Our earlier blog post covered the first section of Dale Carnegie’s landmark book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book, now nearly 85 years old, remains nearly as fresh as when it was first written – with lessons that communicators of all kinds would do well to emulate in today’s fast and furious online society.
The book’s second section is much lengthier than the first, so our summary here is far less comprehensive. Its central theme is about how to be more likeable, and the takeaway lessons are just as relevant for businesses and brands as they are for individual people. Carnegie explains six relevant principles in great detail, yet this blog post focuses on just three – particularly with an eye toward their application in the social media realm.
Getting Likes vs Being Liked
Likeability tends to be an underrated quality within the world of marketing. It’s also a difficult variable to measure, but success in the marketplace depends on emotional appeal. As we’ve pointed out, audiences consistently align themselves with brands they like, even if a competitor’s actual products are comparatively better.
The distinction between products and brands is a critical one. If people acted like robots, then they would restrict themselves to rational purchasing decisions, simply considering each product on its own merits. But the reality is far different: Much more often, consumers show great loyalty to brands they’ve connected to on an emotional level.
The implication for digital marketers is clear. In most cases, brand building and a compelling story will take you further than a focus on product specifics. Yet it is also a surprisingly difficult task. If being liked online were easy, then Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube comment sections would be famous for their consistent harmony and good cheer.
Dale Carnegie’s book reminds us that the lessons of the past are timeless – and indeed apply more than ever in our online world. The most effective way to be interesting is to be interested. The way to be a good conversationalist is to talk less and listen more. And when you do talk, speak less about your own concerns and more about the other person’s.
Translated to the present day, these lessons add up to a single guiding idea: The long game of being liked is far more important than the short game of getting likes. With that in mind, let’s go back to the book to see how these insights may play out in the real world.
How to Make People Like You
Principle 1: Be genuinely interested in other people
Yet businesses make a similar mistake, talking only of their own narrow interests while ignoring the larger conversation. They post on their own sales-related topics, but rarely comment or interact elsewhere. In the past, when advertisements were channeled through print, radio and TV, such an approach was both practical and sensible. But times have changed, and today’s internet now makes open, two-way conversations the norm – if only businesses would use them.
As Dale Carnegie puts it, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” In other words, focus on being interested, not interesting. Being interesting is all about you, whereas being interested makes the conversation about them.
There’s no getting around it: People are interested in themselves. When we understand this simple truth, we will understand why early studies showed that the most common word used in telephone conversations was “I”. Social media – depending on the platform – also focuses an inordinate amount of attention on the life and times of the people publishing each post. So if your brand is aiming for true engagement, you’ll need to meet people where they already are: in their own heads.
Market research is a large part of this effort, but it is far from the only skill to master here. Solicit opinions and ideas via social media; ask your followers to vote on upcoming product details or marketing campaigns; comment on their own posts and activities; talk about how to improve people’s lives; and interact with the things they care about, such as elements of pop culture and society.
These concepts are hardly new, but over the years many businesses seem to have forgotten the great art of conversation. It is true that the genuinely interactive approach is harder to control, but it’s also much more rewarding. Indeed, if you get too stuck in the habit of talking to yourself, you’ll soon find that there is nobody else around to talk to at all.
The takeaway message: Think of your audience as complicated human beings with real emotional expectations. You’ll find other people will be much more engaged with you, if you engage with them first.
Principle 4: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
You will indeed make yourself more likeable through genuine interaction than through aloofness, but this approach delivers plenty of other advantages as well. After all, conversation gives you the perfect opportunity to see if your ideas map onto the same reality that others are experiencing.
When you speak, you learn nothing. When you listen carefully, you’ll soon have access to everything that your conversation partner believes, along with all the information you already had. Later, when it is time to make your thoughts and opinions known, you’ll be able to incorporate this combined insight into a much more accurate, refined, and impactful message.
The corollary to this principle is that outside views have value – and should be treated as such – even if you don’t agree with them. You may be tempted to argue with a customer who writes a negative review, or leaves an unflattering comment about you online. But in many cases, the customer’s view could be either correct, partially correct, or make valid points (poorly expressed as they may be). As Carnegie writes in his book: “Even the most ill-tempered person, the most violent critic, will often be subdued in the presence of a patient, sympathetic listener.”
