The Power of the First Person

On some sites, you know you’re in the company of real people. The first-person singular and plural are in evidence throughout: I’ve tried hard to make buying window coverings a no-brainer. Prices, colors, and product information should be clearly available. But if there’s something I can change that would have made it easier for you, let me know.

Like you, we’re parents, and your love of your children is why we exist. So, when you’re reading our child safety guide or about removable mesh pool fence, think about how you can apply the things you learn to your life.

Last month we invited everyone to fill out a survey. I was surprised to see that many people wanted us to write more about computers. It appears that more and more people are using their computer as the base of their audio video system.

None of these sites are run by huge corporations. Nor are they mom-and-pop companies. They generate substantial revenues and are extremely successful by almost any standard.

The individuals behind these sites have probably given some thought to removing themselves from the spotlight, to replacing “I” or “we” with their company names. After all, in the offline world, successful companies very rarely talk in terms of “I” or “we.” There’s a perception that to speak in the first person indicates that you are a very small company and not to be taken seriously.

Numerous experts — myself included — have cautioned against copy heavy with the pronouns “I” and “we.”

“Talk about the benefits and your customers, not about yourselves,” we say. “Focus on the reader, not on you.” We have recommended site owners go through their pages and actually count the number of times these wicked “I” and “we” words appear. “Cut them out!”

Perhaps we’re missing something. Perhaps the Web is the one place where the first-person singular is absolutely appropriate.

How come? Because the network of the Web is made up of hundreds of millions of individuals who email, chat, discuss, and share in the first person. People online connect with one another on an individual basis far more frequently than they buy at online stores. The Web is a fabric of individuals above all else, not a mall.

As a result, perhaps people feel more comfortable when they feel they can connect with individuals at e-commerce sites.

In the words of Jay Steinfeld of You wouldn’t think it would be particularly impactful, but people want to know you’re there, and that you’re thinking about them… read that “caring” about them… and not being ignored.

Though some smaller, but profitable companies benefit from connecting with their visitors and customers on a one-to-one basis, most companies resist this “folksy,” “small-time” approach.

Do larger companies lose out when they fail to “be there”? Absolutely. In my next article, I’ll look at why and where larger companies online would benefit from adding a few more of those troublesome “I” and “we” words.

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