Small effort, big difference
Imagine you're in the queue at the car park pay-on-exit machine. You become aware that a young mum at the front of the queue is talking to the assistant. She has no cash and the machine won't accept credit cards. The assistant's voice over the intercom insists: "No, you can't pay with credit card. You have to pay with cash," "No, there's no cash machine," "No, you'll have to walk all the way back to the shopping centre and find a cash point," "No, there's no other option."
You have cash in your pocket so you pay her ticket rather than see her struggle down six flights of stairs with two children, a pushchair and several bags of shopping. Her gratitude is disconcerting. "How can I pay you back? Why would you do this?".
"I know what it's like to go shopping with children" you say. She grins. You don't need to say any more. A true story.
It's these small opportunities to make a difference to our customers, our supporters, our patients, or to strangers; this is what marks us out as human. And in a world of big organisations, a world of people short on time, it's crucial that we grab every opportunity to show that humanity. Social media is one tool that makes it easy for us to do that.
Did you hear about the international flower company that monitored their twitter feed and sent bunches of flowers to random Twitter users that need cheering up? Or the cracker producer who tracked down fans of their product and took a whole pallet to their door? (Read more about these random acts of kindness.)
So how are you being human with your constituents? Do your thank-you emails really express your gratitude? Do they deepen the relationship? Do you ever send a hand-written note? When people engage with your twitter feed or your Facebook page are they met by someone who wants to make their day better? Someone who wants to show that their organisation is about people - not income? This is what will entice your followers to want to give you their email addresses, to pay more attention to what you're saying, to spread your brand, your mission. That's real ROI on social media.
I suspect that next time that young mum is in a car park with someone in front who's struggling she might just reach into her pocket to see whether she can create a disproportionate difference with a small amount of effort.
Social Media. It's called social for a reason.