Last year I wrote two completely different books. The first, called People Aren’t Robots, is a practical guide to questionnaire design. The second book details strategies and tactics for becoming a thought leader. As I said, two completely unrelated books. But as I pondered about those books in general terms, I realized they actually have a lot in common. Both books devote much content towards treating others as real people – flawed, subjective, emotional human beings.
In the world of questionnaire design, this means realizing that people want to help by answering questions even when researchers think they don’t ‘qualify.’ That people want to help researchers by finding the best answer even when no answers are correct. That people want to finish questionnaires even when those questionnaires are painfully long, confusing, and boring. It means that researchers need to rethink how they write questionnaires so that the human on the other side is treated with respect rather than as a source of data.
In the world of thought leadership, it means letting employees talk to clients in their own voice, without formal language and without trademarked terms. It means letting employees share their personalities and interests when they chat with customers online so that they become genuine friends. It means that employers need to trust their employees to relate to others in the online world as people, not logos.
My wish for 2017 is simple. I wish that people would stop engaging with other people. Stop communicating, stop connecting, stop broadcasting. Instead, let’s chat. Let’s noodle over ideas. Let’s ponder and debate and talk. Let’s prattle on and yak and gab. Let’s drop the formalities of standard social media connections and business conversations and start behaving like genuine human beings with faces and names. People who share silly jokes and terrific research design tips, funny cartoons and cool SQL code bits.
Not only is it more natural, it’s good for business. Think about some of the customer service experiences that have gone viral. This Netflix agent who pretended to be a Star Trek captain (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/31/netflix-customer-service_n_4178662.html) or this Amazon agent pretending to be Thor ( https://www.joe.ie/movies-tv/great-odins-raven-amazon-customer-service-agent-pretends-hes-thor-and-its-fantastic/459458).
Of course, this isn’t a call for everyone to start pretending to be superheroes and cartoon characters. It is, however, a call to let the inner geek and nerd out of the box. Let the inner human out.
Annie Pettit, PhD, FMRIA is a research methodologist who specializes in survey design and analysis, data quality, and innovative methods. She is the author of People Aren’t Robots: A practical guide to the technique and psychology of questionnaire design as well as 7 Strategies and 10 Tactics to Become a Thought Leader, available on Amazon.
When I look back at the last couple of years, one firm trend comes to mind. Engagement was huge. Reach out to consumers, engage with audiences, push and pull opinions and thoughts from the brains of everyone around you.
This new theory of engagement led to many tweets like these:
“Thanks for engaging with me!”
“Thanks for engaging with us!”
“Thanks for engaging with our content!”
“Thanks for your input!”
“Thanks for the follow. How would you describe your brand?”
“I look forward to engaging with you!”
These tweets are nice and polite and every last one of them has landed in my direct messages or been sent as a tweet on its own. These tweets demonstrate a commitment to the theory of engagement – creating conversations, friendships, linkages between people.
But they are missing one major component. Everyone one of these tweets is completely lacking genuineness. Open response templates, insert option 7.
Think about every conversation you’ve had with your friends. Friendly, specific, personal. Have you ever thanked your friends for engaging with you? For enjoying your content? For contacting you? If so, you need to rethink your friendships.
These engagement thanks yous are not friendly conversations. They are “following the rules” conversations. They are non-genuine, click-baiting, build the follower count conversations.
These thank yous mix up the THEORY of engagement with the PRACTICE of engagement.
So what should you be saying to people? Well, I can’t give you many specifics. Every conversation is unique. Every tweet is unique. Every reply should reflect that uniqueness. Every reply should be a genuine practical personal and friendly comment.
Thank me for chatting with you about response rates.
Say you’re glad that I liked your infographic.
Say you’re glad I mentioned margin of error.
Say you’ll think of me when a question about probability samples comes up.
Leave the theoretical discussions to your blog entries and white papers. Practice the theory when you’re chatting online.
Thanks for perusing this post. I hope you liked it. I’d be happy to chat with you about it. Not we. Me. Annie. 🙂
Over the years, we’ve learned to identify survey speak. You know, those words and acronyms that only get used in back rooms and boardrooms but then suddenly end up as foreign words in a survey for consumers. We are getting better at dropping them from surveys and I’m glad to see the acronym SKU appearing on surveys less and less often.
We’ve learned that the best websites use engagement tactics to increase the level of engagement they have with their readers. Thousands of social media experts now advise brands to encourage conversations with Engagement Speak, that short little call to action at the end of every blog post.
Tell me more.
What is your opinion.
What would you do.
Have you encountered this before.
Sure, they’re great and it’s nice that you want to encourage engagement. But it’s gotten to the point where it’s easy to see that you’ve read the free ebook and drunk the koolaid.
Write blog post, insert call to action.
But when I see the call to engagement, here’s what I really see.
Write blog post, insert call to action, check blog statistics.
Now is the time to stop. Now is the time to put the ebook down and have a genuine conversation with your readers. DON’T say tell me more if you only need to say thanks. DON’T probe if you don’t genuinely have a question. DON’T ask for my opinion if you’re just trying to increase your comment count.
You know what? Don’t end with a call to action. If your point was strong, genuine, and worthy of a comment, you won’t need to ask for it. An open (moderated to prevent spam) comment box is all people need.