(this post was originally written in 2010 for flairification, a blog I retired a year ago)

Ice Cream Truck Social @ CJRW

Do you see “Its” or do you see “Thous”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been very impressed by the quality of the discussion that is happening around the topic of Social CRM. The momentum has been building for years, and it appears that we are about to see wholesale adoption of significant marketing via social media. As @jowyang’s The Fifteen Classes of the Social Business Software Suite points out, the tools needed to provide the infrastructure for these interaction campaigns are here and ready to be deployed. @Armano’s Digital Embassies: A Blueprint For Community Engagement provides a clear guide to assist businesses as they begin to determine how to best align their resources. And @jasonfalls’ Six Questions To Jump-Start Your Content Marketing Plan offers a fantastic lens to identify a businesses true value proposition in our deeply connected world.

When I read what these guys have to say, I’m encouraged that maybe – just maybe – we can get it right. The harsh reality of the situation is that few will. Constant Contact may be an amazing company, but when I heard their ad on the radio offering social media marketing services to the masses, my skin began to crawl. This is how social engagement is going to happen for the majority of businesses “Just add water!”

I’ve even seen the offer presented to my own agency:

  1. Jump on Twitter
  2. Start a blog
  3. Buy a spam email list
  4. Broadcast incessantly via all social channels possible
  5. And on
  6. And on
  7. And on

It’s the natural way to assimilate new ideas – we try to frame them in reference to the known. So when it comes to marketing, broadcast is good and automation is efficient. It makes sense to those who have been shouting their message for ages. In this new day, however, what works best are practices that are built on communication principles which pre-date the age of advertising.

Martin Buber, Photo by Paul Schutzer, Israel 1960 – Life Magazine – c/o

Before focus groups and target audiences – just before the onslaught of mass marketing via television and radio – Martin Buber, an Austrian born Jewish philosopher, published the seminal work on social engagement, I And Thou. To summarize this classic, which was first printed in 1923 as Ich Und Du, every interaction that occurs between one human and another will either take place as an “I-It” encounter or an “I-Thou” encounter. An I-Thou relationship is transcendental; it places the value of the participants in highest esteem and sanctity. Conversely, in an I-It relation people are treated as objects or things (targets audiences?).

Buber was not without critics, many of whom claimed that his Dialogic Principle was too simple – placing every interaction into one of two possible categories. A valid argument for sure, yet judging marketing practices/messages through an I-It and I-Though filter will be essential to all modern brand/consumer interactions. An I-Thou conversation is to be treasured, for you are fortunate to be in the presence of one another. I-Thou relations create beneficial circumstances and outcomes for both parties involved. Read Edelman’s definition of social engagement and listen for the ring of I And Thou:

“Social Engagement” is a continuous set of interactions, communications, and participatory behaviors between individuals seeking meaningful connections to others. For organizations, this leads to a more engaged community, loyal customers, stronger brand affinity, and measurable outcomes which demonstrate mutual gain for all stakeholders.

As the tools of social interaction become more powerful and offer greater automation, what will separate one business from the next is the measure to which they are committed to preserving the human component of these relationships. Businesses that maintain the heart of social engagement will be the ones that truly connect with their brand communities and reap the significant rewards available through our always-on, always-connected society.