Carnegie drives the point home:
Conflict is resolved through understanding, rather than one-upmanship. Indeed, people who have complaints – even legitimate ones – will almost always develop a positive impression of an organization that deals with those complaints the right way. They frequently end up liking the organization even more than they did before they had the problem to begin with.
Moreover, other people on the platform can see these conversations play out, and will gain a new respect for you if they see you genuinely listening and maintaining a constructive conversational posture. Even if the outcome is an admission and an apology on your part, other people witnessing the exchange will see that you’ve demonstrated a much more important positive quality (you clearly have integrity, unlike some other businesses) than a negative one (you made a mistake, just like everyone else).
Even better, you’ve showed everyone that you were willing to learn. An organization that truly pays attention to people’s interests and concerns is seen by onlookers in a very positive light. The same benefit accrues to good listeners in general, which is why Carnegie recommends a ratio of 75% listening to 25% talking, throughout all of your main interactions.
The takeaway message: Listening puts you on the same wavelength as your audience, allowing you to build real bonds, gain their respect, and cater to their actual needs.
Principle 5: Talk in terms of the other person’s interest
When the time comes for you to address your audience, you’ll accomplish far more by talking in terms of their own interests rather than yours. People want a partner who understands them and adapts to them; they are far less interested in adapting to you for your benefit.
Carnegie’s book offers Theodore Roosevelt as an example of this insight in action: “Whenever Roosevelt expected a visitor, he sat up late the night before, reading up on the subject in which he knew his guest was particularly interested.”
He then quotes Roosevelt as saying: ”The royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.” Indeed, such an approach lets the other person feel genuinely valued, understood, and appreciated. From this emotional starting point, the other person will be vastly more interested in anything you have to say than if you had ignored their interests and merely spoken of your own.
Roosevelt’s approach, of course, depends on having a clear idea of who your audience is, and what inspires them. If you’ve followed the aforementioned principles – i.e., being genuinely interested in them, and listening closely to what they are saying – then you’ll find yourself on safe ground, and have a much easier time connecting with that audience.
People from all cultures are more open to both persuasion and inspiration when the key messages are delivered by people who have established themselves as friendly and relatable. So take the time to form a real connection with your audience based on all the topics and ideas they find fascinating. Your patience will be rewarded many times over by a receptive audience that appreciates your interest and is willing to build a lasting emotional bond with you and your brand.
The takeaway message: The benefits of market research are as emotional as they are strategic. By showing that you understand and care about your audience on a deep level, you’ll establish yourself as a rare and valuable actor in the public sphere – and potential customers will return your interest by opening themselves up to an emotional connection with you.
Friendships and Transactions
Emotional connections inspire passion and loyalty among customers just as surely as they do among friends. The flip side of this insight is just as important to recognize; by taking a purely transactional approach to your marketing efforts, you essentially establish yourself as interchangeable with any other company selling a similar product. It is your identity alone that lets you stand out and hold a place in the hearts of your customers.
But that identity takes work to build up and refine. The best way to start is by changing the way you see your role in society. Rather than remaining a detached observer, you must instead learn to care deeply about all that is happening around you. Get involved in the public conversation, even where the end result won’t be a sales pitch. Seek to understand your market and the concerns that drive your customers. Show patience and interest, as you relate to their lives and adapt your internal approach based on what you learn. In short, become a productive and engaging member of the community who talks meaningfully from a position of knowledge and insight.
Through it all, make use of every instrument at your disposal. Technology has improved our ability not just to talk, but also to listen. The right tools let you track the conversation around you, learning a great deal about public awareness and sentiment surrounding virtually any topic.
Remember also that times may change, but human nature does not. Above all else, people want to be seen, heard, and understood. Respect those wishes, and you’ll be well on your way toward inspiring a loyal following among your many customers.
We’ll look at persuasion from another angle in part 3 of this series, as we continue our review of the key lessons and principles in How to Win Friends and Influence People. The next section of the book is all about how to engage with people’s minds – another skillset that is strangely scarce in today’s online discourse. Until then, remember: Whenever possible, your communications should be centered around your audience, rather than yourself.