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Staying Human in a Digital World

Ideas to humanise your online communications

As we all now become digital natives, it makes you step back and think and ultimately realise that those who follow us, will be born into a purely digital society, where eBooks and augmented reality will have gone from exotic to everyday.

Thinking about what this means in the future is intriguing, but it's equally interesting right here and now in 2013. Technology, software and the devices we use, have of course shaped our social and human behavior on a number of levels, from shopping, to leisure, to business. Lives are lived online, and the opportunity to have a live feed into the minds of those you care about is becoming a clearer reality. People are more willing to share and consume horizontally through their social networks, rather than vertically. The organic spread of ideas, relationships, and trade can now be observed and measured on scales of unprecedented detail.

Amongst all the positive aspects of instant global communication, accessibility of information, improved efficiency and the potential for learning, it is clear that there are negative “de-humanisning” aspects of the Digital World now and this will likely continue in the future. People see less of other people, there can be a lazy attitude inherited as a result.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to highlight how in the context of business to consumer communication practices, organisations can act, appear and deliver more human aspects of behaviour both through, and alongside their digital communications, to complement each other.

Humanising Online Business Communications

As more and more businesses advertise, show and deliver communications online, there is no doubt that they have had to adapt to a world of highly concentrated digital consumption. This though, can deliver opportunities to show human connection through and alongside their digital marketing. For example an online retailer can still bring visible human aspects to their business. They can:

  • Show the people within the business on their website people pages and social channels, e.g. LinkedIn profile page and Facebook
  • Personalise their twitter with a unique or range of staff administrators assigned to social media, giving a personal tone to the messages and responses given
  • Ensure sales and support emails are from staff addresses and use appropriate signatures to show real people behind the customer service aspect and gain trust
  • Deliver video and audio content including staff and to connect with the audience on real terms and improve brand personality.
  • Personalise marketing emails both through whom it is addresses but also based on preferences.

Customerserviceaccount

In the case of Twitter, a number of companies place images of their help team  on their

background image to show people what they look like. It’s a small move, but is effective in showing that there are people there who are going to engage with you, regardless of the query.

A high street retailer that also has an “inevitable” online presence can also humanise their consumer’s digital experience and simultaneously complementing the real in store experience by:

  • Promoting specific exclusive offers and promotions online, but only available in store to drive footfall and human interaction
  • Building knowledge of the online offering amongst staff to help deliver in - person sales and consumer loyalty
  • Use social media to help profile the products, local team(s) and staff to consumers
  • Have real staff actively engage with customers online through customer service and social media contexts
  • Ensure telephone numbers are clearly promoted online and personalised where possible to ensure more voice contact.

I think we all know the inevitability of an increased trend for more digital consumption and communication out of necessity, but this doesn’t mean we have to be any less human. It’s about balance. We must continue to act, sound and appear human even online and I hope that the norm isn’t that we get lazy and devalue personal contact by default over a more convenient digital equivalent or alternative.

How Starbucks humanise

I  often reference Starbucks as a stand out brand who seem to make all the right moves in terms of their digital brand strategy, and in context to humanisning their experience, they do the following very well indeed.

  • Promote a wide range of in cafe specific promotions online
  • They have a highly personal and responsive social media presence that is led by fans, not the brand.
  • Their global presence is strong, yet they have great local online content and activity
  • Starbucks rewards on mobile for in - cafe benefits
  • Humanising and socially engaging and accessible content.
Starbucks social

A great example of this last point is in the "Join Us" section on the .co.uk website. The content on this page helps paint a picture of an inclusive, social and people - centric brand built on community. This is what their product and experience stands for yet here it is simply using social media and technology as the delivery mechanism. This avoids many of the big mistakes many brands make, by adopting technology and digital platforms, yet they have no brand supporting or strengthening content strategies.

 

Google Glass  and it's competitors, is another example worth noting for for more social reasons. This product due to launch in 2014 has the potential, for us to act more human, from the perspective that our digital media consumption can be consumed whilst interacting normally - connected with the real world. An argument to this though, is that we may as users of the product, disconnect from the real world as we focus on what the heads up display is communicating to us. The latter is a de-humanising effect, but perhaps a new set of human and social behavioral attributes need to defined “the norm” in light of communication and technological advances and trends.

Related to this discussion from a social media perspective is a really good Q&A worth checking out with Nicholas Christakis from the TED series, entitled: “Our modern, connected lives.” It’s interesting as it raises many points around our influence and behaviour driven by our modern connected online social experiences. It’s a well-balanced series of responses to topics of friendship, social influence and even online dating from a real world vs digital perspective.

In Conclusion

One things is for sure, digital media has the potential to dehumanise our lives as we live our lives increasingly online, interacting with devices rather than people. We do know that as inevitable as this is, we can take positives from how it can help us connect with people instantly on a global scale. We can also be encouraged by the activities of brands delivering people centric and accessible digital content and engagement strategies, initiating and motivating regular real life personal and brand contact.

By Andrew McCrea

Andrew McCrea is Digital Director of Mammoth, one of Ireland's leading brand agencies. Andrew is responsible for developing digital brand strategies for a wide range of public and private sector clients across the UK and Ireland. With a background in online travel marketing and e-commerce before navigating to agency work and consultancy, Andrew is able to approach digital marketing strategy from a range of perspectives and experiences. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn. Andrew is also a blogger at Attaining Axiom.

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