The Biggest Secret of Social Media

Kitsch at Serendipity III

Here’s the biggest secret of social media: if you don’t like people very much, it won’t work very well.

I did an interview for a magazine recently, where the first (not the second or subsequent question) was how one might automate all their social media usage and save time. Can you imagine? The very first question, rewritten by me, would have read: “How does one take this very human medium and robotize it the way we’ve done that with all the other communications methods in our life?”

I’m not some kind of kumbaya, let’s-hug-the-whales guy, but at the same time, if you’re thinking that social media’s going to bring prosperity to your business, and yet your first thoughts are on how to mechanize it, you might be looking at the wrong tool. The purpose of the toolset is to provide a way to communicate in a more directed way, to communicate in a more narrowly defined way, to be able to respond in two-way modes instead of use the single direction modes that came before. It’s not that we have to be all love all the time, and it’s not that we shouldn’t intend to use the tools for business. But we have to think about their usage and how to keep the best parts working.

Automation Isn’t Wrong

Before we go too far, automation isn’t wrong. Using tools to better perform your tasks isn’t wrong. Rather, the goal is that you use these tools in service of better serving your buyers. Listening tools are awesome. Scheduling tweets isn’t evil, provided you’re mixing it in with organic tweets (see also: you’re doing it wrong).

But at the end of it all, the goal is that you’re using the tools to better connect with people.

Marketing and Communications Aren’t “Necessary Evils”

When I think about the people I’ve heard talking about social media as if it’s an automated road to wealth, I think they all have a fairly negative view of marketing and communications. They see sales as the ultimate department, the most important part of the process. And while I’d argue that neither marketing, nor communications, nor sales is the most important part of a business (the answer: customer service), I’d say that marketing and communications are very much an important part of the ecosystem of building relationships with your buyer.

But that thought in and of itself is worth considering: do you consider any part of your organization a “necessary evil?” If so, what does that say about the function those people serve? Do you think Corporate IT are a bunch of jerks who won’t let you have iPads? There are reasons for their decisions (most times). Do you think the legal department is the enemy? That’s because you haven’t found the best way to work with them yet.

The Best Secret Is One You Probably Know

Most folks who read [] already know that being human is the goal. That’s the thing. The people who don’t care about people are reading blogs with posts that say “Dominate Your List!” So, it’s not that I told you something you don’t know.

Instead, this is kind of a “resist the pull to the dark side” post. Remember why you were drawn to social media. And look for ways to expand that secret power of yours into something that shows value to the others, so that they see your perspective on this.

It’s the best we can hope for, I think.

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  • Tai Goodwin

    I agree with you here…The key is to find balance as there is a time, and place for everything. I work with entrepreneurs and solopreneurs and I find that those who are really good at it and like it are those who understand that marketing and sales are part of the challenge and fun of being in business. Yes systems and automation can help with efficiency – but it can never fully replace the human touch required in the sales cycle.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Chris.  Thanks for reminding us why we thought this was a good idea in the first place. Build relationships and meaningful dialogue with customers and the money will come. 

  • Samantha Gluck

    Agreed. I tried to think of it prior to reading the post and my answer was “real and personal engagement”. Those who don’t like people will have a difficult time actually engaging in a meaningful way on social media. They may succeed for a while, but their true disdain for socializing will emerge and the voice and feel of their “face time” will change.

  • David Tonen

    I think all of us are guilty at some point of wanting to mechanize the online social experience. I certainly can testify that the best relationships I have in social media channels are the ones I have personally invested in with time – getting to know their story and sharing mine.

  • Ian Goodall

    I think what you’ve written highlights the disconnect that exists between the heads of certain businesses and their customers. They get caught up in the figures and forget that they are ultimately dealing with people. People don’t like being talked to by robots.

  • Farnoosh

    The power of the human connection. The rest is detail. Business success and building a following and getting traffic is detail but the foundation is the power of the human connection. It is an art and a skill and no it is not for everyone and that’s fine because that’s the beauty of life!

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  • Rob C

    Is it OK to use tools like Buffer so that I can get my ideas out to those people who are 8 or more timezones away from me? …if not then I won’t get any sleep! 

  • susangiurleo

    Yes. As I like to think about this – doing business is communicating with people, who have thoughts and feelings. When we start to think of our customers as ‘numbers,’ ‘lists,’ and ‘benchmarks,’ the ship is adrift.  A company’s social media team should be the most social, human people they know. People who like to wave, say ‘hello,’ share a smile and a joke, as well as offer great customer service. Those folks are rare finds and should be cherished. Because doing business with a robot is a buzz kill and over time has very low returns…

  • Michele Price

    Chris it is if you were listening to our conversation the other day in #usguys.  By now I have gotten use to taking the stand for “it’s about both” when this discussions erupt.

    Never having understood why anyone would want to take a polarizing position-other than to stir up the pot.  In business it is about -when does an interactive conversation need to be used vs when can some of it be automated.

    Why would I hand tweet every time I want to share an interview link or blog post?  It’s not a good use of my time.  Does that mean I do not take time to have conversations, of course not.  That ability to schedule some tweets is what frees me up for real life interactions.

  • Albert_Maruggi

    I spent 10 years in politics pre social.  The receptions where basically name tag and title scans of influencers in the room.  Social didn’t start like that, but perhaps human nature quickly got us there.  And really that’s the thing, you wrote “that being human is the goal” and it is human nature to operate in an individual’s self interest.  I see Fnjacobs writes below, “the money will come”  

    That’s the point, it turned from predominately being social for the knowledge to being social for the money.  That’s how people divided into tribes aka Seth Godin.  it’s a natural progression, just like sports fans.  Chris you know that Red Sox/Yankees thing.

    I see where commenting is rewarded or acknowledged less and less.  That’s due in part because of time pressures and in part because of competitive relationships I suspect. The use of lists and badges as a guise for the group and the benefit of the individual.  The institutionalization and quantification of “power” whether it be through readership or Klout score or Twinfluence.  It’s all taken the initial shine off of social.   I should not be surprised. 

    I’ve resisted many a temptation to go down the template route, get sponsors for the Marketing Edge Podcast, write a book, yada yada yada.  This has been easier because of my life change as a result of my 9/11 experience and reflection. But nonetheless it makes me look at social from almost an outsiders perspective at time.  

    It is possible I may jump the track and head on off into the dark side, or abandon the online space completely.  Your words are supportive to continue to be who you are and let the chips (and the money) fall where they may.  

    • Rufus Dogg

      I just got back from the #140conf in NYC last week and had a similar “name tag and title scans of influencers in the room” experience with Ann Curry. Just published yesterday on my blog dogwalkblog[dot]com Chris would not like to admit it, but the same thing happens when he speaks. But CB takes the time to talk to us little dogs too at conferences. It must be frustrating for him to be “showing” people how to do it and they march off and do exactly the opposite, all the while blogging and tweeting about how we need to retain humanness in social media. 

      • Albert_Maruggi

        On the topic of Name Label scanning, that’s why I bagged politics, I was that guy. Let’s see who can help me in this room. I realized I missed out on the smartest people.  I then had a chance to be a policy wonk on foreign relations or go back to wife’s home town and raise the two kids we had – five kids and 2 dogs later I’m consulting from a home office and spent the most important kid years close to home.  It’s not for everybody and it has been the difference between biz success by most definitions; not mine, but most.  

        you’re a good man, er dog Rufus.

      • Albert_Maruggi

        Can I share my early CB story?  Here’s a guy that I think it was 5 years ago, (Chris, was it that long ? ) at Blog World in Vegas.  Brogan and I stumbled on to a $.99 margarita bar and talked with Chris Heuer, Tris Hussey, and a bunch of other early adopters. From my perspective, Chris has always been that guy to others and to me.  And it’s very very difficult I know. A credit to the Brogan man.  

  • Julie Hall

    I love the opening line – “if you don’t like people very much it won’t work very well” is so true.  The number of people that I see on my workshops that are looking for a quick fix and don’t want to take the time to develop relationships via social media are always going to find it a struggle.  

  • Michael A. Stelzner

    Chris – Funny enough I also did an interview where that was one of the first questions.My response was similar to yours…

  • spoon

    I interviewed a young man for a position in PR last summer. I asked where he thought his skills would be best used and he told me “I don’t like to talk to people and I don’t like email at all but you should hire me anyways and that’s all I have to say.” then he got up and said he was done with the interview.

    • Rick Manelius

      It’d be one thing if he was interviewing to be a programmer or something where he could shut his door and chug. But PR? Aren’t people skills a prerequisite?

      My wife is in PR and she’s shocked at how unprofessional the industry is becoming in certain sectors. She was at a talk recently where the spokesperson actually bragged about how she moves from company to company frequently and she wasn’t sure how much longer she was going to be with this one… but then went on to promote their product!

      What a wacky world we live in…

      • spoon

        He was memorable that’s for sure. I had one guy tell me that he bounces jobs because his skills are so fresh and in demand that he needs to move around. Funny that neither one of them had the basic skills for the position but insist they’re “in demand”.

