To many professionals of a certain age, the road to social media has been slow and tinged with resistance.

“I thought it was just something young kids did, but boy, was I wrong,” says Mike Giovanone, owner of Concord Pools, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder in Latham, N.Y.

“Being in my 50s and very dug-in, like a lot of my generation of pool builders, I didn’t know much about it, and it was threatening,” the builder adds.

Some older pool and spa executives have expressed other concerns about entering their companies into the social media landscape. For instance, there was some resistance when the Master Pools Guild decided social media outlets are important enough to include in a program to assist members with managing their Web presence.

“Older executives were more apprehensive about the possibility of it distracting someone from something else they should be doing,” says Teri Wiltshire, special projects manager at the Richmond, Va.-based group. “The next comment was, ‘We already have everybody wearing three and four hats. We don’t have time for this.’’’ Additionally, she said, some have believed that social media activity would duplicate what they already do on their Websites.

But more and more senior professionals are beginning to understand the unique opportunities that social media sites present. Giovanone began to take them seriously when he saw large corporations using them. “Bank of America, General Electric, so on and so forth. ... When you see the big guns engaging, you know it’s here to stay.”

Professionals of a certain age have experienced this development differently. Some have warmed to it right away while others may have taken longer, but eventually grew to embrace this new world.

Took to it like air

For a number of industry veterans, no nudging was necessary for them to appreciate the potential of social media. This is particularly true of those with sales backgrounds, who are trained to grab any tool that will help them connect with more people.

When longtime industry luminary Vance Gillette first heard about sites such as Facebook and Twitter, all he could see was an opportunity to reach an infinite number of people across the globe with his message that pools and spas enhance people’s lives.

Today, Gillette has more than 1,700 Facebook friends who can view the 1,000-plus images he’s posted over time. He’s also taken to Pinterest, a photo-sharing site that has become a recent social media phenomenon.

“The fastest-growing segment of Facebook is people between 45 and 55,” says Gillette who is vice president of business development at Zodiac Pool Systems in Vista, Calif.

“That’s how they’re connecting with their families. And that 45-year-old [market] is kind of our sweet spot. Women represent 70 percent of Pinterest members. Guess who influences a pool purchase in 99 percent of these cases? Women.” 

Key hire

Giovanone has led his company to embrace social media as tightly as anyone else, but he tried a different strategy by creating a marketing position, with a significant portion of the job dedicated to maintaining Concord’s presence on Facebook and other such sites.

This is the route most pool and spa executives take, not only because of the generation gap but because of time, says Wiltshire and Ken Rogner, vice president of networking and education at Carecraft in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

While Giovanone knew he wasn’t the right person to set up or manage his company’s social media pages, he also didn’t want to ask a youngster or intern to take on the project. “You always get the comment, ‘Oh, Dad. I could have done that for you,’ or ‘My son or daughter could do that,’” Giovanone says. “No. You need a professional with a public relations/marketing background, someone who’s very skilled.”

The other possibility is to assign an existing employee, maybe someone younger, to handle the site. That has its inherent benefits, too, Rogner says. “The whole thing with social media is you’re trying to have conversations with your customers, and customers are expecting to talk to somebody in the company,” he says. “They’re not really looking for somebody who’s a social media/marketing expert to give generic responses, they are looking to strike up a conversation with somebody in the business.”

Giovanone and his new hire shared the same concern, so they developed a system to gain the best of both worlds. The social network director can answer easier questions on her own. When inquiries come in that require deeper expertise or knowledge about a specific account, she contacts Giovanone or the appropriate staff member. If they don’t have time to post an answer, she’ll get the information and handle it. Employees also will check in on the sites and respond to questions in their niches.

The key for Giovanone was to make sure that social-media inquiries are addressed immediately — a condition for him to participate in these sites. “A lot of the positive comments on our postings have been the promptness in which we reply and the depth of our answer,” he says.

As for his personal involvement, he’ll meet with his social network director at least three times a week to get updates, and he’ll answer the occasional posting himself. But he allows his social network director to handle most answers that need to come from him.

“You have to recognize where you do the company the most good,” he says. “For me, that’s not sitting behind a computer. It’s out on the yard or on a machine.”