What my dog taught me about humanizing social media

Social media is more than a marketing strategy, its a culture.

Today’s businesses are realizing that users of social media do more than use the tools, they live part of their lives within the social sphere. An entire world has developed with social norms and mores. While people are in the social networks of their choice, they want to have conversations, not read press releases. This is why humanization is so important. Ironic isn’t it, that we’re discussing how humans can use certain tools to become more human? But really, this can be a challenge, particularly for communication professionals who have had page after page edited, parsed and controlled. Humanizing requires good judgment and a strong constitution because your putting it all out there! However, by humanizing your company, brand or products you give fans and followers another reason to like you. So go ahead: be you. I bet we ALL like it better than the overly polished, uptight corporate vision you have of yourself.  To lead the charge, this week’s posting features me – being silly with my dog, Rudy, who is one of my passions.  To prove my point about the power of humanizing, I’m going to accentuate my post with pictures that illustrate my point..and tell you something more about me AND it allows me to keep a couple of my social media resolutions for 2011.

Let’s start with humanizing with these ideas:

Humans don’t issue press releases, they have conversations.

Humans don’t post blogs, they write them.

Humans don’t blast information, they share it.

Humans use social media tools, not businesses.

Beginning to see the difference? Social media requires businesses to think different and be human. Here are 5 tactics to humanize your company’s social media presence.

Chat it up.

A conversation goes back and forth, that’s the nature of a conversation. In real life (IRL) we have the chance to look into each other’s eyes, watch the body language. In the social sphere, we have to find ways to create equally powerful indicators of who we are. When someone is talking about something relevant to your brand, weigh in with thoughtful comments that AREN’T self promoting. Share the victories of your fans and followers, even if they aren’t specific to your brand. Go ahead, make a professionally funny comment that’s relevant to your customers. Your fans and followers have SOMETHING in common, share the human experience of what you have in common and you’ll be humanizing your social media presence. If your audience is travelers, chat about the jet-lag you experienced on your way to a conference. If your audience is Mom’s, its OK to talk about changing diapers. Chances are, the more human your social media practitioners become, the more your audience will respond.

Empower rather than control. Ommmm.

Ever notice that the more tightly you try to control something, the more it resists? My Jack Russell Terrier taught me this lesson. Take a deep breath and….release. Regardless of the tools you choose, its likely that your employees are using at least a few of them. Empower your employees with clear guidelines and allow them to be brand advocates. Let them check-in to work on their smart phones, let them tweet about a cool experience at work. Encourage them to engage with customers outside of office hours (when appropriate). Embrace the power and indentity of your employees; spend less time editing and more time observing what they talk about and how they engage with customers.

Allow Invite your customers to speak on your behalf, give them some ownership of your conversation. Identify those customers who are most passionate and make theme the stars. No one expects every single engagement with a real person to be perfection. When your customers speak about you, they will do so with their genuine opinion. Let go of the need to control.  Its that genuine opinion that gives credibility to the other things they are saying about you. Except it, don’t excerpt it. If you feel the need to change something, change the thing your customer doesn’t like – not what they have to say about it.

Own it, baby!

Let your people be people. But allow them to take responsibility for what they say. Giving credit to a blog post or a tweet is like being the captain of a successful ship. You BECOME the face of the post and  tweet – without the writer, its nothing but a shell. Just like this boat was less exciting without Captain Sig.  When you empower employees to blog, tweet or Facebook on your behalf,  they should take pride in what they are saying. Add the person’s name to every blog post and at the very least, initials to a tweet. Its even better if those who engage regularly on your social networks have their names attached to those networks. This will allow PEOPLE to get to know the PEOPLE behind your brand, it also makes conversations easier to have an continue.  Another opportunity exists to develop a particular identity based on the content they share. Some of your employees may happen to be football fans and if it so happens that one of their favorite teams also wears jersey’s you manufacture, well, serendipity, let them share their excitement over a game. Some of your employees may be foodies and if they happen to eat at restaurants that are also clients of yours, well, then let them tweet away!

Share human excitement, not press releases: When something big happens at your company that you want to share, let the PR people write the press release, but let your social media people share the excitement. This isn’t to say that the information shouldn’t be professional, but allow it to be fun, exciting. Think about fun ways to share the excitement over and above the link to the press release.

Let the CEO be Ceen:

A leader at a company should have some social visibility. The networks that the CEO uses may be specific and limited, but there should be a face to the company. Without a face, what is a business? Think about how powerful it is when a leader puts herself out there. Encourage your CEO to respond on Quora or  join discussions on LinkedIn. Ask your CEO to blog regularly. Let people know the woman (or man) behind the vision, the brand. People today are excited by this kind of accessibility to successful people.

People like to hear the human voice of a successful company. Your CEO can do that – I just KNOW she didn’t get where she is without the ability to be accessible and human. Resist the urge to ghost write, but if you must, at least let her create the draft.

By the way: no one expects every CEO blog post or Tweet to be 3,000 words long. If they can say it in 140 characters – let ’em!

Don’t be afraid to suck:

This is from my friend and fellow Social Media Club Hawaii (SMCHI) board member, Roxanne Darling. What she means by this is that not everything has to be so polished that it loses its authenticity.  If your employees are taking pictures with their camera phone, that’s OK. If you have a customer video that’s worth sharing, don’t over edit it. Remember: market segments demand perfection, people demand authenticity. Just about everyone has this picture, or one just like it. When you let your guard down a little bit, you become more human. In my case, this is me celebrating time with my Mom.

Under the same header, let’s say it: take a risk now and then. Go ahead, see how people respond when you do something outlandish. Nutty. Your reward is probably bigger than your risk.

Sneak Peek:

Who doesn’t like a peek behind the scenes? Last fall, I visited the Honolulu Fish Market and blogged about if for my “other” blog. People RAVED about the posting. Why? Because it was full of real people, a real experience. Talk about an authentic sneak peek. What an amazing experience made all the more incredible by the people. Let your customers see what its like to work at your company, what its like to engage with the team. Give your customers a  taste of the funny or a sip of the passion of your company. What makes you unique? What may seem mundane says a lot about your company and gives people a better sense of who you are.  C’mon now, surely if thousands of pounds of dead fish can inspire and engage, your company too, has something worth sharing.

Tell us how your company humanizes its social presence. Or better yet: tell us how the humans show their human side.