Brands Don't Exist, Only Real People Do
The surprising thing is, Todaymade is made of real people.
It's not as if you didn't know that, but if you're like me, you often forget you're dealing with real people when you're online. They're just faceless brands, maybe, because the usual cues (expressions, micro-reactions) that tell us we're talking to actual people aren't there.
What does this mean for real people connecting to brands, and vice versa?
There are four aspects to keepin' it real, as a brand, online. Because brands are boring. People aren't.
1. Use Photos Of Real People
We have a team page on our website, and it has our photos and our bios. This helps readers put a face to the names that they see on blog posts or in support emails. When I'm dealing with a brand, as a customer, I often go to the about page and look at the photos. It's an attempt to humanize them. A photo of a person does so much more than an icon or graphic.
In art school, I quickly learned the value of including human figures (or the mere suggestion of them) in paintings; the interaction from my fellow students during critique immediately increased. "Who does that person represent? What are they doing? What does it mean? Are they based on someone you know?"
My art instructor would joke that if you had a bland painting and didn't know how to liven it up, put some people in it. Even if they're just sitting on a park bench, viewers connect immediately and start wondering about who they are and what they're thinking. We are people, and we like to be around and connect with people. We're automatically drawn to people. That's not a terribly earth shattering conclusion, but it's surprising how easy it is to forget the power of showing images of real people on a site when you're a brand.
When you want people to see your brand as real people, you should:
- Use real photographs of your team on your site. Not icons, not cartoons, not inanimate objects.
- Have bios for team members. Make them useful and personable, but not overly clever. Clever wears thin quickly, and can become unappealing after the first read.
- Use first names. Refer to them by their first name in longer bios, even if you're a firm believer in the AP style guide. Your goal is to make them approachable.
2. Behave Well Towards Real People
Because we have a barrier of screens, apps, social networks, and the internet between us and others, we behave differently than if we remembered we were dealing with real people. Recently, I found it easy to fire off a snarky complaint to JC Penney via Twitter. That's just a brand, after all. Except I forgot that a real person has to answer my tweet.
- Julie R. Neidlinger (@julesvern97) February 12, 2014
When the response comes back after such moments, I remember "oh yeah, this goes somewhere and a person reads this and has to respond to this and maybe I kinda ruined their day..." There are ways to voice a legitimate complaint or bring something to a brand's attention without being a jerk. I don't always remember this, unfortunately.
A recent study by WhoIsHostingThis revealed some disturbing trends about how we behave online.
A troubling 2013 study showed that social media allowed people to become "more like psychopaths." What they discovered was that on social media, we:
- Lie more about who we are and what we are doing.
- Miss out on the important life events because we're too busy...trying to capture them for social media.
- Become incredibly self-obsessed, taking photos of ourselves and talking about ourselves and what we're doing more than we would in person.
- Are more confrontational and aggressive online
- Are willing to share far more private information than we would to a stranger if face-to-face.
Of course, studies like these highlight the negatives that come from online life, and don't weigh in with the positives.
In general, though, most of us are very different people when we're "real people", in person, because we can't hide behind the online disinhibition effect. When we're online, it's easy to forget how to behave and treat each other. We're bold, we're aggressive, and we forget that our words are the same as actions, and that they have an effect.
Living in a virtual world can make us forget how to live in the real one. We default to a one dimensional response, sometimes, because our screens boil everything down to one dimension.
When your brand is dealing with people who aren't behaving well online:
- Don't return the favor. Behave with dignity.
- Respond calmly. It's the same idea as lowering your voice when people are yelling at you; we tend to mimic the signals around us when we're in an emotionally compromised state. Being calm can change emotional vibe and bring people back off the ledge.
- Walk away. There are some folks who don't want a resolution. They have their own agenda. If the first two approaches in this list don't work, then just walk away, no parting shots. There's nothing about the situation that you can make right.
You've got to know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run... - Kenny RogersClick To Tweet
3. Tell The Story Of Your Team
We recently had someone interested in knowing about the culture of Todaymade, and what it would be like working here. Each of us began searching our Twitter feeds, and we came up with a long list of tweets for her to review.
Tell the story of your team for people to follow. Not the one that sounds like a press release, but the story of the things you do during a regular work day. For example, we chose a random number that, when we hit that many paid users for CoSchedule, we'd each do a cartwheel. We (and all of the furniture) survived those cartwheels (which were all videotaped on phones), and now we're on to our second round: show and tell.
- Julie R. Neidlinger (@julesvern97) February 19, 2014
Anyone can follow this by simply following our team on social media. It makes us more human that each of us do it, conversationally, rather than just spitting out links.
To build a story for your team:
- Encourage (appropriate) social media. We frequently tweet photos and comments of the little things that happen during a work day, such as funny commentary.
- Start a hashtag. After compiling the list of tweets for our culture sample, I began to think it wouldn't have hurt to have a hashtag for some of the things we tweet about. For example, #TodaymadeEconomy. Give people a chance to follow you specifically instead of it being lost in your larger social media feed.
4. Take The Time For Real People
How do we get our customers to not see us as a faceless brand?
It's not like you can become personal friends with every person who has read your blog, commented, tweeted your content, DM'd you, or sent you an email. And, the larger your audience and customers, the easier (and more necessary) it is to use automation to reach them. It's easy to let automation replace human interaction. How do we go about staying human when it would be easier to automate?
The one go-to rule I use is this: time has meaning.
If technology and automation is anything, it's about saving time. Having enough time is a rarity for people now. We're all busy and we're used to getting email and mail with our name generated from a database. We're used to being wrapped into a slick marketing campaign with email autoresponders, used to the gimmicks that are created to catch our attention and keep us looking with the minimal effort.
Those things aren't wrong, and we go along willingly, but they carry a subtle message: people aren't worth the time.
The best way to connect with people and somehow get out from behind the curtain of automation and digital existence is by showing that you took the time for people. For example, one thing we do is send out handwritten notes with our CoSchedule notebooks.
- Forge (@djforge) February 11, 2014
This seemed like a good way to say thank you to our customers, and was a tangible thing that they hold and know it came from one person to another.
Taking the time for individual customers doesn't scale. You hit a million and you'd be hard-pressed to write a note to each one. But most of us aren't at a million yet, and we can certainly find ways to take the time for people right now. In fact, we might be more likely to get to a million if we took the time for the few right now.
Maybe it means you take the time to answer every tweet by hand, individually, with the initials of the person responding, and not an auto-generated response. Maybe you carry on actual conversations with customers on social media, and ask questions of them. Maybe you mention the names of your fans, and their websites, on your next podcast, and say thanks for something they said in your comments section. Maybe you write a blog post that says if readers want a Christmas card from you, they just need to email you their mailing address (I did this on my own blog a few years back, and had a lot of fun with it).
However you choose to do it, take the time to consider how you behave towards people, and to take the time to really connect to people, even in a small way. Make the internet more about real people and less about the machine.
Follow Julie Neidlinger on Twitter