Being Human: Key to Business Success in Social Media

suessian megaphoneIt must be something in the air. On Sunday, I was reading Melanie Kissell’s very honest and sensible post, “Not Afraid To Say I Disagree With Social Media Experts,” over on, and I wanted to give her a high five. How disingenuous of any business to pretend that they are engaging in social media activities solely to have fun and make friends with their customers! It’s almost insulting to people’s intelligence, really. Melanie points out that for business owners, spending hours a day just being “social” is “pure, unadulterated rubbish.”

There’s a lot being said about “the role of social media,” but too often overlooked is the fact that “social media” is a natural outgrowth of people’s need to socialize with friends (not with brands and businesses) and share their perceptions and experiences of the world around them (and their opinion of those brands and businesses). Of course, we consumers want it all now – and we want it free (or cheap) and so, as with our favorite television stations, we need advertising sponsors to support our media habits.

And that all goes well, until the sponsors start raising the noise level, demanding more and more air time, and pretty soon an hour-long program is actually a 22-minute program interrupted at predictable intervals by commercials. Before we know it, we’ve got feminine hygiene products and condoms being touted during dinner hour. And in reaction, we grab the DVR remote to record our favorite shows and zip right through those ads.  Except maybe the ads these companies produce to entertain us during the Super Bowl. But see – even there, they’ve tipped their hand and given us reason to expect that sort of quality all the time. We resent getting bombarded, constantly, with less than their best work.

Advertisers catch on, and we’ve got a problem – we hate the ads, but they’re not going to give us a free ride. Before long, there’s a strange sense that the relationship, once founded on mutually beneficial problem-solving, has turned adversarial. They’re playing in our playground, and they don’t really “get” us, but they keep the sandbox sandy and the swings in working order. Maybe, just maybe, we’d feel a little less sullen about it if they’d give us a push, or sit on the other side of the teeter-totter and give us a fair share of ups and downs, along with an occasional nod or a smile that says, “I see you – and I appreciate your business.”

As I said to Melanie, it pays to be sociable and friendly, to give as well as to receive, because people don’t like to buy from strangers they actively distrust, and there’s a lot of that out there. “Free samples” are a tried and true incentive to buy stuff. A business engages in social media to do more business – no one’s fooled into thinking their motives are anything other than that. There’s no ROI for businesses in “hanging out just to socialize.” But to give business an edge, in general, it helps to put a human face out there – people like to do business with real people, not faceless corporations they don’t like or trust. Too often, they invade the playground and then – in an attempt to make friends fast – they try sticking a rollercoaster up next to the sandbox. It makes too much noise; the other kids give up and go home in disgust.

Interesting that Seth Godin’s post, “The trap of social media noise,” touches on a similar theme, this week, in which he points out that “everyone is a marketer,” using social media as a soapbox from which to hawk their wares, always on the lookout for a louder megaphone. He talks about game theory and the choice of strategy: push the spam envelope in pursuit of critical mass, or focus and build a reputation as a thought leader doing worthwhile work. I know that I’ve felt pulled in both directions, lured by the bells and buzzers into chasing the numbers as if they were points for the win – but always, naturally, gravitate towards doing things the hard way. The high-touch, one customer at a time way. I can’t say that’s better than striving to reach critical mass, because my way is more likely to lead to repeat business than to high, quick turnaround profits. I think a healthy balance is called for. Because numbers alone have no personality, no soul, and no real influence. People matter – and if you don’t sincerely believe that, go chase the numbers. But if you do believe it, try listening at the edge of the sandbox first, before putting in a rollercoaster.



Final Showdown!

