in regular

The human factor

What’s the one unifying theme behind why we do most of what we do? Other people. The past year has been an interesting one, because I’ve spent a lot more time dealing with ordinary people who don’t deal with marketing as a regular part of their lives, rather than the previous five or so that I spent dealing with matters of marketing, web strategy and so forth to the schools, business or whoever else was paying for it.

The thing I’ve picked up more and more from people is how disconnected they are from everything that’s going on. They might use Facebook and a few are even tweeting. But many of them don’t understand what the purpose is. They might be searching for meaning in the midst of doing it, a few will adopt blogs and spew whatever sort of content that comes to mind. Yet, it all seems not to make any sense. 

My first impulse is to blame the legions of social media experts spreading their knowledge to the masses, for failing to reach the critical masses in any real way. More and more, it just seems like a lot of this stuff is just people preaching to the converted and leaving everyone else to sink or swim (or pay a hefty fee) to discover what’s really going on and how it applies to their everyday lives.

I have a friend who’s traveled the world and has taken amazing pictures. We have this conversation a lot about how her diverse interests would be great on some sort of public forum like Flickr where other people could see them, rather than just Facebook where her friends can only gawk and comment. I explain that by doing this, she has no idea who she’ll meet as a result and what sorts of opportunities it’ll yield and if nothing else, it would feel good to expose more people to work you’re happy to expose anyway.

Among other things, her reply was to recall a conversation with an older professional who confided that he knew he needed to do “all of this social media stuff” but didn’t understand why necessarily and “there’s no real evidence that any of it works.” I bristled until she repeated it, but chose not to cite case studies galore or even riff off a few books I knew off-hand that would change that perspective. 

Why? I realized the failure to communicate was within the medium that I operate in, not in other people’s inability to understand it’s usefulness. Web professionals seem to bask in the glory of the details and make money from being the smartest people in the room. The vestiges of the IT legacy where this all started haven’t fallen too far from the tree in that way. Some people do amazing work to convert the masses, but their advice doesn’t quite work. 

I teach a college class of people who in many cases are returning to school after fifteen or twenty years away. Many of them have been laid off from jobs they held for a decade and return to a marketplace they barely resemble because it’s so different than the one they started in. Telling these people to merely create a Twitter account, a blog or a LinkedIn account and wait to reap the benefits ignores the complexities of what their lives have evolved into over the years. It’s just not realistic and is tone deaf to what they’re dealing with.

So while exposure to social media is important — and it’s a major component of what I communicate — it’s not the entire story. Many people do great work and create great tools like Tumblr or WordPress and others. It’s easier today to break through than it was at other times, yet it’s more difficult at the same time. 

All of this stuff is about people. These conversations, these debates and all of the tactics and strategy we spend time cultivating is about finding ways to reach people. I think this gets lost in all of the data collecting, creation of personas and ways we seek to encapsulate populations into neat packets that we can digest better. It doesn’t always work that way.

Sometimes, you have to turn off the screen and reach out the real people. Not just the folks in the office across the hall or even people in your own family. But folks a world away from where you exist, whose lives may be dramatically different and who consider issues that not be on your radar. They’re using the same tools we are to get ahead in the same place inhabit, but their issues and concerns are often lost. 

It’s about time we fixed that.