesses, or family businesses, often didn’t have the time to devote to learning technology themselves, like personal computers, smart phones, or even programming their smart phones, if they have them. Everyone knows a Boomer who starts a PowerPoint talk by fiddling nervously and unsuccessfully with the laptop while reminding the audience, “I’m a Luddite when it comes to computers.”

They know they need to know this stuff, but they are still a bit uncomfortable with how few boundaries and rules there are in the digital world. And sometimes, I think it comes down to a little bit of discomfort in this new world of being advised by people much younger than they are.

This is not about how little I think young digital consultants know. Most of the younger professionals I’ve met are passionate and articulate, and they really do get this social media stuff.

Here’s the disconnect.

Frequently these clients are besieged by (mostly 20-something) consultants who want them to use the latest social media tools, but who, because of their lack of BUSINESS experience, don’t have the ability to articulate to clients how to make those tools relevant to the problems that the older business manager needs to solve.

Too often the conversation ignores the fact that terms like RSS, PPC, SEM, SEO, and others are mystifying to older managers.

Too many consultants assume that the client completely understands the whole concept of social media and just pepper their presentations with the jargon — without first explaining the “why” of it.

You have to do some basic groundwork before these terms can be inserted into the board room conversation.

Consultants need to be able to explain why these things are important and how they fit into a digital marketing strategy. Then they have to explain why the business problems could be addressed using a digital strategy.

You cannot start the conversation with a boilerplate digital strategy that blithely throws terms around and assumes that the client already accepts their underlying premise.

And that’s where the “bridgerati,” or “bridge-a-Boomers,” come in.

This is a heretofore neglected class of experienced, older business professionals who, contrary to stereotype, in fact have extensive knowledge and understanding of emerging technologies.

They bridge the gap between younger, digital natives — who don’t know how to couple an acoustic modem on a Group I fax machine — and Boomers who have successfully expanded Mom and Dad’s corner grocery store into a regional chain of gourmet prepared food emporia, without posting a single Tweet.

Successful businesses become successful by adopting new technologies when it makes sense, and ADAPTING them to the ways they are relevant to that business.

Bridgerati have the tech savvy and the business experience needed to mediate between consultants and consultees, demonstrating the business case for the consultants’ social media recommendations, and adding credibility to that conversation.

It’s no surprise that the bridgerati have been the biggest victims of corporate downsizing for the last decade. They have middle management business experience that includes bending technologies to do the company’s bidding.

They had attained higher salary levels because of their credibility and experience. In the relentless drive to reduce costs, large companies shed bridgerati in droves, and so they have little expertise to draw on when the younger, digerati consultants come knocking.

The digerati consulting firms need to realize they need to align themselves with the bridgerati as translators and interpreters, or they are going to fall short making the social media business case to their clients.

Do you think digital and social media consultancies can successfully sell their expertise without tapping into the pool of more experienced bridgerati? Why or why not?


  1. Steve, your thesis makes a lot of sense. In a meeting the other day, a new client (who pointed out his own grey hair), said that his organization wanted to hire me as a consultant because I understood business and was not a social media “evangelist” who recommended SM to solve every problem.

  2. There has never been a substitute for business experience, and the latest technology is not a substitute for it, either. If a business owner, who is usually the least tech-savvy person in the place, doesn’t have the staff to do the necessary strategizing on business communications, they should find a consultant to help…one that has been around the block.

  3. I think the point you make about the “ROI” of social media is very valid. I’ve seen a lot of companies dabble in social media because it was the “in” thing to do without a real strategy. How do “birdgerati” such as myself connect with the digerati and have a valid discussion about how the two can work together? Being always fearful of the “broom of death” when it comes to corporate downsizing I’m always on the look out for my next career. Any thoughts are appreciated.

  4. Absolutely Steve. Too many companies of all ages jump into the social media fray without thinking of their goals and strategies. They flail around hoping to somehow increase their bottom line without a plan. They do this on their own and with s.m. agencies. I think the social media consultants have to clarify goals and end results with the “bridgerati” and understand social media just for the sake of it isn’t the main concern.

    Thanks for the post.

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