Social media requires the human touch

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn is set to make a tidy sum when his social media site goes public later today. Estimates vary, of course, but when shares start selling today, Hoffman will become a multi-millionaire. Nice. I was speaking at a conference in London a year or so ago together with a director of LinkedIn. He revealed that the company’s target was for 85m users; now they have over 100m, well exceeding their own expectations. So how has LinkedIn proven to be more popular than its own expectations and worth more money than your or I can imagine?

Social Media Expert Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman, founder of Social Media site, Linked In Picture Courtesy: Joi

Human. That’s the answer. LinkedIn is completely human. It is focused entirely on individuals. True, there are company profiles, but they are really only extensions of the people within those firms. At the heart of LinkedIn is material about people. It means that the kind of content available on LinkedIn is less business-like than when the same companies are represented on Facebook. Go  to a business page on Facebook and it is often full of business-jargon, full of “we do this and we do that”. Go to LinkedIn and the same people who compile those Facebook pages are writing “I like this, I did that”.  The way LinkedIn works forces its users to be more personal, not less.

New research from the University of Missouri provides another reason why this factor of LinkedIn is central to its success. This study presented mock social media sites written in different styles and then assessed the extent to which they were viewed positively. The sites included content from business organisations and non-businesses.

Social media and the human voice

What the researchers found was that the blog posts that were human got the highest positive ratings. When the blog posts were corporate or dispassionate, the ratings fell. OK, forgive me while I stand back in amazement for a second or two – NOT…! We needed academic research to tell us that being human makes a more positive connection? Gosh I wish I could get research funding for finding out the obvious…!

But perhaps it isn’t obvious. The web is crammed full of business-speak, jargon and non-human stuff. Why – oh why – do so many companies insist on the “company voice” when study after study and case history after case history proves time and time again that being personal, being human is what works?

So here’s what to do to gain more positive reactions to what you do online: write as though you were talking to someone. I’m telling you this because it works. Oh whoops – there I go again, addressing you directly instead of being business-like and disconnected from you…!

If we can learn anything today from the public offering of LinkedIn shares it is this; their success is down to people talking to each other using the human voice, not a corporate one. It is this single fact which lies behind Reid Hoffman becoming a multi-millionaire overnight. And if it works for him…..

3 Responses to Social media requires the human touch

  1. Social Media Consult 23rd May 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    Good one Graham…..

    Businesses really do need to get more 'real' online…..It's VERY difficult to convince some companies of this though….Which is really why so many companies fail at SM…And frankly, deserve to…We've actually dropped a lot of clients and focused on our best (Entertainment) as we find its entertainment that does best…

    • Graham Jones 24th May 2011 at 7:02 am #

      Thanks for your comment – perhaps the entertainment industry is better at understanding the need to truly connect with audiences on an individual basis?