As a business, it is hard for us to selflessly think about others. Over the past ten years I have watched in fascination what to me looks like the slowest train wreck in history; at times i have watched from a safe distance, other times I have been a passenger, and sometimes the conductor. What I am talking about is that we as business seem to have lost touch with what it is to be human. What we see now, are numbers.
If we look at the incredible advances in data driven marketing and how it has helped us understand customer patterns and behavior has it also helped to dehumanize our approach to customers? We tend not to look at people, we look at people or we call them click, followers, fans, traffic, impressions, etc
Has this been our biggest failing as marketers?
Oh to be Human Again
And then suddenly, in rides Social Media. A consumer nirvana; one place to reach hundreds of millions of customers. It is so close to us and yet remains out of reach for some many businesses. Why?
Maybe its that 800lb gorilla on our backs thats saying, How can we make money from this; whats the ROI? and because greed tends to create abhorrent behavior in the best of us we look at these consumers as dollar signs instead of people.
Perhaps as businesses we just dont know how to act properly in an online social situation, like the drunk, obnoxious frat boy staggering around spilling his beer on everyone at the party. To him, he was the life of the party. To the rest of the party goers he was a jackass. His behavior screams look at me, but everyone that looks is turned off. Not that I would know of course
I cant help feeling that many times this is the way consumers perceive business which may explain why many business forays into Social Media become lightning rods for hostility and negativity. Of course, this is amplified many times by our deep seeded drive to control everything we touch.
Paying it Forward Works
I am not the first one to say this and certainly wont be the last. The web is full of conventional wisdom on how to approach people, so maybe I can offer a different perspective to help advance the understanding of online human behavior in juxtaposition to Social Media and online relationships in general.
First, paying it forward is a simple, but powerful concept for a selfless act to benefit another human being or group of human beings. The belief is that paying forward will eventually reach back to us in some positive form. The key to paying it forward is to be selfless; in other words sincerely not expect anything back. Tough call for any business to make, let alone a single person.
Second, what does Paying it forward do? Well, lets start with a little list:
- It creates a good feeling in the recipient and if you believe like i do that emotions are contagious, this is a good thing. (I point back to Connected by Nicholas Christakis for an even more defensible argument on emotional contagion). A single person can help dozens of people feel good, but a company can help thousands.
- It builds a subtle kind of obligation. Obligation, even subtle obligation, is a powerful emotion; its the glue that binds a marriage together through all adversity. When you do something nice for someone, there is a natural tendency or feeling in the recipient to return that favor. Now, this doesnt apply to everyone because a lot of people will just keep taking without giving, but it is worth it.
- It creates a positive, memorable experience. Try it our for yourself Remember back to some interactions with others that were truly memorable you will find some incredible acts of selfless service behind those memories.
- It can potentially create brand evangelists. Brand champions or evangelists spread the word for us. This is the ultimate payback of paying it forward. Does it happen every time? No. But, the more powerful the act you pay forward, the greater the chance you will create evangelists.
How do you Pay it Forward as a Business?
Well, Social Media has given us that chance. Channels like Twitter and FaceBook allow us to engage with customers at a human level and interact in a way we never could before. These channels also allow for new ways to service customers or anyone for that matter. To me, I believe the best way of Paying it Forward for companies is finding ways to improve 3 things:
- Your business ability to listen. Everything begins with listening. It is the basis for appreciation and focused response. Clear understanding of customer need, issues or just being there for them is a price of entry for Social Media Experience Design.
- Your business ability to react. All talk and no action will kill you in Social Media environments; public or private. people need value and reasonable response. Use Social Media to enable your customers to use your products/services easier, faster and better in little ways.
- Your business ability to appreciate. Appreciation and recognition of customer loyalty is critical. When was the last time a company said thank you, I really appreciate what you have done for us. Appreciation creates positive stimulus in anyone who receives it. A relationship is hollow without appreciation and is the basis of long term loyalty.
Avoiding Trying to do Too Much
Many times, I have seen instances were companies had it right, but tried to do too much. Its a habit that needs to be controlled. Often, all customers or consumers want are little things. By planning to do little things, we also limit risk of failure and minimize potential damage to our brand.
In the end, Napoleon Hill said it best, If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.
I enjoy comments and invite debate. Please feel free to do either.