One of the things that distinguishes me in the world of social media blogging is that I am old … at least old enough to remember how things used to be before we were digitally tracked, sliced, diced, priced, immersed, consumed, and tethered to these social platforms.

I was working in sales and marketing before Facebook … before email … even before computers. And you know it wasn’t THAT long ago that business relationships were built through a firm handshake, a trusting friendship, mutually-shared experiences, and trust.

And then, sometime in the late 1990s, your company probably took all its order forms, sales brochures, and customer service policies to a strange person called a web developer and said, “turn this into a website.”

We could have hardly realized it at the time but we were creating a layer of digital distance between ourselves and our customers that would only become more tangled as layer upon layer of technology was wedged between us.  And it was a one-way ticket.

Sure, it was efficient. Administrative costs went down and customers had the convenience of placing orders through our new machines at any time of day or night.

And yet, something was missing. The soul of business was reduced to computer keystrokes.

Robert Cialdini

I thought a lot about this as I was writing my upcoming book.  As I was working on it, I had a chance to ask Dr. Robert Cialdini, the celebrated author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (and one of my academic heroes!), what he thought it took to stand out in this increasingly bloodless, dense, and competitive digital world.

His reply was simple.

“Be more human.”

Doesn’t that seem ironic?

Being human, simply being ourselves, can create competitive advantage!

“One of the things I advise when I’m consulting in corporate environments is to accentuate certain features that may be deemed attractive and include them in personal bios — the about us categories and so on,” Dr. Cialdini told me. ”We should be including hobbies and how many kids we have, whether we’re hockey fans or runners, and so on so people can register a connection that they wouldn’t necessarily get online, but is typical of face-to-face contacts. Why not infuse those online contacts with the type of information that humanizes them more and leads to cooperation and rapport?”

Dr. Cialdini pointed to research at Stanford that revealed the importance of human connection:

“Participants were told they were going to negotiate through a problem as part of an exercise, but they were told that if no agreement could be reached, both sides would lose and neither side would receive credit for even  in the exercise.  When they had participants only negotiate via e-mail, 30 percent of the negotiations remained dead-locked and people walked away with nothing.

“However, in the instances where they had the participants exchange some personal information about themselves via e-mail prior to the negotiations the dead-locks dropped to 6 percent.  So the general human tendency is to respond positively when we know something about them, when we see something similar to us, when we see humanizing features of that person’s persona available to us. Those things still work – even over the Internet or e-mail — but we have to do something to infuse those technologies with the same sort of information we might get in face-to-face interactions.”

Behind the Twitter avatars and Facebook updates, the text messages and the Skype conferences, people are the same.  They still want to be acknowledged. They want to be heard. They want to cut through that digital distance and get to know you as a person.

Personally, I often struggle with infusing a whole lot of personal stuff into my content, but I do recognize the power of that.  How are you doing it?  Any ideas or best practices you would like to share?

The link to Dr. Cialdini’s book is an affiliate link.

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