Almost all of us love watching movies. One reason we like them so much is we like to see people living through situations we experience in our own lives, too. We want to see old friends drifting apart. We want to see a daughter struggle to gain independence from her parents. We want to see a man and woman fall in love, get married, and raise a family. But we also like to watch people going through trials we’ll never see ourselves. We’ll never be a James Bond dangling from a cable car high above the Swiss Alps, but we love the action and suspense, and we carry the image around in our heads afterwards, dusting it off when we face our own, admittedly more mundane, challenges in life.
In recent years reality shows have become popular, too. We like those because they remind us no one is perfect. We get to see a famous actress struggle through a bad hair day, or an otherwise heroic role model cursing his way through the living room after he stubs his toe on the furniture. When we see these people being less than perfect in front of a worldwide TV audience, we feel more comfortable with our own imperfections. While the characters in the movies tend to be airbrushed and perfect, on reality shows we get to see people warts and all.
Then along came social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs. Social media gives us a voice of our own. It lets us star in our own reality TV show. Sure, it creates a lot of noise, but it brings everyday talent to the surface, too. Social media gives us all the chance to practice marketing ourselves and cultivating our own following. It also makes it so much easier to watch what other people are doing. There aren’t enough hours in the day to spend quality time with everyone we know, but social media allows us to keep an eye on what they’ve been up to. You might not have seen your old roommate from university in years, but because of social media, you know that he recently went on a vacation to Fiji and that he went parasailing while he was there. What makes social media even more fascinating than movies and reality TV is that it gives us direct access to the lives of hundreds of everyday people just like us.
That fascination with social media isn’t too different from watching famous people in the movies or on TV, though. Sure, in social media, you and your friends are the producers. But whatever the medium, the principle is the same: People love to watch other people. We love to watch Meryl Streep’s face when she learns her husband is cheating on her, and we love to learn Ozzy Osbourne gets lost in the kitchen, and we love to know an old friend from high school goes skiing on the weekends. That curiosity didn’t start with Facebook or Twitter, it was already part of us, long before computers, TV, or movies.
You can put this principle to work in your professional life, too. Remember that no matter what business you are in, your customers are normal people, and they love to watch each other. Find a way to help them learn from each other. Find a way to help them connect with each other. Find a way to help them build relationships with each other. Yes, you will lose some control over the relationship in the process. Your customers will start forming bonds with each other that you don’t even know about, and some of your customers will develop relationships with each other that are stronger than their relationships with you. That can be a little scary at first, especially when you realize how little control you have over what’s going on. But if you have the courage to take that step, your customers will love you for it. While other businesses are just selling widgets, you will be tapping into the basic human need to connect with others. People will be drawn to your business as if it were a magnet, and your competitors will wonder what your secret is. Only you will know the secret is as simple as remembering that people love to watch other people.