Digital kindness – a new concept?

February 25th, 2009 by Jon Clements

2009 is supposed to be the year more companies finally decide that social media is not just for the kids, but as integral a part of business as having a call centre, buying ad space, sending out news stories, etc.

But how should the bigger companies and brands – often steeped in a particular way of marketing themselves – make best use of the new tools and ways of working?

First things first: while there are new tools (Twitter, Facebook, et al), many of the ways of working are not so new; they are just being delivered in a different way. Listening to customers and meeting their needs – it’s been going on a lot longer than we have.

Valeria Maltoni’s Conversation Age blog gives a good appraisal of how companies should be responding to the “diminishing returns from traditional marketing”.

She talks about being able to read “digital body language” – how consumers behave online – and how business needs to recognise that control of the buying decision is now very much in the hands of the buyer.

Maltoni also highlights the importance of the impression companies make online, creating compelling content, measuring interaction and being willing to give to online communities rather than aspiring to control them.

One of the comments on her post, from social media monitoring firm, Radian6’s David Alston, emphasises that the principles that work online have been present for some time offline. He cites the example of an effective clothes shop salesperson who reads the customer well enough to know when to approach and how to be helpful, so heightening the chance of a sale – or, at very least, a conversation.

In its simplest form, effective online interaction with your audience could be deemed as “kindness”. BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week debated a new book on the subject – “On Kindness” by psychoanalyst, Adam Philips – which suggests that, in our society, being kind has become a sort of guilty pleasure rather than an instinctive response. The book says the preferable route is having a “sympathetic identification” with others.

Without wanting to – heaven forbid – come over all touchy feely, isn’t that the essence of social media? And when companies grasp that, is it not a more commercially beneficial approach to the “non-engagement policy” mentioned in some recent PR Media Blog comments?

Whether you are at the point of unravelling the myths of social media  or not, it’s certainly time to participate.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

5 Responses to “Digital kindness – a new concept?”

  1. David Alston Says:

    A nice round up of ideas here Jon. I also like the difference between “listening” and “active listening” when it comes to social media. There is no doubt that by simply listening to what’s being said in social media companies will learn a lot about their customers and their likes and dislikes. However, companies that just listen are missing the wonderful opportunity to build relationships with the customers that love them or, for that matter, don’t love them at the moment because they have a concern. By actively listening, or letting people know you are around if they’d like to talk (best approach is offering to help or asking how best you can help) then you become accessible to your customers and empathetic to their ideas and concerns. As Stephen Covey points out in his 7 habits, seek first to understand then to be understood. And with social media this habit is entirely possible for companies to employ – which is in stark contrast to the “push my message and understand me first” approach of traditional media.

    Great post and thanks for the shout out too.

    Cheers. David

  2. Jon Clements Says:

    My pleasure.
    And thanks for an extremely comprehensive comment!
    Still, a lot of what you describe remains at an early adopter stage in the UK and there are many mistakes still to be made along the road.

  3. Valeria Maltoni Says:

    I would like to accept David’s point and raise to aggressive listening – leaning forward, being responsive, respectful and educated on the person you are talking with. If people take the time to find out about your company, why wouldn’t you do the same with them? Then take action.

    It’s much better than putting people on the other side of a glass pane and give them M&Ms as they answer carefully crafted questions. Yes, I do believe in the value of research, but it needs to be balanced with a reality check. Almost like a road test.

    The trust barometer swings in your favor when you demonstrate you are worthy of trust.

    Thank you for the shout, Jon.

  4. Jon Says:

    Thanks Valeria
    Is there any chance I could have respect, responsiveness AND M&Ms too?

  5. Flirt Tips Says:

    Great Post thank you very much!!!

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