To Be Human in PR. That Is the Quest.

I was in high school when my Home Economics teacher disclosed that Betty Crocker was not a real person but was a device to personalize the brand. For this naive Jewish girl in Baltimore, it might have been the equivalent of hearing there is no Santa Claus. Betty Crocker was not a real person. I resented that teacher and General Mills for many years, though relished in this newfound knowledge and spread the word about Betty to anyone who would listen.

Fast-forward 30 years and we are still inundated with Betty Crockers. Seemingly real, but not. All smiley faced and perfect, at least in the kitchen.

This dawned on me recently when at a PR News conference two attendees embraced and one said to the other: “I never really thought we’d meet in person. Great to know you are a real person and not just a Twitter handle!” To that, the other said, “Isn’t it great to get out of the office and meet real people?”

(Excuse my nosiness, but I was doing PR News research.) My radar was on for these types of interactions throughout the day of our event, and they were rampant over the course of 6 hours. To wit:

One well-respected industry leader declared proudly to me: “I am no longer using Facebook—I don’t even recognize my own siblings on there. I am going to focus on the here and now.” I get what she was saying. Last week alone, three people asked to be my friend on FB, and I have no clue who they are and what value I bring to them. They are connected to me through other acquaintances who I wouldn’t know if I bumped into them while buying a Betty Crocker mix. But more to the other point, who we are on social media is usually not who we are In Real Life. That means, to some extent, that what our customers are doing and saying online is not necessarily who they are offline. Understanding these nuances requires a human, not a machine. We all know this, though the lure of automated technology and social media communication can blur our vision.

The PR News conference last week was focused on PR Measurement, and there were a lot of great conversations about creating the ultimate PR dashboard, understanding Big Data and proving PR’s worth. It was agreed by most that even though we have an unprecedented array of technologies to assist us, it is beholden on us as brand leaders not to forget the human touch and the human brain. An algorithm can only tell us so much about our audience or our campaigns. A dashboard can reveal a lot, but it takes a human being to sift through the data and make real sense of it.

We can tweet and post and like and follow, but at what cost to human interaction? It is very efficient to use email and social media, but it is divine to sit across from a journalist, a customer, a colleague or any stakeholder and have eye contact, exchange words and ideas, relate in real life.

As we take on Big Data and elaborate dashboards, cloud computing and crowd sourcing, let’s remember to humanize our communications and apply human expertise to PR measurement so we can spot a Betty Crocker when she rears her pretty head.

– Diane Schwartz

 @dianeschwartz