Social Media – The clue is in the name

Paul Boag

Is your organisation failing to grasp the most basic element of social media; to be social? This may well be the reason you are failing to engage users.

There are no shortage of sociological studies into the way our behaviour changes when we are part of a group. This explains why people are capable of doing horrendous things we would never consider as a sane individual.

I suspect these same studies apply in how our behaviour changes when we are acting as a representative of a company. As soon as we speak on behalf of our company it is as if our humanity is sucked out. Nowhere is this more evident than in our corporate use of social media.

Stop trying to use people

Let me give you an example of what I mean. I was recently staying in an Ibis hotel (yes I know. I live a jet setting, glamorous lifestyle). I happened to mention this fact on Twitter when posting the view from my room.

As is often the case these days, Ibis was monitoring mentions of their brand and so a couple of hours later I received a reply from them.

This was the kind of reply that no normal, sane individual would say in conversation. First, there was no real reference to my previous comment (it was effectively a random change in subject). Second, it was obvious all they wanted me to do was promote their video.

Essentially they were cutting across my conversation with their own agenda. This is just downright rude and not the kind of thing people do in normal conversation. Why then did the person who wrote this think this was acceptable behaviour? Why had the normal rules of civility and social interaction been suspended?

Thank people who praise you

Another example of this breaking of social conventions happened recently with the chocolate spread Nutella. Somebody had setup a Nutella fan page and been happily saying how great Nutella was for years. Then one day the company behind Nutella sent them a cease and desist letter closing the site down.

Again this is just not something that would happen in normal social interaction. If somebody was telling the world how great you and your product was, you wouldn’t tell them to stop. You would thank them for their support. What then was the person who requested the cease and desist letter thinking? Why did they think this was normal social behaviour? Did they even consider their decision as a human being?

There are not different rules for business

I think part of the problem is that we treat the relationship between businesses and customers as a different type of relationship. We see it as a professional relationship where different rules apply. The problem is that (as Mashable wrote in their post on this subject):

Social already blurs (and is on the way to obliterating) the line between professional and personal.

When you interact with a customer on social media your posts appear in their timeline alongside updates from friends and family. You are entering their personal world and so need to interact with them on a personal basis.

As Mashable goes on to say:

We need to embrace this fundamental nature of user behavior; namely, that people act, engage, and respond not solely as professionals, but as nuanced human beings.

Next time you go to post a social media update under a company account, make sure you are comfortable posting it as a person too. If you wouldn’t send that post on your personal account, then the chances are you shouldn’t be sending it on the corporate account either.

It’s time to stop acting as corporations selling to consumers and start interacting as human beings building relationship.

“Rude Man Gesturing And Sticking Out Tongue” image courtesy of