Quick and Easy Ways to Alienate People


This meme appears with tedious regularity in my Facebook feed. I suspect the people who “like” it - and there are plenty of them - are not business owners. If they are, their days are numbered.

Imagine for a moment that you want to relax with a cup of coffee and you’re looking for a café. What runs through your mind?

I’d like to find a place that doesn’t respect me, wants to tell me how to behave and doesn’t provide basic internet access because they think it’s wrong to want that. 

The message on the sign isn’t really about customers who want to use their smartphones or laptops. It’s about the café owner. He or she is clearly uncomfortable with the way the world is changing. But it goes beyond that. The owner is refusing to adapt to the public’s changing expectations. That’s a risky business position.

Cafés are not the only places you encounter this attitude. Many working in local history tourism allow their negative feelings about technology, fashion and society at large to influence business decisions. Do any of the following scenarios ring a bell?

Blame the Public for Poor Program Attendance


“I don’t understand why no one is signing up for this lecture. The topic certainly isn’t the problem. I ought to know. I wrote my thesis on it. Oh well. People aren’t as educated as they used to be. Plus they’re lazy. They’d rather watch TV, play video games or stare at their smartphones than attend a program where they might learn something. It’s sad.”

Resort to Coercion

“We ought to require high school seniors to prove they’ve toured the museum in order to get their diplomas. They’re obviously not going to come in on their own. I’m going to call the school board president right now and find out what I have to do to make this happen.”   

Cling to a Hopelessly Outdated Website

“Our site is fine just the way it is. Yes, our hours did change a few years ago but our phone number is the same and it’s on there somewhere. People can call us if they need information.  Mobile friendly? No I don’t know what that means, and furthermore, I don’t care. Now if you’ll excuse me, there are important matters that need my attention.”

Work When It’s Convenient for You


“Hello? Oh, you’re planning a bus tour. How nice. People just love visiting our historic homestead. You can see the entire house in about an hour, unless Bessie is working in which case it takes a little longer. When are you thinking of coming? Oh dear, that’s a Sunday. We aren’t open on weekends. Yes, I did say the tour only lasts an hour. Yes, I realize it’s the 4th of July weekend. We will not be open when you visit. Call back if you change your date.”  

Limit Communication Channels

“Facebook? Please. We’re running a serious organization here. That social mumbo jumbo is nothing but cat videos and pictures of what people are having for lunch. We don’t have time for that sort of nonsense. Email? Yes, we use email occasionally. In fact we sent our annual meeting announcement that way. We insisted that people RSVP by phone though. That’s easier for us.” 

Stick with Old Programs and Presentation Styles

“Welcome to Irrelevant Mansion. I will not start the tour until everyone puts away their cell phones and cameras. We do not allow photography of any sort. You may buy a boxed set of lovely notecards in the gift shop at the end of the tour if you want a memento. Do not touch anything, stay behind the velvet ropes and don’t step off the plastic runners. Hold your questions until the end of the tour. Shall we begin? Welcome to the parlor. Direct your attention to the curtains. The festoons and swags are typical of late Victorian window coverings. It’s thought the style may have originated in blah blah blah.”

I could go on, but you get the point.

You don’t have to like smartphones. It’s OK if you hate tattoos and don’t understand why people want to have blue hair. It’s even OK if you wish it was still 1975. We’re all entitled to our opinions.

But if you want to attract customers to your business or members to your organization, you need to keep your personal feelings out of the equation and focus on what your target audience wants. If you don’t know what that is, ask them.