If you like this post, please support my efforts to win the Surviving the Blog Contest by clicking the sharing buttons below: Like it on Facebook, give it a +1 on Google+, share it on LinkedIN, and (yes – AND) give a tweet on Twitter.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri lives in Texas and claims to channel the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry and Erma Bombeck. She has known since fifth grade that she wanted to be a professional writer. Holly is a technical communicator whose imagination is allowed free rein in her short stories, children's books, and poetry. You can visit her personal blog, "It's All a Matter of Perspective," at

About Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri lives in Texas and claims to channel the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry and Erma Bombeck. She has known since fifth grade that she wanted to be a professional writer. Holly is a technical communicator whose imagination is allowed free rein in her short stories, children's books, and poetry. You can visit her personal blog, "It's All a Matter of Perspective," at


  1. If your technology team is still hiding in the server room, you are missing out on a great opportunity to be a strategic part of your company’s success. Social media, personalized emails, newsletters, video and other technologies are key aspects for delivering content and staying competitive in today’s economy.
    Carolyn recently posted..Belk credit cardMy Profile

  2. I’ve only been online since 1988, so I bow to your superior expertise, Holly ;-). I fondly remember the Usenet hierarchy as being very social. There were a few businesses there as I recall but they were geeks themselves. Now fools rush in, because they can. This is how guys like Chris Brogan earn a living, trying to teach them manners!

    • LOL!! BARELY superior experience, apparently! I wasn’t that INVOLVED until around ’89 – I just hung out on Compuserve’s CB chat (the “CB” metaphor is a clue how long ago THAT was).

      Funny you should say that about Chris Brogan and manners – you’re right, he is one of the few “social media celebs” who mostly does it right. Darren Rowse is excellent, as are Chris Garrett and Liz Strauss. Too many forget to be social with anyone outside their own little cliques, or “tribes.”

      I always hated the term “netiquette” – it struck me as a bunch of rules made up arbitrarily by people who mostly figured it out after trying, unsuccessfully, to crash the party. Having been out on the “frontier,” the best “netiquette” advice I can give is to listen and observe, and figure out what’s appropriate in any given community online. Beyond that, “don’t be hateful, don’t be a completely self-centered ass, don’t be deliberately rude, and don’t waste other people’s time and money” seem to mostly cover it. I’d like to add, “If you don’t like my emails, don’t b*tch about it, make a spam filter just for me.” Now that we can do those things, and we’re not paying for email (if anyone is still PAYING for email, they need guidance) it seems petty to complain. Just hit the delete button.

      Oh, and try not to use more than one emoticon in your emails to the boss. Looks silly. Unless your boss is a geek and does it first.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..Overcoming Blogger’s BlockMy Profile

  3. If I think a company wants me to Like it just to give it more advertising, I won’t participate. But there are a couple businesses where I feel like I am getting to know them and their business practices on a more personal level, and appreciate that social media can actually be a social tool without pushing the business side of things other than name recognition. Put simpler – I like getting to know someone at the company, preferably someone at a level of responsibility, without feeling like I have to buy right now to be recognized.

    • NOBODY likes to feel “used.” I think that’s really the bottom line. For businesses, it’s a tightrope act – give something of value, ask nothing in return, get noticed, win customers over time. A lot of social media “gurus” advertise giving your best away for free – and I think that’s going overboard. I like the “free samples” analogy – a sample that has real value – like the spoonful of ice cream at Baskin Robbins – so you KNOW if it’s worth the price or not, but not so much it makes you too sick of sweets to BUY ice cream.

  4. T’is the season to be social!

    But I do find social media confusing.


  5. In television, the choice is a sponsored ‘sandbox’ or cable.There’s probably something similar in the blogging world, although I must confess that I am pretty new to online social interaction.


  6. Holly, don’t get me started. I’ve been watching, morosely, as more sheep follow the Pied Piper. Can’t they see the freakin’ rats? LOL

    There are just too many metaphors for clueless behavior. We need experienced voices like Melanie’s to get perspective on this gross misinformation campaign.



    p.s. The “It’d Be Sweet ..” box seems to be hanging.

