We’ve all seen cringe-worthy moments on social, when someone says the exact wrong thing and doesn’t even realize what they’ve done. It happens in debates over hot-button issues, comment threads on brand pages and everywhere in between. Even well-meaning comments can be hurtful when context is ignored.

It’s like telling an acquaintance who’s been unhappily single for a while, “But you’re so great! You just need to put yourself out there!” The sentiment may be positive, but it comes off like a punch in the gut if that acquaintance already has been putting themself out there with nothing but frustration to show for it. This type of insensitivity is all over social, and it’s a sure way to send new connections running away at full speed.

Social Sensitivity Training

The problem is magnified on social because it’s so far removed from face-to-face conversation. That fact is too often used as a catchall excuse for allegedly accidental insensitivity, but it’s true that adapting to a new medium comes with some challenges. Text-messaging is a great example because it removes the human voice from the equation. Suddenly, it becomes much more difficult to identify the tone of a comment. Is it a joke? Are they mad at me? If I ask, will that just make it worse?

Now, think about if your text-message conversations were available for anyone to read, in an archive that stretches back years. Those are the stakes on social – even if you delete your profile, insensitive comments have a way of sticking around. That doesn’t mean you have to live in fear of saying the wrong thing, though. #JustBeNice, speak with respect, and consider the broader context of the conversation before clicking the “post” button.

Remaining Human in an Automated World

Just as with texting, social removes important clues and cues we’d normally use to interpret the nature of a comment. No body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions can be found. You may get an emoticon or two, at best. Some marketers counter this uncertainty with emotionless buzzword soup, perhaps based on the notion that they won’t risk offending if nobody can understand what they’re talking about in the first place.

You’re not “some marketers,” though. You’re you! No matter the medium, humans relate best to other humans, imperfections and all. Bryan Kramer lays the case out beautifully in his book, Human to Human: #H2H, reminding us that, “Businesses do not have emotion. Products do not have emotion. Humans do.”

Simple? Sure, but the best advice usually is. Whether you’re marketing to businesses or consumers, you’re marketing to humans, above all. Take the time to be courteous, consider the situation of the human with whom you’re interacting, and the other humans following the conversation, or taking it in later. You can’t go wrong being considerate of others.

It’s Okay to Take a Second

The final piece of the insensitivity puzzle is time, and the perceived lack of it. Plenty of insensitive social moments are borne of the artificial, modern pressure to respond right this second. You don’t want to leave people hanging, but it’s fine to take a breath and consider your response. If you’re not sure how your response will come off, read it aloud to yourself or ask a colleague for input.

Your brand and your reputation are intertwined, and make no mistake that you do have a personal brand, no matter what you do for a living. People will remember their interactions with you for better and worse, so do your part to make those memories positive. A Brand is what a Business/Person does… a Reputation is what people Remember and Share.

If you want Return on Relationship (#RonR), it pays to be human.


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