How To: Be A Damn Human

by on 10/20/2009 • 19 Comments | Online Marketing

be humanIt’s said a lot that social media has changed business. That it’s shown us how people want things to be done. If that’s true, then it’s shown us that our customers (who are often humans) like doing business with other humans. Imagine that.

Your customers are done worshiping you. They don’t want to be your fan. They want to be appreciated. It’s this “human” thing that people like Chris Brogan and Gary Vee epitomize. It’s what makes them stand out and draws people to them. That said, I’ve been told three times in the past week that being human isn’t scalable. That we’re “not machines”. And I agree with that. We’re not machines. Which is why we should stop treating customers like we are.

To me, being human doesn’t mean being everything to everyone. It doesn’t mean being available at all hours. It’s not about being in every conversation and answering every email that comes your way. It means giving it your best go. It’s about knowing your strengths, acknowledging your weaknesses and sharing both with your customers. It’s about bleeding yourself. And while getting over the fear of bleeding may be hard, the actual act really isn’t.

And neither is being human. Here are some instructions.

Share yourself

There are two ways to use social media – the boring way and the interesting way. The boring way means you do nothing but spout company rhetoric and benign politically correct phrases. The interesting way means you share who you are. You share your good days, your bad days, your likes, your dislikes, and the occasional goofball story or ill-tempered rant that reminds people you’re “just like them”. You get pissed off? SO DO THEY! It’s those off color and silly moments that are going to put the human back in your day-to-day and get people to fall in love and relate to you. No one cares about Comcast. They care about Frank. Frank is human.

Share your magic

Humans like stories and passing information. It’s been embedded into our DNA since Moses and his top ten list and that man with the two sticks who discovered fire. Whether you share knowledge through blogging, podcasting, vidcasting, or simply creating a great product that helps people – spend your day sharing whatever you’ve got. Share your magic.

Treat people better than they expect

Choose to treat people with compassion rather than doling out canned, robotic responses. Seriously, we downright applaud and carry Zappos through the streets because they showed that they cared about their customers. That simple fact was so outstanding and amazing to us that we use them as the classic social media success story at every opportunity. And all they did was treat people like they were humans. Imagine if you treated your customers more than just human, but as friends? Treat people better than they expect to be treated and they’ll be loyal to you to the end.

Be as accessible as you can

This is a big one. Chris Brogan and Gary Vee are two great examples of people who go out of their way to be accessible. They reply to your tweets and DMs, they acknowledge your emails and sometimes even drop you a note to say happy birthday. They create real relationships on the Web by being accessible. However, I bet they fail sometimes. I bet sometimes they don’t answer people back or it takes a few days to get to that email. Being accessible doesn’t mean being on call 24/7. It means you give it your best go and hope that you’re sharing enough with your customers that they’ll be human back and forgive. People want to forgive. You just have to give them a reason.

Support your supporters (and your detractors)

Support people who give you the time of day, because they don’t have to. Empower them, promote them, and lift them up to do great things. Also support those that try and knock you down. Listen to them, work with them and use them to learn a few things about yourself and your organization. Detractors make excellent teachers if your skin is thick enough to withstand the words. Put yourself out there and take what comes your way.  Despite our insecurities, most of it will be positive.

Cut the bullshit

Don’t look at me like that. You know exactly I’m talking about. The way you “finesse” situations, the way you stretch the truth and the way you finagle things so that you can cut corners and skimp out.  Your customers are on to you. Stop being a douchebag and start acting like someone’s watching. Because they are.  Treating people like humans means respecting their intelligence.  Treating people like a faceless mob who won’t hold you accountable is the opposite is not.

Being human isn’t hard. In fact, it’s often harder to half ass things and NOT be human. When you’re not human you have to make up excuses instead of saying sorry. You have to create complex systems to deal with simple problems and all the people you’ve pissed off along the way. It makes no sense. Being human isn’t difficult, but it does take a new way of approaching situations and customers.

You have a choice every time someone sends you a message or picks up their phone — you can be cold and rehearsed or you can drop the MBA bullshit and talk to them like a normal person. The more times you choose the latter, the less being human becomes something you have to “scale” and more something you just are. Being human isn’t hard. It’s just something we forgot we could do. Your customers (and Sadie) are reminding you: Be human.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

19 thoughts on “How To: Be A Damn Human

  1. Great post Lisa, I actually have an article similar to this going live tomorrow.

    I completely agree with what you have written here. I also think it’s important that you define your tribe. Instead of being everything to everyone (as you say you can’t) – be SOMETHING to SOMEONE. Be that personal, no BS person, but be it to your audience which is far smaller than the general web population.

    Sphunn!

    – Glen

  2. It really isn’t rocket science to “be human”, is it? Certainly many of us (businesses in particular) have forgotten to be “human” when interacting with clients in-the-flesh, so convinicing them of the appropriateness of doing so via social media can sometimes be a chore.

    Another great article with terrific observations on what it takes to bring a successful social media component into your business plan. Keep up the good work Lisa.

  3. Great insights Lisa! I’ll forward your blog to RHB nation; I founded a company around 3 precepts that your article lays out so well: 1.Assume everyone is intelligent 2. Have passion for what you do 3. Get over yourself.

  4. Nice post Lisa!

    I think this is very well said. It’s been really difficult to watch marketers try to automate social media as it gets more and more popular. I have had countless conversations with clients that if they want a Twitter account, Facebook account, or blog then they will have to get a PERSON to run it….
    thanks this is refreshing!

  5. Great post as always and I agree with most of what you are saying, but I don’t think ‘being human’ is quite this simple in all situations. I think to truly be yourself in social media is very risky, for a company or individual. Sure, with risk can come reward, but it can also lead to lawsuits, dismissal, PR nightmares, etc.

  6. @Brian

    True but you can still be human without loosing your diplomatic/respectful tone. It’s not about just free-flowing your first reactions (and tidying up the mess each time). Being good at social is the same as being a good PR spokesperson, you can still be authentic.

  7. Glenn: Totally. You can’t appeal to everyone. You’re better off just being you and naturally attracting those inclined to like that. It’s a good way to save time by filtering those that were never a good fit to begin with. :)

    David: It’s not rocket science and yet, businesses don’t do it. Or, when they do, people can hardly believe it. Somewhere along the line just because we weren’t facing the person we were serving, we forgot they were actually a person.

    Dave:That’s awesome! I think most businesses fail at the “assume everyone is intelligent” part. They assume they’re stupid and then treat them as such.

    Caitlin: Automated social media is an awesome oxymoron. :)

    Brian: I think it’s about education. Can you be a total loose canon? No, you can’t. But you can’t be sterilized either. I think companies need to train employees about what is and is not acceptable, but then also realize that they’re human. And being human is actually a really great thing for your business. You’re right there, it’s definitely not all rainbows, fuzzies and sunshine. :)

    Todd: C’mon, there’s like TWO! Three? :p

  8. One would hope this wouldn’t be anything that needs to even be said, but clearly you’ve shown otherwise. I read this, then I read the 79472 posts about “Personal Branding” and come away with the idea that the two ideas are almost diametrically opposed. Those folks who are super-driven about their brand forget that they are, at the core, a human being.

  9. I slept in late (almost 10am) so missed this first time tweeted. I like this Lisa, I like it a lot. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a new twitter account from someone in my field and assume we can connect. Wrong. What I get instead are automated tweets with special and coupons and spammy replies to everyone mentioning certain keywords. Where do people learn this stuff?

    I think Brian brings up a great point regarding risk and I like your response. Balance between being a loose canon and sterilized online version of your offline self is the toughest challenge imo.

  10. Lisa, as a recent MBA grad I can say I LOVE this post. I always refer to the MBA as a masters in bullshit administration since being real seems to be far more valuable as a skill. I think there’s something to bloggers who are authentic and people posting real updates about their lives. When people seem to be using some sort of strategy in posting their social media updates, it seems ridiculous.

  11. Good lord you really got a lot done with this post. I was thinking about that this weekend when I wondered what it is I loved so much about Chris and Gary. Chris especially, is sincere and makes people feel that they are important. I told him that today and you know what…he responded.

    I think these guys are the champions of the customer relationship…something forgotten in this world of IM and New Media. Is it extra work? Sure…but it’s worth it. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say to love every single one of your fans. It works and it’s the right thing to do.

  12. I think that marketers have been trained to present their brands as infallible, which is kind of the opposite of being human. Social media has presented all kinds of paradigm shifts, but I think this is the biggest one. Because, you’re right: people trust people, not companies or websites.

    Thanks for the post!

  13. Genius Lisa and totally agree with you. I was hearing myself say the very same things. You are spot on, thanks for making me feel less of a freak for caring and getting involved!!

    I just wrote recently about building relationships in business. Nothing else works for me and I don’t want it to. I hate the sell like hell bit. Most of us grew out of it, but we still have time to save the lost souls!

    You sunnied my day!
    Sharon

  14. Srinivas: Just one sec, let me wipe my screen clean there. :) I think that’s an awesome comment. Really, your customers just want to know you’re a person and there’s no better to show them that than to let them into your life a bit. It’s not so much a “strategy” as it is “living”.

    Nathan: I completely agree. And it is a lot of work. It’s a lot work at the end of the day to respond to emails, to reply to tweets, to hit people back in social media, but you know what? People deserve it. Yeah, the payback is nice, but it’s also just the right thing to do. To respect people who respect you.

    Rob: I think social media has been a great way for business to show that they’re NOT infallible and that that’s OKAY, because you’re not supposed to be. I was walking to lunch with friends last week and they were complaining about the hotel they were staying at – they had have their room switched three times, no hot water, typical complaints etc. And the hotel just kept making up excuses for why all these things were happening when really all they were looking for was a “we messed up. we’re sorry”. People are very willing to forgive you when you screw up…as long as you admit that you screwed up.

    Sharon: I don’t think I’ve ever “sunnied” someone’s day before. That’s awesome. Thank you!

    Gwen: Hey, I like robots. :p

    http://twitpic.com/6dopa

  15. I think this is why many businesses are really starting to head into the social space because it shows their audience that they really are human. If you are a larger brand this will work but you have to have the right person be the voice of your brand otherwise it could back fire on you.

  16. Hello! I am a undergraduate Journalism student at the University of Kansas. I am really interested in this “being human” topic because I am learning that it is a major part of the social media. A major topic of my Public Relations class is being ethical and building relationships with your client and public. Although I am not in the business world yet, I agree with Brian Hancock that it is risky to be truly yourself in the social media because of all the politics behind it. At the beginning of the semester, my class learned about Edward L. Bernays, “The Father of Public Relations” and he definitely manipulated society using his Uncle Freud’s psychoanalysis tactics. Although he reached fame, it is still a scary thought to be your true self in the world of P.R….and least I think so.

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