Have you ever heard or used any of these terms in your daily business life?
Most of these terms seem innocuous. (Okay, referring to people as “eyeballs” is a little disturbing.) But all of them, as well as other common terms like “hits,” “impressions,” “traffic,” and “page views” have a similar effect: they reduce people to numbers.
To some extent, that’s necessary. Most of us work at for-profit businesses. In our worker-bee role, we often have to talk about customers. We have to generalize. We have to talk about people in terms of numbers.
But talking about the generic “customer” and especially talking about eyeballs or hits, distances us from the actual individuals who make up our followers, readers, or customers. In the same way that we tend to de-personalize and de-humanize the enemy in wartime, in business, we tend to de-personalize customers. Customers are out there. Them. Some vague, fuzzy, mass that you don’t clearly visualize.
Social Media Makes Customers Real
Social media, though, puts you touch with those vague masses. From their avatars–each depicting a unique individual–to their tweets or posts, with all the jokes, different styles, common misspellings, and other personal elements. Each post and picture, each interaction combines to paint a picture of each customer. You may not truly know these people, but they certainly aren’t removed either. They are real, and you have real interactions with them.
Anyone who has studied history knows the drawbacks of de-personalizing and de-humanizing. It’s much easier to drop a bomb from an airplane than shoot a man face-to-face. It’s easier to hate some indistinct image of a people, then to hate the young man whose history you know and whose family you can see standing about him. It’s easier to flip off the woman in the car who cut you off, then the co-worker who just pulled in front of you.
If the customers are indistinct, distant creatures, then it’s easier for us, doing our day-to-day work, to make decisions that are good for the company and may not be so good for the customer. It’s easier to make poor or questionable decisions when you’re customer contact is only through reports that summarize market data.
It’s a lot harder to make questionable decisions when you interact online daily with your customers. When you see their pictures, read their posts about a sick kid or their concern for a colleague. Harder when they’ve done you a favor by RTing a link to the latest company blog post or defended your company, after another user’s negative comment.
As individual customers come into focus, it becomes harder to view customers in general as just a set of numbers.
Seems to me like a good reason to encourage employees to use social media.
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