I recently met with a new client, a matchmaker who sets up dinner dates for singles of all ages in East Anglia. I was fascinated by her thoughts on dating in the 21st century – how difficult it is to make real, human connections when so much is online and introductions are conducted through websites and apps, and judgments on potential partners are made in a split second. For young and older people alike, it seems relying more and more on technology to facilitate romance is having a detrimental effect on our basic social skills.
It made me think a lot about PR and marketing. The first thing you ever learn about either is how people are at the heart of everything you do. Marketers work on the principle of people making decisions based on emotion – you’re not buying a family car, you’re buying the means of transporting your loved ones on holidays you’ll remember forever, or keeping them safe should you be involved in an accident.
A company’s reputation is built on people’s feelings towards it and whether their interactions with it have inspired trust. When I was a journalist, every story, no matter what the topic, had to have people at its core. We were told to ‘add colour’ by bringing in first-hand witness accounts and personal experiences.
Quality time, not screen time
But, with all of the software and gadgets and technology we have at our disposal these days, it is easy to become disconnected. I have tools for analysing everything people do online – what they do and where they go on websites, who is clicking what links on social media to travel to other pages, which occupations, ages or hobbies are best to target with particular brands, what the popular search terms on Google are, how many newsletters are opened and which were the most popular bits.
It’s easy to reduce people to statistics and demographics. You can hide behind emails, carry out conversations on social media and forget you’ve not even spoken to someone properly for months, despite feeling like you’ve known their every move in that time.
I’m not knocking those tools – I now can’t imagine working in PR when press releases were posted, actually through the post, to journalists, and clippings had to be manually cut out of newspapers to be stored in libraries with cross-referencing to keep track.
For people running small businesses and charities, you should embrace anything which helps to automate a PR or marketing process, you simply don’t have the time or resources not to.
From now on though, I’m just going to be that little bit more mindful of the importance of face-to-face interactions, and of communities that can rally round to support people. Whether it’s attracting love or attracting new customers and supporters, we mustn’t lose our ability to connect on a human level.
By Hannah Upton