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Interview: Chris Brogan on Humanizing Social Media – Part 1

To me this is the hardest and most difficult challenge, because I have to explain to a business that should you treat customers like real live humans. That you should give them incredible, concierge class service and that should you do this it is going to change so much more than you can measure in a spreadsheet.

Over the last few years there has been a greater adoption of social media by companies looking to use social platforms to connect with consumers. Chris Brogan has been busy speaking, blogging and advising companies on how to do just that for the last 12 years as one of the biggest rock stars in the social media world.

Brogan is co-author of New York Times bestsellers The Impact Equation and Trust Agents, (both cowritten with Julien Smith) and author of Social Media 101 and Google Plus for Business. Both in his roles as CEO & President of Human Business Works, co-founder of the PodCamp new media conference series and as a blogger himself, Brogan has a long history of shaping the way that companies approach the social web. Flightpath took the opportunity to speak with Brogan about his take on how companies could better utilize social media, measure ROI and just do social better.

Flightpath: One of your gifts, and probably a huge reason why you have become such a force in social media is your outgoing personality and ability to make everyone you talk to feel important. You are also very successful transcribing this emotional connection across social media platforms. So, how do you advise companies to connect emotionally with consumers?

Brogan: The answer to that is a little challenging because when I go in there and tell companies you really have to really connect with emotion, their eyes go up into the top of their heads. They say ‘Oh I thought there was some kind of software we could buy and a switch we could toggle and then we could go back to thinking about our golf game later.’ It’s really difficult because every time I’m telling people that this is a great way to get more value, what I am also saying is that this takes more work.

I had a conversation with a woman who she runs the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center here in New Boston and we were talking about those experiences you have when you write a company complaint, challenge or question and you get a very personal response back.

In her case, a specific kind of ice cream that was supposed to be showing up at Whole Foods that she loved from the West coast and it just wasn’t in the store. So, she wrote the ice cream company and got a letter back from the CMO (this is email not even the social web) but she could tell it wasn’t a form letter- it was a very personal letter right to her. It wasn’t like she wrote it as a woman who runs Microsoft, she wrote is as a woman who likes ice cream. The CMO responded very personally and said ‘Well, it’s a brand new deal and distribution might be a little slow. I’m really sorry but you might want to look for these 4 flavors.’

What came back from this, of course, is that she tells everyone this story. She told me this story. To me this is the hardest and most difficult challenge, because I have to explain to a business that should you treat customers like real live humans. That you should give them incredible, concierge class service and that should you do this it is going to change so much more than you can measure in a spreadsheet.

Flightpath: There is so much process that agencies go through to come up with those canned responses and they all seem to begin with ‘We appreciate your concern, thanks for your input’. So should agencies working on behalf of clients dealing with a disgruntled customer situation use canned responses or are you saying that all social customer service responses be custom?

Brogan: I think that it is so easy to do a hybrid of that. It is so easy to do. You can do 2 or 3 paragraphs of the absolutely canned stuff, and if you add one sentence at the beginning and one at the end it feels very custom. That is what I advise. Now believe me, there is times when there is a canned response required. Say Kindle Whispernet goes down and every Kindle owner cant get get a book or something like that. That is a great time for a canned response.

And that’s fine, but I don’t even believe that volume is an excuse. I think that if it is a huge outage kind of a thing, than that is an announcement not a correspondence. I think that the opportunity for custom is when anything comes outside of the typical workflow. If someone is really mad because they missed their plane that is a perfect time for a personal message. If this person spent the time to complain than they are worth the time to reply to, because what you do next decides where they spend their next dollars.

Flightpath: Marketers of course want to impact purchasing decisions and often the question they come to agencies with is which platform they need to maximize impact. How do you move the conversation away from tools and back to the importance of building human connections?

Brogan: It’s so funny because in working with a lot of people in this space, I always get tool questions. I will be in a roomful of people and I will be saying, “How did your grandparents sell? How did they buy 50 years ago?” and they will be like “What does this have to do with Pinterest?” and I will be like nothing. This has zero to do with Pinterest.

This is not the future, we do not have jet packs. We are not wearing foily costumes. What I need to tell agencies, marketers and business professionals of all kinds is that the tools are always in service of the work and the work is a lot simpler than the fear that goes into the tools.

The reason we ask so many tool questions is we are so afraid of using them wrong. We are afraid of this Brave New World feeling of being on a social platform. But, the more you use the tools to convey real legitimate human experience and the less you use the tools to emulate methodologies that agencies worked on from past experience, the better the opportunity.

The other thing I tell agencies all that time is that your job is no longer to be the voice of the company. Your job is to be the ears of the company and to help the company be their own voice.It is time for companies to reclaim their own voice. So, agencies have this opportunity to be listeners/teachers. Professional listening is a huge opportunity. That is a vast shift from the way that things are going.

Read part 2 of our interview with Chris Brogan here!