The success of any social program is ultimately determined by its ability to connect on a one-to-one, human level. But what does it actually mean to be human in social media?
Is it having a fun and engaging brand? Speaking in everyday, colloquial language? Establishing a more relatable - even intentionally non-corporate - online presence?
To an extent, but these are surface symptoms. The core issue lies much deeper, in the nuances of how we interact with one another.
Specifically, there's a phenomenon in linguistics known as "code-switching." It refers to when a person alternates back and forth between multiple languages in a single conversation. Recently, a team at NPR has dived into this concept, elevating it beyond linguistics and identifying its prevalence and significance on a cultural and sociological level.
One writer, Gene Demby, points out how most of us do this every single day at work. We adopt a corporate tone when speaking to our superiors or coworkers. Then a friend or family member calls and we morph into an entirely different - perhaps even seemingly completely opposite - persona. The key, though, is that both voices are still inherently us. As Demby writes: "Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves…hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities - sometimes within a single interaction."
The implications of this in social media are massive. Social already blurs - and is on the way to obliterating - the line between professional and personal. Combined with our nature to code-switch, that means two huge shifts in how we need to approach social as brands:
Every corporation, no matter how buttoned-up, no matter its product or service, has a unique personality. Being human in social media, then, involves identifying all aspects of that personality - even the less obvious or less corporate ones - and embracing them as a whole. From there, the surface symptoms we referenced at the beginning of the column - tone, language, aesthetics - will be easier to define.
The beauty, though, is that there's always room for a brand's personality to expand and express itself in new ways. Just as various parts of our individual personalities can evolve - without compromising who we are at the core - brands can similarly introduce concepts and experiences that reveal more of what they're passionate about, without deviating from their key values, objectives, or principles.
It won't happen overnight. It may even be painful. But discovering how to be authentic, to be genuine, is an exercise that will only help a business in the long run. At the end of the day, people connect most with real. And social allows us to connect easier and more frequently than ever before, making it the perfect place to start.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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John Lee is Manager, Brand and Social Marketing at Webtrends. In 2012, he was recognized by PR Daily for creating both the year's "Best Branding Campaign" and "Event of the Year." Follow him on Twitter @lee_john.
March 19, 2014