Brands Can Have Real Conversations

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Are there any real conversations happening out there?

It’s been a long day. I hopped an early flight to Boston to speak at the Marketo customer summit. Direct flights are a funny thing. On one had, you want the ease and practicality of getting somewhere without getting too much of the airport experience "on you." On the other hand, you are at the mercy of the airline’s flight schedule. In today’s episode of Adventures At The Airport, I chose a direct flight to Boston early in the morning, even though I was speaking at the end of the afternoon. But hey, it’s Boston. There are worse (way worse) places to spend a summer day. With that, I was fortunate enough to have breakfast with C.C. Chapman (Amazing Things Will Happen, Content Rules, etc…) and then lunch with Ann Handley (MarketingProfs, Content Rules and the soon-to-be released, Everybody Writes). I first met C.C. at PodCamp Boston a long time ago, and I met Ann a few years later. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of spending personal time with both of them. Good people. Good good people.

That’s not the point.

The point is this: I met them through (and because of) social media. Without blogs, podcasts, online social networking, I would have never met them. I have a lot of friends like this. Real friends. Not Facebook friends. Friends. The problem is this: I think I know what’s going on in their lives because we’re connected on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever, but I don’t. I don’t have any idea. Don’t get me wrong, both C.C. and Ann share. They share a lot. But it’s a filter. It’s a thin veneer of who they really are. It’s the "them" that they want you to see. And, for all of the marvels of technology that connects us, when you sit down and ham it up over some coffee or talk about the woes of the world over a BLT, that’s when it really clicks.

The like button is more button than like.

I used to think that the true power of social media was the ability for brands to have real interactions between real human beings. That was the drum that I was banging back in the early 2000s. Now, it’s 2014, and if you look at some of the research and data, what we’re finding is that brands (and consumers) aren’t having that much conversation online. Yes, there is a lot of quick responses to customer service issues, and tons of new and interesting memes and viral videos being pushed out, but a true conversation? Not much.

Don’t you worry about a thing… because everything little is going to be alright.

It’s hard to have a conversation if the main goal is to get people to buy from you. That’s the big thing that big brands (still) don’t understand. They see social media as another advertising channel… another place to put a message. Sometimes, that message is personal. A lot of times, that message is just a different kind of ad. I don’t believe that social media has failed brands or consumers. The technology is ambiguous. I blame the brands. I blame the celebrities. Here’s the thing, social media is a great place to let people know what’s going on, especially if those people are both interested in following you and responding to what you’re putting out there. The problem is that when everyone follows that model, the true charm gets lost. I can filter. I can create lists. I can follow real people. I can move brands to their own special place. Most people just let the firehose do what it does best… be a firehose. They’re bystanders in social media. They’re letting who they follow control their experience. And, for most (I’m guessing), it’s not all that interesting of an experience. It’s just another kind of news and information service. There’s no (or little) back and forth. There’s no depth. There’s no new people to meet, connect with and share.

Don’t let social media turn into a one-way street.

It’s easy to sit back and let the newsfeed take over. People are sharing. They’re sharing articles, pictures, videos, audio clips and more. You could spend years tumbling down the rabbit hole of what your online "friends" are telling you to check out. Or, you can push back. You can filter. You can be ruthlessly diligent with who you follow. You can create more tangible encounters and push for the conversation to come back. It’s hard. Willing social media back to a time when you could really connect with people and engage in civil discourse seems all but for forgotten. It isn’t. I’m so guilty of letting the newsfeed rule over me. I see posts from C.C. and Ann almost everyday. Sometimes I "like" them as a form of acknowledgement, but I mostly just let them wash over me. Then, when we sit down, in our protein forms, I realize what social media really can do. 

I think it’s time for brands to get more personal. I think it’s time for brands to realize what social media really can do.