In a recent small-sample poll that Socious conducted in the Member Engagement Group on LinkedIn, almost one half of the respondents answered that technology was only part of a larger mix of tools they use for engaging customers. About 25% answered that it was critical to engagement and another 25% said that it was the most important tool.
Though this was a quick poll of only a few dozen people, it illustrates a clear imperative for organizations that use online tools and communities to engage their customers and members.
You Must Remain Human
To help companies and associations humanize their organizations online, here are 8 quick tips for remaining personable in the age of social networks and mass electronic communication.
Tip #1) Sign Emails
Add a signature line to your emails, even if they are mass communications without a specific individual sender. Here is an example from a recent broadcast email from Socious to attendees of a large conference.
Tip #2) Use Your Real Name
Building relationships online starts with letting people know that there are real people running the organization. Messages, posts, and content from real people get higher levels of engagement than aliases, anonymous announcements, or coded user names.
Tip #3) Respond Promptly
Don't validate your audience's view that large organizations are black holes. Be responsive and get back to people quickly, even if don't have a full answer for them yet. If you get dozens of emails a day or the email does not warrant a response, pick a few emails each day and respond with something like, "Thanks for your note. I'll look into that issue and keep you in the loop as things progress."
Tip #4) Let Conversations Flow and Add To Them
As discussions take place in your online community, be sure not to take any actions that would quash the collaboration or put roadblocks in front of the conversation flow. Add value to the discussion, but keep in mind that seeming authoritative, like "big brother" is watching, or as if you are offering the ultimate truth on a matter can halt the social flow of the community faster than your dad joining you on your college spring break trip.
Tip #5) Produce Content
Syndicating content from others or sharing other people's tweets is helpful, but does not truly show your audience that you are human. A venture-funded company that I worked for almost exclusively pays other people to reuse their content. While the company's blog is active with new posts daily, their industry does not see the authentic human side of the organization. Put your own ideas, tips, and insight into a blog post to let your audience know that you are invested in their cause.
Quick tip: When you do retweetÂ someone else's blog post, add a few words of commentary at the beginning, like "Great Post!" or "Interesting insight." A little humanness can mean a lot to your network and your brand.
Tip #6) Peel Back the Onion (Judiciously)
This refers to the gradual process of self-discloser represented in interpersonal communication models by slowly peeling layers off an onion as you get to know someone. Reveal the human parts of your organization. Photos of the company picnic, sincere blog posts from executives, and short video that is not perfectly professionals produced all give comfort to your audience by letting them know that you are human just like they are. Check out this recent article from Chris Brogan on being authentic without going overboard.
Tip #7) Thank People for Little Things
It is easy to thank people for big gestures such as volunteering, passing on a lead, and being a reference. However, getting into the practice of thanking people in your online community for things like sharing your content, mentioning your organization, or asking a question is one of the fastest ways to build human relationships online.
Tip #8) Stop Talking About Yourself and Be Helpful
This one is my favorite. Avoid primarily putting out cold, business-like messages about your organization or products. Why? 1) People don't care that much. 2) It does not humanize your organization. 3) People consume, share, and respond to information that helps them with their lives or jobs at a much higher rate than they do with sales pitches.
How have you seen being human impact your organization, customers, or members? Add additional tips from your experience in the comments below.