Social Media 101: Be Human

I’ve been active on social networks for almost my whole life. It’s weird to say that, because people just a few years older than myself couldn’t claim this about themselves. My generation is the first to grow up with it, and the first to form their thoughts about customers, sales, and marketing with social media tightly integrated into the conversation.

It’s amazing to me to think about how different my business classes and experiences would have been had I gone to college in 1990. They would have taught me about cold calling, print advertising, and telemarketing instead of blogging, social media, and email marketing. Social networks in their current form didn’t really evolve until the mid 2000′s, and businesses even then weren’t really sure how to use them.

My generation is the first that has had some form of social networking profile for practically their whole lives. Whether it be the AIM screen name we got in 5th grade or the LiveJournal account we kept in Jr. High, we don’t know what the world would be like without social media, and I think that gives us a unique perspective on how to effectively use it.

Somebody recently asked me what tip I would give to businesses trying to build their brand on social media. The first thing that came to my mind – because it bugs me so much when businesses don’t do it – is to be human.

How can a business be “human” online?

The way that individuals use Facebook is so drastically different than how businesses use it that it should be easy to see a problem. Social networks have effectively brought people who are far apart in distance closer together by allowing them to communicate more effectively. Why then, do so many businesses treat it like it’s their chance for a world-wide commercial?

The truth is that business communication on social media should much more closely mirror personal communication on social media. You shouldn’t think of Facebook or Twitter as an outreach tool so much as a tool to get closer to and listen to your customers. By doing that and highlighting your satisfied customers who talk about you, you’re being human, and your efforts will be infinitely more effective in the long run.

What do you think? How can businesses be human and still retain a professional image on social media?