    • Odd – can’t see a problem with it here. Did you see the “authorize it to talk to Twitter” box? Check for a pop-up that may have slid under other stuff. It needs your permission to go hang on that wire with the other birdies.

      We’re good at metaphors, Mitchell, mixed and otherwise. Unfortunately, some people need the alphabet song, instead.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..It’s Going to Be Another Wild Week!My Profile

  7. For the longest time, I couldn’t care less about social media, and frankly I still wouldn’t if I didn’t have an online and off line business. However, I understand that social media can be enticing for some allowing them to speak out to the world 🙂
    Sylviane Nuccio recently posted..Five Golden Rules To Leave Blog Comments That Will Benefit You And Your SiteMy Profile

    • Well, it’s fun to me – but I’ve been online since 1981 (yeah, sometimes it feels like I’ve been online 24/7 since then, too) and it’s just fun to watch how people interact, sometimes very differently than they do offline. There’s often a side to people you’d never guess from 9 to 5 (sometimes, it’s not a good side, either) – but I work with some amazingly creative, artistic people that never let that side out to play at the office. I’ve managed to get back in touch with, or stay in touch with, people I knew in grade school and middle school. And as you say, it’s a wonderful creative outlet and reaches the whole world. (Or some weird, tiny cross-section of it.)

      It’s a relatively new thing, this “social media as a business tool,” and despite all its potential as a mutually beneficial thing, I can also see businesses diving in without understanding the community mores and sending the community scattering – exactly the opposite of what they WANT to have happen.

      Thanks for dropping by, Sylviane!
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..It’s Going to Be Another Wild Week!My Profile

  8. I hate how some people implement “social media.” You can tell they don’t get it and feel like they have to…I like how you lay it out –it’s being social for heaven’s sake…not following a formula.

  9. Vickie Isley says:

    Good luck holly. It is hard to get the right balance. Being in a business that the social is highly important to my business. I have trouble with the business end of things

    • Why does the phrase “online quilting bee” suddenly spring to mind? 🙂
      Are you networking and using your contacts to help you get better at the business end of things? In what ways is the social “highly important” (that is, are you seeing a clear correlation there to your business’s success)? Measuring the impact of social on business can be a real challenge.

      Thanks, Vickie!
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..Being Human: Key to Business Success in Social MediaMy Profile

  10. I really enjoyed reading that post over at WeBlogBetter Holly. Somewhere along the way, I even had this “grin” on my face because in a way, it is so true that “being purely” social although good, is not really good for business.

    So I guess this week will be a “though” one 🙂
    DiTesco recently posted..7 Commandments of Social Networking That Small Businesses Need to FollowMy Profile

  11. Hi Holly! Good luck with the final showdown! Enjoyed your post: after all why is it called social media if not for the human factor?
    Wish you a energyfilled week, Barbara
    Barbara recently posted..Graettimaa | Santa ClausMy Profile

  12. You’re very right of course that all too often companies (and celebrities) bungle social media by failing to realize it is real human to human engagement. There really is no substitute for actually talking to and listening to people. That’s what communication IS.

    • Seems businesses tend to swing too far one way or the other – either they come across as the annoying man with a megaphone, drowning out other voices and not being part of the conversation, or they just hang out, get social, and fail to clearly communicate the action they want

      I attended a webinar the other night put on by Darren Rowse and Amy Porterfield, where they gave great value for free, and then offered a tempting sales pitch – at the very end – that didn’t leave you feeling like the whole thing was just a useless infomercial for the product they were selling. You got some real, actionable advice – for free – but the product would walk you through the same things and more, step-by-step. I thought the “before discount” prices were pretty steep, but the price given for the set at the end wasn’t unreasonable.

      They got thousands of positive comments on Facebook from attendees within MINUTES of ending the webinar, too.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..It’s Going to Be Another Wild Week!My Profile

  13. Shared on all fronts possible.
    Vivian Zabel recently posted..Christmas, the Season of Sorrow, the Season of JoyMy Profile