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Be human – the first rule of social media for organisations has now been proven


Unless your social media presence is an unashamed RSS feed of your ‘news’ (something pretty much only the BBC, weather forecasters and sports results types get away with) it’s pretty obvious that you should be using a human voice when connecting with people on Twitter, Facebook, your blog and beyond. You wouldn’t turn up at a conference and suddenly become Corp-bot 4000, you would have conversations with people, you would chat about what you do, what your company/charity does and you might even chat about the fact that you build scale replicas of the Ark Royal out of matchsticks in your spare time. Despite this, the norms of face-to-face communication seem to have been thrown out the window when you look at the one-way traffic coming out of lots of organisations’ social media accounts.

While many of us have ranted about this for a while now, Hyojung Park of the University of Missouri has taken a more thorough approach and completed a research study which shows that people respond more positively to a personal human voice than impersonal communication. As outlined by ScienceBlog, University of Missouri researchers presented participants with mock social media channels of large, pre-existing for-profit and non-profit organisations, complete with user comments and direct responses from the organizations’ public relations representatives. Some of the mock social media channels included the name and picture of the organisation representative with their messages, while other social media sites only included an organisational presence on their sites with no names or pictures. The researchers observed that the participants perceived social media channels utilising conversational human voice much more positively than the websites with only an organisational presence online. The researchers also found that for-profit organisations were more likely to be perceived as using a conversational human voice than were the non-profit organizations. 

Park’s study starkly shows that trusting a member of staff, or indeed a volunteer, to both respresent your organisation and be themselves helps promotes trust, satisfaction and commitment in the relationships your organisation builds with its customers or users. This doesn’t mean you should dive in to social media with a happy, clappy, faux-personable tone that makes you sound like you’ve been cloned in the Innocent Smoothies marketing department. Be professional but, ultimately, be yourself.

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  1. At last, it’s been proven! Let’s see how many organisations become human from this day forward!It’s such an obvious thing to be human when posting content through your social networks. It’s also about finding a balance, your organisation may have to ‘broadcast’ information, but add to the mix some human emotion in tweets and posts etc. Then real people will talk back to you!

  2. Let’s not get over-excited. Proofs are for maths, not marketing.However, it’s nice to see common sense backed up by some evidence. Really interesting to see that it’s the non-profits that are failing at this too. Surely, being human should come more naturally to charities.P.S my favourite points of this post are corp-bot 4000 and the idea of being cloned in the innocent smoothies factory.

  3. Great points Ross. I think in order to build value through social media, you have to be human. It is a no brainer.It has been said and said…and then probably said again….but you like most things you get out what you put in. If you’re all broadcasting, all you will get is a passive and largely disinterested audience of social media couch potatoes. If you open yourself up a bit, watch as you meet wave after wave of really interesting people.You might even make some friends….dun dun dun…shock horror!!

  4. Thanks Ross. A helpful article. I will send to my not-for-profit friends who want to do more with social media.