        • Rick Manelius

          ‘skills so fresh.’ That’s a euphemism for ‘no one understands what I do’  :) 

          Thanks for the stories. I got a laugh out of both of them!

    • Bollywood Wallpapers

      really funny. Good topic. Happy to see your blog as it is just what I’ve looking for and excited to read all the posts

  • Matt Medeiros

    “Social Media is about being SOCIAL!”

    It’s how I open all my Social Media education sessions. 

    P.S Hug-a-whale = classic.

  • Nick

    Unless you’re pumping a lot of money into it, most people who do it for the stats get weeded out rather quickly IMO. People have a sub-conscious BS detector and you can tell when someone’s doing it for the right reasons vs the wrong. It’s funny how many believe they can get away with not really trying or giving value back to others.

    You’ve got to fall in love with people. Don’t think that because you aren’t super social now that you can’t discover how to be. Taking the initiative to reach out in steps is a good way to start off. Eventually, you start to enjoy interacting, sharing with others, getting feedback, good conversation, etc. You learn how to be authentic.

  • Rufus Dogg

    Companies are looking to automate their social media much like they have “figured out” how to automate their customer service. My editor @gerardmclean:disqus  wrote this up in a post almost two years ago and had to stand on a pillory for a month and a half for being a naysayer. gerardmclean[dot]com/the-trajectory-of-social-media[dot]html

    It’s coming. The challenge for the next crop of social media “experts” will be in how to deliver automation and still retain humanness. A year from now, unless you have that solution, companies won’t be buying from you.

  • Binita

    I love the ‘resist the pull to the dark side’ quote Chris! It is a pull it’s so tempting… And then You just need to look at all the people You love in social media and they are all great personalities and don’t do any of that. The tortoise always wins the race. So to speak.

    You know you are on the right track when the very people you admire follow you back.


    • Rick Manelius

      I liked that quote too. We do live in the instant gratification/’give me the magic pill’ culture… so the dark side can be tempting. 

      Just do X, Y, and Z and you’ll be number 1 on google! 

      Better to cultivate something of real value versus hack the system and get to number 1 without really providing anything of lasting substance.

  • Zarmatttathustra

    all this talk about the dark side and necessary evil.. I think Nietzsche said it best when he said “I’m God’s advocate with the Devil” so I gotta say it.. 

    It depends

    I think… if you’re not preaching to the quire you’re putting the cart before the horse because… “what’s important” is entirely dependent on strategy.. so if you say “x is the most important thing” then you’re starting from the stand point of certain strategic presumptions.. and so I get this kind of knee jerk reaction to whip out a magnifying glass in search of the unexamined presumption.. cause there’s you’re shadow side and you’re future… 

    lol, which is not to say I’m not a card carrying member of said quire.. 

    Lately I’ve been experimenting with taking an anarchist view of things.. and one of the things I see is the problem of… lets call it “power morality.” If you look at the history of race relationships… Jazz was once called Jizz.. and what funk refereed to was precisely that part of you’re soul you’d have to cut out if you wanted the power.. worldly power.. but.. it is also the source of power.. I mean there’s a reason black music took over American music.. from hip hop to rock to whatever, right? It was always the heretic who was the life of the party..

    So.. in the social web we are coming from a certain power morality.. and like American Indians we had crappy immigration policies.. and so now there’s a whole set of things that are inconsistent with our power morality.. thats a part of the mainstreaming of social media… 

    So in part what I’m saying is.. that in this.. noise… there could be something.. of value.. 

    But… of course.. really.. what you’re talking about is this knee jerk reaction of the business man that smoked Hendrix’s weed, right? I mean.. it’s like.. if people, cause all they new was like brochure design.. if they started making web sites to look and function like brochures.. instead of recognizing that the web is this whole new medium.. so what wez gotz ta do is figure out what the new medium is all about.. and the problem isn’t really so much one of a new movement of robot cool-aid.. as if it were the new zeitgeist.. the problem is one of not recognizing that this is a new medium… or.. at least it ain’t Kansas, right?

    But then.. no one in the quire is from Kansas right? 

    I don’t know… it’s 10 am and I still haven’t managed to fall asleep.. so please forgive my loopy comments…

  • Rick Manelius

    100% agree!

    I’m reminded of a story I read several months ago about an MIT programmer who (in an effort to ‘help’ the global warming debate) created a program that found tweets of his opponents and auto-responded with a series of stock answers.

    This sounds great, until the other position in the debate does it too. Then what’s left? A series of auto-bots duking it out to debate each other. Meanwhile, the humans who can’t keep up have to sit on the sidelines and watch.

    So much for ‘social.’ I hope this isn’t the end-game for twitter and other social networking sites. I also agree that automation is not a bad thing in and of itself (what if you auto responded with coupons for your products if someone mentioned you?). But it could be majorly abused in a heart beat.

  • Bruce Lynn

    Too many executive think business is just a coin-operated spreadsheet.

  • Raul Colon

    I guess the biggest secret is in how to hug a whale! More on the serious side. I have to say that I had a request from someone the other day which kept on insisting for me to automate their social profiles. 

    As much as I tried to explain it to him that you could not automate it to the full extent he wanted he kept on sending emails and requests on how to automate it. 

    It got to the point that the last communication I got from him was if I could explain via email how this could be done. Keep in mind the person wanted free advice and still did not want to listen to what I have to say. 

    I really think your example on working with the legal department is a great one. It all matters on how you see it. And if your main goal is customer service automating needs to have its limits.

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  • Ellen Berg

    You can’t build relationship through automation, and relationship is the most important element in life.  As a consumer, I’m willing to pay more for my acupuncture because of the relationship my guy builds with his customers (along with great service), and back when I was a student, I’d turn backflips for teachers who understood this concept.  I actually just wrote a blog entry last week about this and the idea of In Lak’ech’, a Mayan word that loosely means “I am another yourself.”

    Life, business, partnerships, teaching and everything else is about relationship.  All of it.

  • Trish Gillis

    Agree that automating is OK … I used to be very anti-automate.  But people should remember when they have posts or updates going out and pull them back when appropriate.  Similar to the airlines have standing orders with the media to pull ads if a plane crash happens – pull or delay automated business posts in times of crisis.  Was a total turn-off to see promoting business tweets in amongst the Japan earthquake/tsunami tweets – posts of people genuinely scared next to a post promoting a blog could indicate a lack of humanity.

  • Terry Heath

    I appreciate the reminder to keep it human. I get wrapped up in the idea that people will miss something I post if I don’t post it several times throughout the day, so I think of automation as a way to handle that. But maybe it’s okay if they do miss it. Maybe less really is more. Those who interact with me most on my blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook seem to find my posts regardless of when they are posted. Maybe they don’t see what I post every time, but enough to stay in touch.

  • Anonymous

    That’s it! You verbalized it where I hadn’t been able to. It’s the disdain that causes the fail.

  • Al Pittampalli

    It’s true Chris…we’re too savvy to fall for social media that is purely done for commercial or selfish reasons. We fall in love with those who use it to engage authentically, and like a real human being. If you see the big winners in the space, whether it be individuals or companies, you see this pattern almost every time. 

  • Anonymous

    We have all been sold a bill of goods that social media is “different”. People think they can link or follow and have equal footing to traditional relationships (or if they do not think it, they wish it too be true).

    While the tools we use to communicate have changed (and will continue to change), who we are as human beings remains the same. Who we choose to really know, like and trust is still a subjective thing. Going to a chamber of commerce lunch is a tool to meet people and cultivate relationships. Twitter is a tool to meet people and cultivate relationships. While the scope is different, they are really the same type of tool (like a shovel and a bulldozer).

    Auto responses and other automation tools often are selfish. They make it better for the user, but not necessarily for the human on the other side of the communication. Humans are experiential beings. When we let a tool communicate for us…. neither party really has the experience, thus it is not truely effective.

    • Josh Chandler

      Thom, I really appreciated your point about how the user doesn’t benefit in the same way a brand does from automation. That is so so true!

  • Togotutor

    I like your post part on automation, Automation is the key for maintaining the systems. From your blog ” But at the end of it all, the goal is that you’re using the tools to better connect with people.”
    Thats important as most people are not thingking the same way.

  • Words Done Write

    Thanks for continuing to beat the drum of humanity, Chris. I’ve echoed these sentiments so many times to clients that I should have them made into a tattoo on my forehead ;-)

    The whole reason social media is special and powerful is because it’s not the old push/pull tools we’ve been using in business for much too long. To tinker with the two-way, human component of social media is to rob it of what’s great about it.

    Thanks for always reminding folks about what these tools are actually empowering us to accomplish and achieve.


  • Fredrick Nijm

    Really enjoyed this post – being real is so easy, yet so difficult to see others replicate with their brands. 

  • Martha Carnahan

    Amen! Plus, I tend to pay more attention to those who are interacting in a human — not a robotic — way. So the automaters don’t really get my attention for long anyway. 

    P.S. I bet you’d hug a whale if you had the chance! :-)

  • Virtual Business Assistant

     Social media is a great way to get connected with people and its true that if you want results then have to be more human. Thanks for the great post Chris. Loved reading it.

  • Sharon Bentley

    This is my favourite blog of the week.  It is so obvious yet it happens far too often.  These people will not succeed in social media – which is great, as I don’t want my sm cluttered with meaningless info!
    Thanks once again – this blog made me smile

  • Norupsby

    Great post!

    The more people realize that Social Media Succes is build upon being human, the more they will finally find interest in the concept of Communication(-s). The thing is that Communication takes place in a very automized manner, hence automation is also an issue when it comes to Social Media. Paradoxically, people go through life without wondering much about what Communication is all about. They just Communicate! Social Media seems to be slowly ending this sad era in modern human life. Taking interest in other people simply is the number one rule defining the ‘game’ of Social Media. That is what ‘Social’ is all about and if you want to master the game, concepts of Communication and being Human is what you need to take into account. Not Targeting, oops!, Marketing or doing Business in General…

    Why are people drawn to Social Media in the first place?
    Hopefully because of the way Social Media works! But then again Social Media for some time were held hostage by Marketing and its insatiable quest of effective ways to gain peoples money. Now, Marketing is facing a new order and Communications is finally taking over…  

  • Anonymous

    Amen Brother. This post boils it all down; I DO have clients who expect Social Media to work for them without their participation – some of them are willing to pay ANYTHING to grow their online business as long a they don’t have to participate.

    I never let them hire me:)

  • Steve Garfield

    Social media is people! Cue Charlton Heston.

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  • Eleanor Jodway

    Great Post Chris!  People should not be so intent on taking The “Social” out of “Social Media”! 

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  • Ryo Yamaguchi

    Thanks Chris. Like others here, I’m so glad to see all of this effort toward remembering the humanity of social media and not simply trying to “capitalize” on it with as little effort (read:
    efficiency) as possible. Certainly the drive to automate social media comes from an anxiety about time and understanding the tools—where anxiety lurks, easy-way-out (or in this case, in) solutions are not far behind. The really scary thing about automating social media, to me, is that it will simply drive people away—not just from your brand, but possibly from a platform, or social media engagement altogether. Perhaps the reason so many folks look at TV ads with a kind of disdain is that so many have become so prescribed, that is to say,
    automated. The same thing can easily happen to social media.

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  • Ryan Critchett

    With it. It’s like the thousands of internet marketers that swarm places like the Warrior Forum, exchanging information on how to “mechanize” what should be them sitting in front of their laptops, communicating with other human beings. 

    I think they watch too many Will Smith movies. Automated internet personalities would do great in I Robot. 

  • Steven Frechette

    Listening tools is a great point.  I do agree that customers desperately want to
    trust those they do business with.  In
    fact, trust is in such rare supply that people will pay a premium (at least my
    own business experience proves this out). 
    Constant news cycles reinforce our fears that the next ripoff artist is
    around the corner.

    Social media is a great way to extend our own human
    qualities to business partners and break down those walls and allow mutual
    trust to be created.  Being human is not
    just a good thing to do, it’s also good business.

  • Michael Q Todd

    Automation will only damage a brand rather than enhance it’s reputation. Social Media is as you say Chris no different to life. It’s about getting known, liked, followed and then promoted. Twitter allows us to do that easily. BTW when are you joining us on Empire Avenue where the  real social media is taking place?

  • Rebecca Slosberg

    Great post Chris. I agree with everything you said, and I always thought this way, I thought it was common sense, but I can see now that it probably isn’t. I especially like and agree with your thoughts on automation. It isn’t evil or wrong to schedule tweets, as lone as they are mixed in with organic tweet. I like to schedule tweets that direct people to blog posts or specific campaigns so I can actually spend my day engaging with people organically.

  • Hillary Meister

    I like what you wrote about keeping it human. But I do kinda like the idea of automating the tools so that you can free up the conversation. What I see around the ‘net and in blog posts is a lot of worrying about what the tool does, how can it help us, how can we use it to promote our business, etc., but not so much of the ‘how do we talk to people with this tool’. I think you’re right on. 

  • Hillary Meister

    I like what you wrote about keeping it human. And while I do kinda like the idea of somewhat automating the tools – but only so you can free up the conversation. What I see around the ‘net, etc. is a lot of worrying about what the tool does, how can it help us, how can we use it to promote our business, etc., but not so much of ‘how do we talk to people with this tool’. I think you’re right on. 

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