Selfless Giving and Selfish Companies: A Social Media Conundrum

Wrapped Gifts Retirement Party 7-8-09 8Gifts. When we receive them, we feel special. When we receive them from people we don’t expect them from, they are a wonderful surprise and make a far larger impression.

Gifts are special in part because they represent an investment of time or money someone did not need to make. When we receive these gifts, it makes an impact on us.

However, gifts with strings attached or given out of obligation are not the ones that feel good to give or receive. In fact, we may even come to resent these gifts.

Selfish Behavior in Social Media Marketing

When social media professionals and consultants talk about humanizing companies in social media, the inability of companies to be selfless, to give gifts without expectation of a return, is a sticking point.

Companies do not do something and expect nothing in return. Business is predicated on earning a return on investment. A fuss is made about the return on social media because return is, in fact, expected.

The time companies spend in social media and the gifts they may send are not selfless. Just like personal gifts with strings attached are not as appreciated, when we see the strings attached, they lose their impact.

As individuals, we give selflessly. To be more human, companies need to do the same.

Projecting a Selfless Image

In order to humanize a company in social media, companies need to create the perception they are altruistically serving their audience. Even if it is not real at first, it must be believable.

Here are three things companies can do to begin developing a selfless image.

  1. Serve your audience instead of your business. Answer a question or help meet a need that is completely unrelated to your business.
  2. Give a gift without obligation. Pick someone at random and provide a thoughtful token to show you appreciate their support and want to give something.
  3. Ask your audience. You might be surprised how you can help the people you want to connect with.

If your efforts are believable, the loyalty and appreciation you get back from your audience might surprise you. Soon, although the reasons will be selfish, you just might authentically want to help your audience.

In Summary

We don’t keep completely self-centered friends around for long, but self-centered companies still want to be our friends. Companies need to give of themselves in order to earn the relationship they desire from individuals.

Your Turn

Companies fundamentally are not selfless. What other characteristics do companies need to overcome in order to develop more human perceptions in social media in order to build relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake)

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  • Elizabeth Traub

    Suits, handbags, the kind of car your drive, a fancy lunch out no longer define that first impression.  Companies are needing to learn how to define themselves with honest integrity and humility.  Learning this first hand as a new online business owner.  

  • Amy

    A lot of companies are intimidated by social media. It’s so easy for things to “get out of hand.” And some companies (*cough* Goldman Sachs) don’t seem to care at all what their customer base thinks — and if they’re not on social media, they won’t be deluged with complaints (nevermind that those complaints are going on whether or not they’re present, with no one to guide the conversation).

    We need to get over the fear of social media. Might as well do it now.

  • deepika Rawat

    Thank you

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