Social media advice: Get real or go home

Chris Garrett wrote a post a while ago about being real vs. phony. Here’s what he says about real people:

Real people rock. If anything, I would always rather meet an imperfect human being than a fake robot. Be proud to be you, mistakes and all.

Too many companies hire and train robots to handle the vast majority of their customer contact. They treat employees like equipment. They seem to believe people’s behaviors can be designed and managed like machines.

A key tool in this strategy is the much-maligned script. Most employees despise them. So do many customers. To a customer, a scripted employee sounds like a phony, uncaring employee.

When management forces unnatural scripting on employees, they can be become the robots Chris talks about. They say and do as they are programmed.  So management thinks this is a good thing.

But it actually creates a big problem.

It  prevents employees from connecting with customers.  It drive customers away. And if you approach social media with this strategy, it will blow up in your corporate face.

Last week, in the Certified Master of Social Media course taught be Rick Mahn, we discussed corporate culture and how it might affect a company’s success in using social media. Culture can make a a big difference. Social media is about connecting people. A defining trait is that is breaks down barriers.

Yet squeezing employees into pre-planned scripts does the opposite.

When you tell employees exactly what to say to customers, you are creating barriers between them and their customers. You are trying to control the message every step of the way. You are preventing real conversations from happening.

And you are chasing customers away. (If they have a viable choice to go elsewhere, most will.)

The bad news for many companies is they are too invested in controlling things. They believe they can control the actions, words and outcomes of every contact between customers and employees. But they can’t.

The good news is this stuff is not complicated. It’s about basic human relationship skills. People (customers) want to work with real people (employees). These interactions cannot be scripted.

Twelve years ago a group of pretty smart guys put together some thoughts that made sense then and are even more powerful today. In their work, The ClueTrain Manifesto, they talk about the relationship between customers and companies. Here’s what they have to say about conversations:

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

and…

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

Today “social media” is still more buzz than substance for many companies. But that’s changing. Many, many organizations are using social technologies to connect with their customers in ways that benefit everyone.

But to make social media work, you must make it real. Let your employees and customers have genuine conversations. Otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz