‘Being social’ is often quoted as one of the core tenets of social media marketing. It loosely describes an approach where the marketer (or customer service professional or HR representative) adopts a more casual and familiar tone of conversation on social networks in order to interact on a peer-to-peer, human level and build relationships. But trying to teach someone how to ‘be social’ is damned difficult and immensely frustrating, and I’ve always wondered why some people do this naturally and some just don’t get it. And won’t. Ever.
Enter ‘theory of mind’.
Theory of mind is the cognitive skill of understanding another person’s state of mind. It’s an ability to intuitively comprehend that other people have mental states (beliefs, intentions, desires, knowledge etc) that may differ from your own and an understanding of others’ emotions and behaviours. Closely related to empathy, theory of mind is an innate ability that everyone possesses, but that some have developed to a greater degree than others. Scientists have now proven that the size of a person’s social network is directly related to the size of part of the brain called the orbital prefrontal cortex, but that this is only true when brain size is combined with the psychological skills associated with a developed theory of mind.
Effective Social Communications
So what’s my point? Well, I’m now wondering whether people with a more developed theory of mind make better social media professionals, and is trying to teach those with a less effective theory of mind a complete waste of time? It makes sense to me that ‘being social’ is summed up perfectly by theory of mind: intuitively recognising, accurately judging and effectively reacting to others’ emotions, motivations and feelings. Does this explain why some marketers seem to have no idea whatsoever of how to ‘be social’ on social media?
Outside the social media bubble there seems to be a broad belief that anyone can do social communications, despite the plethora of car crash examples to the contrary. There’s undoubtedly a lack of recognition for the specific skills involved in ‘being social’ from many (most?) CEOs and MDs, as well as some marketers. So in order to make social media work, is there a role for psychological profiling when recruiting or selecting a practitioner? Would we be better taking a scientific approach to a very human issue?
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