First, do no harm
“What I worry about is what we might call the end of empathy.”
This quote is not from a prominent psychologist, a leftish elected official, a popular online mindset coach, or even from yours truly, although I echo the sentiment.
It is a keynote closing remark from H.R. McMaster, retired Army Lieutenant General and former National Security Advisor. He was speaking about the current state of American mindset and self-confidence during the Brookings Institution virtual summit on information warfare on Oct 2, 2020 (transcript p. 19)
It caught my attention because empathy is not what I would have guessed would be high on a former NSA advisor’s list of concerns.
Speaking of empathy, how is your audience doing? How are YOU?
Even before the last year, many Americans were struggling due to some important economic trends gathering steam over the previous 40 years.
Today we see a unique moment in time. No matter what you market or sell, almost everyone you are targeting online has experienced recent high levels of stress from:
- Recent COVID-19 lockdown experiences ranging from inconvenient to traumatic.
- The US presidential election and Black Lives Matter protests caused ripple effects worldwide, followed by some regional natural disasters thrown in the mix.
- Increased time online due to #1 means more time spent in a social media landscape going through severe growing pains, to put it mildly.
Now, the election is over and COVID restrictions are receding as the vaccine advances.
The remaining constant is social media, a wild west with a frontier that will not settle down anytime soon.
It is a fantastic time to be alive and in business. It is also uncertain and can feel scary.
As the saying goes, May you live in interesting times.
Before March 2020, I spent most of my time in other countries, and I did not often tune in to U.S. media.
Landing back in Houston last March, with two suitcases, for a family wedding, I ended up staying for the pandemic. I had some catching up to do. As I plugged back into the U.S. matrix, I did some research.
As you are likely aware, the U.S. is engaged in a war of disinformation with foreign and domestic sources. According to experts who track such activity, the overriding goal of the enemy is to increase isolation, nurture extremist factions, extinguish empathy for others, and undermine Americans’ confidence in themselves and our government’s institutions.
The battles are taking place on social media, fake websites, and other areas of the internet.
As much as it might be tempting to sit this one out and just worry about growing our email list, we can’t.
If you post to social media for business reasons, this matters because social media platforms are the primary conduits for disinformation.
Let’s look at this from our audience’s perspective (aka #empathy)
There is no longer a traditional media landscape. In the past, it was easy to spot an ad versus editorial content. It was not perfect, of course. Newspaper and television executives did influence the content when it suited their interests. But in general, people assumed news was factual because that’s what made it “news” and not fiction, opinion, or outright lies.
Today, news, including fake news and polarizing unverified content, is broadcast on social media, where it joins a chaotic melee of individuals’ posts, ads, and marketing content. The lines between all of these are pretty blurry.
Our audience may see our marketing posts alongside negative, disempowering, or even false content. We have no control over the context.
We also now have the unprecedented ability to find people and pester them.
We can target audiences based on gigatons of data about their preferences. We can track and “touch” them repeatedly, as in hundreds of times per week, or month, depending upon distribution resources.
So with great opportunity comes the R-word — Responsibility: What is our role in all of this?
Our role is to be human first and show empathy to our audience.
There are genuine negative physical and mental health implications for people who spend a lot of time with content that triggers fear, shame, lack, sadness, and low self-worth.
Luckily, the potential for good is equally potent for content that evokes positive emotions. We can literally change the world for the better with our content.
As leaders, not only do we have a responsibility to respect our audience’s mental state, it’s good business and in everyone’s best interests to do so. More about that next week. #WinWinWin!
Unfortunately, some online marketing still reminds me of the used car sales stereotype.
The question for every person posting to social media with a business intent is this: Who do you want to be?
The shady guy in the alley with stolen watches sewn into a jacket?
The shouting huckster in the Lambo or IG filtered LadyBoss, getting their churn on by telling half-truths and preying on insecurities?
The terrifying stalking clown that chases people around the internet?
No, of course not.
I care about this conversation for many reasons, including knowing how powerful video content is in triggering emotions.
Next week I’ll share more about the brain research on emotion, including a fascinating video-based study from Berkeley, with data that literally creates the “shape” of different emotional states.
I’ll cover specifics and examples of how individuals and brands can stand out in unique, uplifting ways with content that helps people feel healthier and happier, improves conversion rates, simplifies A/B testing, and attracts Superfans.
Just like a Superhero.
Thanks for reading, please follow for updates!