We’ve all heard about how society is slowly declining due to individual’s inability to communicate with each other. The argument that technology will be the ruin of us is abundant. According to a recent study, technology not only makes us unsociable, it makes us sleep deprived (More Info). Most zombies cannot speak anyway right? We’ll fit right in!

All joking aside, there are a couple of issues I have with these arguments. The biggest issue I have with people arguing that technology is ruining our ability to socialize, is that the way the internet has evolved has made most of our online activities sociable in nature. Hence the term Social Media. Instead of Sunday brunches with family and hand-written letters, we now have Skype calls and text messages. Now I’ll be the first person to admit that this new way of interacting and communicating with each other might not be in fact, better, because of moral or educational issues, etc. That is not what I wish to discuss however, you can go to editorials and scientific journals for that. My argument is that each time we sign online, we are using at least one program which requires us to be sociable with other human beings. Whether we are on Facebook, reading blogs, checking into Foursquare, reading comments on retail stores, recommending restaurants on Yelp, playing games on Yahoo! Games and more, we are socializing. I could make the argument that no matter what you do on the internet, you are taking part in a human interaction.

Marketers, advertisers, and public relations professionals try to utilize the human connection in developing digital and interactive communications. They develop social media toolkits, or best practices for digital media that always cite one of the best ways to build online communities is to make sure you reply back to your followers or ask them questions. “Two-way communication is key!” they say. Even I have been guilty of boiling down success in online communities to this in the past. Communication is important, but success depends on so much more than just understanding the need for it. If you want to be successful, you have to understand how to communicate on a person-to-person level. It’s all about the human connection. If you have a million followers, you must act as if you are speaking to each of them individually. You must understand not only their basic needs, but what they want or crave. While working for the United States Marine Corps’ social media team, I quickly realized that our online communities were different from others. Each fan on Facebook was already deeply devoted to the institution that is the Marines. Marines that joined the community wanted an arena where they could clear up speculation and rumors, and tell their experience in the Corps. Family members wanted an arena that would allow them to express their pride in their loved ones who joined or meet up with other family members to express their joy, pain, or other sentiments. Future Marines needed a space where they could chronicle their journey, making it more concrete by expressing their dream out-loud. Our information and news we released were simply part of their experience, but not why they joined our online communities. They joined because it made them feel connected to others, to the Marine Corps, and to something bigger. Individuals who join online communities and participate with organizations and brands’ digital media do so because they are looking for a human connection. Your products and services matter, but your followers’ ability to converse with others about their experiences and opinions matter more.

When you build your online communities start thinking about how you can help individuals feel a human connection while associating with your brand. Stop talking at them and stop trying to define your community by your standards; instead begin to think of ways in which you can help enrich the experience they are already having with your organization and the thousands of others who are experiencing it with them. The deeper they are able to connect, the more often they will return, and the more invested they will become in your organization.