Get Over It, Your Brand Will Never Be Human

by Ryon Harms on April 18, 2014

What does it mean to be human? I asked myself that question again after reading Jason Fall’s recent blog post, An Apology to Brands on Behalf of Social Media Experts Everywhere. His post brings up a very good point, which is, can a brand actually be human? And equally important, can social media help a company be more human? I know that it can.

Let’s assume the following positions:

  • social media marks the transition from mass communications to masses of communicators
  • only a human can be a human
  • only a brand can be a brand
  • humans use social networks to connect with humans, not brands

If we believe these assumptions, then we can get to the root of the problem that Jason believes is “the biggest disservice influencers have done brands.” By influencers he means people like him: the highly successful social media experts who’s networks of thousands of other wannabe social media experts retweet everything they say. Apparently these influencers have convinced their client companies that they can do the same.

As the former head of social media at a big brand, I can tell you first hand that no matter how hard you try, and trust me I tried, people will never mistake your Facebook brand page for being a human. You can write a million friendly posts about random holidays and you can be sure that nobody in their right mind is ever, ever going to think those posts came from a human being. And here’s why: a Facebook brand page is a transitional tool rooted in traditional marketing, and traditional marketing (where brands originated) was born in a world of mass communications.

As we’ve already assumed, social media is not mass communications, it is about masses of communicators. And since we’ve also assumed that only brands can be brands, and that only humans can be humans, we can see how these so-called social media experts have managed to be so influential – unlike brands, they are actual humans! So if these social media experts have been going around telling companies that people will confuse their brand for a human, then it is in fact a huge disservice, not to mention disingenuous.

But here’s the good news: there’s still a place for brands in the world. Millions of people still watch cable TV, click on Google ads, and drive by billboards every day. And what’s even better news is that if we take a step back and realize that a company is so much more than just a brand, that it is in fact a collection of humans striving towards a common goal, we get a glimpse of the true potential impact of social media.

My greatest success as a social media director wasn’t growing our Facebook brand page from 6,000 fans to over 2 million. It was activating our thousands of local representatives across the country through social media. These local representatives never fancied themselves a brand, they just acted like themselves – like humans. We ultimately created a new sales channel for the company, not because we shoehorned our mass communications brand into a world of masses of communicators, it was because we understood the distinction.


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