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How to be human.

I read an article the other day about “how to be more human” with your social media strategy.

How to be more human?

Has the proliferation of “screen” consumption and contribution – texts, tweets, posts, and likes – finally choked our capacity for basic human connection?

Checking-Smartphones

In Sherry Turkle’s 2012 TED talk “Connected but alone”, the cultural analyst argues that cell phones and social media are shifting the way in which we relate to each other, and to ourselves – and not for the better. Over time, our attention has become fragmented, sporadic and fleeting; our ability to hold meaningful conversation has diminished.

Sherry’s insight into technology and social media’s affect on the human psyche had me pondering the implications for brands. My thoughts began to formulate by way of rhyme, because, what better way to channel your firing neurons than to the catchy beat of “There Was an Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe”?

 

There once was a brand,
that lived in a screen.

Thousands of fans, likes, and followers,
so popular, it would seem.

The brand thought it was connecting,
but should have known,

When you live in a screen,
you’re connected, but alone.

 

While technology is hailed as a great way to “connect”, studies continually find that it’s actually making us feel more lonely and isolated than ever. A poignant yet haunting observation by Jonathan Safran Foer from the New York Times perfectly summarized the disturbing affect of technology on our ability to be…well, human:

“Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat. Each step forward has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.”

Feeling connected to others is a basic human need. But if you believe you’re 100% connecting with consumers through social media and technology alone, you’re actually only about 50% there. There’s a huge emotional component that simply can’t be fulfilled through a screen.

And now, time for a disclaimer, since I can already envision a heated social media manager formulating his retort to this seemingly counterintuitive way of thought. I’m not discounting the various benefits of your brand engaging with consumers through social media, apps, text, online, and the like. In fact, I’m an advocate of their use and firmly believe in the value and real ROI of actively engaging through these channels. But if you believe your engagement strategy is fulfilled through this alone, you’re missing a huge opportunity to connect with current and potential customers on a more meaningful level. An emotional level. A human level.

So, for a moment, let’s put down the phone and step away from Twitter to identify three ways in which your brand can do just that.

Be where your customers are (outside the screen). Besides on their phone and online, believe it or not, people do have lives outside 5” screens. Know your audience well enough to understand where they spend their time, and then show up. The more you can physically get out into the community, the more word-of-mouth traction you can gain and the more brand awareness you will create.

Buy some stamps, get nostalgic, and use USPS. I don’t care who you are, or how old you may be, receiving a handwritten letter or pretty invitation in the mail is kinda’ fun. Not email, I mean, goes-in-that-box-that’s-outside-your-house MAIL. Do you have a customer that is discontent with your company? Why not put pen to paper and connect through a personal letter? Opening my mailbox to a handwritten note from the CEO would surely make me feel more appreciated than a generic email *ding* to my inbox. What about if you’re a company that’s about to throw a new product launch party? In addition to announcing on Facebook, why not send a nicely printed invitation to your top fans? There’s no better way to feel like a VIP than when you’re holding what feels like a golden ticket right in your hands. That same feeling just can’t be replicated through an e-vite. Sorry.

Create opportunity to gather. A Springfield, Missouri high-end clothing and accessory company, Staxx, recently organized an educational event focused on the various benefits of their new essential oil products. Hosting social and educational events that tie with your brand are smart ways to connect. I’d also love to see more brands solicit feedback from customers not only by way of email survey or Twitter chatter, but through in-person meetups. Customers want to know that you’re listening. They want to know their voice is heard. Accomplish all of this while building invaluable rapport by inviting a handful of customers to your office for camaraderie over coffee and donuts on a random Wednesday morning. It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) a scientific tabulation of feedback results. Just listen. Be human.

Used in tandem with technological engagement, face-to-face interaction is still the best way to connect with consumers, addressing the emotional void that can’t be filled by status updates, wall posts, likes and tweets alone.

We shouldn’t have to work to be human. We are human. Peer out from the veils of technology and start acting it.

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