What if technology could inspire us to be more human? It’s a simple idea. But more often than not, we hear the exact opposite expressed:

  • Social media is preventing us from creating “real” relationships.
  • Our iPhones cut us off from experiencing the world around us.
  • Our kids are growing up with “emotion atrophy.”

Technology, if you listen to the naysayers, is stifling our humanity and preventing us from experiencing the world around us “the right way.” That’s the story most people would like to tell you.

Of course, I think it’s the exact opposite.

Does our digital environment have its problems? You bet. But tech and communication mediums have always presented challenges that have shaken up the status quo.

Over 2,000 years ago, Plato was concerned that the technological advances of pen and paper would destroy one of the most basic and necessary human faculties: memory. Similar scares have surrounded the printing press, postal service, phone lines, and–of course–the most reviled of them all, television!

Let me share with you a few recent gems from a Twitter account called the Pessimist’s Archive:

“I figure the cinema is a little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage. I am not sure any real actor should be caught posing for the flickahs.” – Charlie Chaplin, 1914

“Almost every one reads these days, and the amount of reading matter absorbed is stupendous. Sir GILBERT PARKER has estimated that at least three times as many new books and magazines are printed today as were published thirty years ago. The thought appalls him. The New York Times, September 14, 1926

New is scary. It’s unknown. (These days we use the buzzword “disruption” to describe newness.) You can say our fear of the “new” is an archaic evolutionary trait that should have been weeded out in the modern age, or you can say it comes from somewhere else, the fact remains:

Most people see new content, new uses of media, and new distribution methods as alarming.

The Terrors of 2016 include: auto-driving cars, a Big Brother Internet of Things, beacons and proximity technology, virtual reality, and these things called “bots” that are supposedly going to take away millions of jobs.

What if instead of fearing technology…
…we believed it could be used to restore our humanity? Okay, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not the type who fears tech. But put yourself in the shoes of those who do find the tools that brands and marketers rely on to be frustrating, isolating, and disheartening.

In my new book, Finally Human, I propose that our digital environment has the potential to be restorative. We can actually leverage our tools and technology–all the “newness”–to make our audiences, our communities, come alive.

Communicating In The Age of Influence
The first thing to recognize in what I like to call The Age of Influence is that brands no longer control their image. Peer recommendations and the ratings and reviews of complete strangers are perceived as more valuable and true than anything a brand can say for itself. If you’ve got nothing to hide, this can still be a little intimidating. If you’re not totally forthright and honest, this can be terrifying.

The most successful brands in the Age of Influence are ones that recognize and respond to people’s natural, very human fears, desires, and hopes. Whether they appeal to the tenderness of the heart, like Dove, or the carpe-diem thrill-seeker in us all, like Red Bull, these brands keep a finger on the cultural pulse, and know how to communicate in a way that enriches our lives.

There are four basic behaviors that are essential for success in The Age of Influence:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Practice transparency.
  3. Respond frequently and thoroughly.
  4. Embrace the ratings and reviews environment.

Being Genuine
If you are going to ask for something from your audience (i.e. their attention, in whatever form that may be), then you should expect to give something. In the Attention Economy, not all transactions are financial; in fact, many are not. The best brands know how to exchange their own vulnerability for their audience’s attention.

Vulnerability is currency in the Attention Economy.

Practicing Transparency
Transparency is a near relative of genuine and vulnerable behavior in that all of these concepts are measures of honesty. If “being genuine” has to do with how you communicate, then “transparency” has more to do with what specifically is communicated and to what depth of detail. Applying just the right amount of transparency in everything from your website to your Snapchat should draw people into your world or the world you are representing.

Transparency goes to the core of what is human about social media and why people use it.

Responding Frequently & Thoroughly
42% of Facebook users expect a response from a brand within 60 minutes. 32% expect a response within a half hour! The demand is high, but the payoff is also extraordinary:

  • 56% of consumers who interact with a brand feel a stronger connection with the brand.
  • 50% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand they can contact on social media.
  • 71% of consumers who receive a quick and effective response are more likely to recommend that brand to others.

Nothing is more powerful in marketing than an unexpected gesture of connecting and caring right when a customer needs it.

Embracing the Ratings & Reviews Environment
Starting with the obvious: social media is about interaction with other users, not attention to buying opportunities. People talk, and you can’t control what they say about you. While you can attempt a defensive position through the help of a number of “internet reputation” companies, the best defense is a great offense. By implementing the above Age of Influence behaviors, you dramatically reduce the likelihood of an attack. But attacks happen. Learn to embrace the ratings and reviews environment.

92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people (even someone they don’t know) over branded content.

The Future Belongs to the Human Brands
With the rise of social media, niche marketing, and the Attention Economy, we have seen a shift from mass-market directives to personal, value-adding communications. In the coming years, this trend will continue to accelerate, and we will see a greater number of brands adapt more “human” voices and personable styles of communication. But the revolution is still in its infancy.

As more businesses discover success by practicing the core behaviors in Finally Human, the Attention Economy will tighten once more. In other words, user-attention will be captured by the brands who know how to act like humans, thereby shrinking the supply of ‘attention’ for brands that are late to the game.

Currently, “being human” is something of a novelty in brand communications. It isn’t very common and consumers certainly don’t expect it. However, it’s only a matter of time before “being human” is the new baseline for successful brand communications.

Start today.

The future belongs to the human brands: the brands who understand their audience, respect their audience, and deliver valuable content with a genuine voice. Don’t wait for that “moment of inspiration.” Just get going.