Upon recently talking about micro-interactions to the folks at Citi, I had a “micro-epiphany.” It occurred to me that companies really need to be looking at the social revolution for possibly one reason over everything else. Insights into human behavior that can lead to future innovations or even product/service improvements. Point in case, as I was talking about some of the interactions I’ve had with brands on Twitter like Southwest or Zappos, I said something like “this isn’t about immediately jumping onto Twitter or any other network, it’s about making an observation that people are craving live interactions with other people who happen to work at the companies they buy stuff from”. I went on to emphasize that they way I knew this wasn’t based on research, but my own personal observations and a willingness to take a step back and connect the dots.
Think about it, as spoiled as we are with great brands such as Trader Joes, NetFlicks, and Apple—when it comes to customer service we’ve unfortunately become accustomed to layers of poorly designed pre-recorded menus and canned responses that don’t actually help us. Companies have streamlined operations to the point where we assume it will take forever to speak to a live person who can actually help us. Or if we get a live person, we’re disappointed. Then all of a sudden a few companies start helping people via a network such as Twitter and we’re are all over it, happy to spread the news that someone is out there listening. To me the insight is this:
We’ve become so starved for authentic live human contact that when it’s offered up to us we are all to happy to rejoice and tell the world.
As with many professions, digital has made certain things more accessible to people with potential. Some of the most forward thinking companies like IDEO have invested in hiring anthropologists, people who combine an intuitive curiosity with a learned skill for observation and pattern detection. These anthropologists come from all backgrounds, and the really good ones have developed methods and toolboxes for capturing behaviors in the hopes of uncovering the insights they are looking for.
Today, a big part of that toolbox has become the Web, which lowers the bar for curious people who can detect patterns but perhaps haven’t earned their formal degrees in the social sciences or have the experience of recording hours of behavior via A/V equipment. But there is a catch. You have to be willing to investigate, spend time in the virtual communities—you have to participate to some extent and you have to develop your own system for capturing data whether it be tagging via delicious, favoriting links or archiving media.
The big shift is that the new kind of “digital ethnography” I’m describing is there for those willing to do what it takes to uncover those insights. No special degree or professional recording equipment required. I’m fairly certain some company out there is going to tap into this idea of “direct engagement”—live interactions with real breathing people enabled by digital technology. Could be video, text, audio or a combination of all three. But I’m fairly certain that the small percentage of people who are experiencing it through networks such as Twitter are acting as collective canaries in coalmines signaling a desire for more live human connectivity vs. artificial intelligence. If you can relate to some of the things I've said here, then you just might be a digital anthropologist. At least, that’s my gut feeling.