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It’s the people, stupid

By Katy Echols

There once was a boy named Jim Porter who was journeying from Oklahoma City to Memphis. Upon arriving at the airport, he walked up to a kiosk and scanned his driver’s license to print his ticket. This failed to work. He then pulled out his BlackBerry and spent several minutes connecting to the airport’s network. After sorting through spam and forwards of inspirational videos in his inbox, he found his flight confirmation and punched the number into the kiosk. Thankfully, it produced a ticket.

A flustered and somewhat late Jim proceeded to the security line. After spending several minutes in line, using the time to watch his inspirational videos, Jim reached the security guard who informed him that the name on his ticket did not match the one on his license. Jim glanced at his ticket, which apparently belonged to a Jam Potter. He wasn’t Jam!

Jim, newly Jam, went back to the check-in desk and spurted out a demand for a correct ticket along with some unkind words. The ticket lady angrily went through her files and corrected the error at the price of countless identity checks, usernames, passwords and of course, time. Saucily reminding Jim to be a more mindful typist, the lady handed him his new ticket.

Cursing the guard and his sloppy typing, Jim ran back through security (as quickly as the line would allow) and missed his flight. Luckily, he still had his handy BlackBerry to update everyone that his flight would be “delayed” and to tweet how much he hated flying.

That same day, across the airport, a girl named Lucy was leaving Oklahoma City for Houston. She walked towards her check-in counter and was greeted by a man in uniform with a broad smile. The man asked her name, and for courtesy’s sake, how she was doing. He swiftly printed her ticket without fuss, kinks or passwords then pointed her toward security, adding that she would be departing from gate ten.

A happy Lucy went through security and grabbed a coffee, a magazine and a pack of gum. Sitting at her gate, she did not dwell on her hectic day full of multiple flights. She simply enjoyed an article on finding the perfect pair of jeans.

So what is the point of these anecdotes? They would usually seem commonplace and transpire without notice. However, they remind me of a significant fact the world seems to be forgetting—a fact we as PR practitioners would be wise to remember—it’s about the people!

Human interaction is crucial.

So much of our world is controlled by technology. In the world of PR there is a particular emphasis on “keeping up with the Joneses” in regard to technological trends. While that emphasis is important, it loses its meaning if we forget the bottom line: we have to care about people.

It seems that everything has to be faster, easier and louder to catch the public’s attention. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, constant e-mails, smart phones, Bluetooth—it’s chaotic! But the truth is that in the rush of this electronic mess, simple human interaction can have a more significant impact than a billion tweets.

You see, while Jim was busy with his scanning and e-mails and confirmation numbers, no one took the time to simply serve him. Lucy was treated like a human being and in the end, she was happier and so were the workers.

We have to keep this concept in mind as we make decisions to reach and influence our publics. I guarantee that one meaningful person-to-person conversation can have a greater impact than a tweet that perhaps hundreds will see.

A recent study by the University of Michigan supports this idea. It discovered that college-aged students today are less capable of understanding and sharing feelings with others. This decline likely correlates with the rise of digital interactions. As empathy wanes, so does trust. Screen-only interactions tend to breed feelings of isolation and distrust.

If this is the case with relationships from person to person, I would venture to say that it is also the case from people to companies.

If we want to build meaningful relationships with our publics and gain their trust, we have to do more than connect with them digitally. We are in an age of perpetual electronic connectedness, but people seem more disconnected than ever. Human interaction is the only solution for this.

All this human interaction may seem like a tall order if you consider all your publics, but focusing this concept internally and moving outward is a good way to start.

I would like to conclude by recognizing the irony of this blog and its electronic nature. There will likely be tweets in its honor—irony duly noted.


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