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5 stages of humanization for a social business

4 min read

Brands & Campaigns

This post was written by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund and was culled from their forthcoming book, “The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter & More Social,” available for pre-order and debuting Feb. 1. Download the first chapter free at

There is no one-size-fits-all playbook for engaging and responding in real-time business. There is, however, a progression for building and extending your social media engagement that we call the Humanization Highway. Your company’s culture, combined with your customers’ desire to interact with you in social media, will determine where on the Humanization Highway of engagement your company is located.
  • Ignoring: The starting point on the highway is the “head in the sand” scenario whereby the company chooses to ignore customer pleas for interaction.
  • Listening: The first stop on the highway is the basic listening program where the company is monitoring and analyzing what is being said about them and how those conversations may be affecting brand perception.
  • Responding: The next stop is responding. This is perhaps the most customer service–oriented step, as it usually involves the company answering specific questions from customers or prospective customers about product and corporate attributes. It can be saying “thank you” when the company is mentioned positively in a blog post, following up on a request for more information or offering to lend a hand when there’s a problem.
  • Participating: Creating content and communicating about issues that are of interest to your customers, but not necessarily about your company in particular, is stop three on the highway. Because the entirety of your engagement is not tied to messages about your organization, this is when your company starts to be social, not just do social media. Active participation humanizes your organization by making it relevant on a broader scale. It’s the online equivalent of someone who can converse on many subjects, rather than that lady at the cocktail party who refuses to discuss anything but herself and her Pilates class.
  • Storytelling: This is when you start to become a documentarian, communicating in multiple formats about company history, people, and behind-the-scenes information. The blog by e-commerce and catalog retailer of geeky goods ThinkGeek featured a post about its newest employee,  Guillaume — who is French and evidently “largely ignorant of our favorite American movie and television memes.” So, ThinkGeek launched “Operation Guillaume,” a full-scale effort to “convert” their newest employee to red, white, and blue geek-ness.
For Part 1 of “Operation Guillaume,” the company launched an online poll of their fans to identify the highest-priority “geek” movies. Guillaume then watched the top movies and posted reviews to the ThinkGeek blog, connecting this employee with the company’s fans in a perpetual feedback loop.

This is the paradox and genius of the storytelling stop on the highway. You’re marketing your company, but so indirectly that it becomes “UnMarketing” — a term coined by consultant Scott Stratten, who wrote an excellent book on the subject.

Each part of the Humanization Highway you travel is inclusive of the previous stops; it doesn’t replace them. So just because you’ve decided that you’ll be on stop four, storytelling, it doesn’t mean that’s the only type of engagement you offer.

The point of social media, and certainly the point of online engagement, is to create kinship between company and customer. And your logo, press release and other “look at me” information doesn’t create kinship. It creates boredom.

Your company is made up of many great people. Engagement lets you prove it. Focus on your people and your customers, telling their stories, and you’ll be soaring in no time.