We don't often like to compare ourselves to children or monkeys but the truth is that we're not that different. As adults, we often hide our needs, desires, and disappointments but when looking to understand the behavior of adults, it is useful to watch children and animals because they have no artifice masking their instincts. One of the most powerful and heartbreaking experiments ever done was by Harry Harlow on how baby monkeys form attachments and how important comfort was to their existence. The video below shows that baby monkeys will take comfort over food - in effect starving themselves in order to feel OK.
I can hardly watch the video but the point is that animals and people (we're not biologically all that different after all) will choose something comforting over a more obvious need like food. To me, this gets at the heart of why the social interactions facilitated by social media and social software can make such a big difference to the individuals that interact with organizations. Individuals will flock to organizations that offer comfort (personalized attention) even if the 'food' - i.e. salary, product cost, partnering costs - does not make economic sense for the individual.
For organizations, this has a couple of implications:
- Resources and time spent on effective personalized experiences with employees and customers will see the returns in the form of higher margins, lower operating costs, and increased retention rates.
- The recent conversation about applying business process and integrating 'social' into existing processes should be very carefully pursued. If the social element becomes just as standardized as current processes, it won't have much impact. The business processes themselves must become more flexible and adaptable to individuals which is now possible because social software reduces the cost to support that flexibility.