Don’t be scared of your human side

Dave Gorman was on BBC Radio 2 this week, chatting to Steve Lamacq about business writing (that bit gets going from about 13.30). He spoke a lot of sense about the ways companies can get the wrong end of the stick when trying to engage with their customers.

Dave’s main point was that people don’t want companies to be their friends. We mostly agree.

He mentioned a dishwasher tablet company that’s trying to engineer a social media ‘feel’ to their website, in an attempt to get more hits. Is that the right tactic for a company selling dishwasher tablets? Probably not. As Dave pointed out, people mostly go there for info on the product, or to complain. That’s what the focus of the site should be.

Dave then talked about a Twitter account for his local train line, complaining that whoever’s doing the updates says ‘Hi, this is Sam’ when they log on in the morning. His point being that people don’t want to be the train company’s friend – they just want updates.

And here’s where we disagree. When people interact with a company, they like to feel they’re dealing with humans. If a company has a call-centre manned by real people, rather than an automated line, that’s considered a selling point worth advertising. So why shouldn’t a company’s social media account have a human face? They’re run by real people, after all.

When O2’s network went down last year, their social media accounts took a pasting from angry customers. But in the aftermath, their Twitter account in particular got a lot of praise because of the human way they had handled their complaints; people seemed pleasantly surprised to be dealing with real humans, rather than corporate bots.

Social media accounts are a chance for companies to show their human side. That’s not to say they shouldn’t sound like real people elsewhere – we always bang on about writing more like you speak, whatever you’re writing. But the conversational nature of social media lends itself especially well to putting a little bit of personality into how you write. We might not want to be their best mates on Twitter, but we do want to feel like there’s a real person at the other end of the keyboard.

And here's what Dave Gorman had to say about our blog.

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