I’ve been writing about human business since late 2008 when Julien Smith and I were working on Trust Agents. When people asked us what the book was about, our fastest answer was, “It’s about being human at a distance.” But when that sunk in, I realized that most brands aren’t in this to be human at distance. They’re in this to make money.

It’s not that brands are evil or sinister. Companies are companies. Some are good. Others are less good. Some do things with causes and humanity in mind. Others don’t. But the main purpose of most business is to make a profit.

The question that a C-level person weighs when someone brings them an opportunity is: Will this improve the top line, cut something from my expenses, or in any other way help my bottom line? If not, then it’s pretty darned hard to get the rest of the conversation out.

Pepsi Refresh: A revenue refresher

Selling products and services by being more human is a really difficult challenge for the C-suite to face. For one thing, how do you do it right? How do you know what’s pushy selling versus useful selling? How do you convey a human message while staying focused on revenue and growth?

If I’m Pepsi, then I’m pushing Pepsi Refresh, because it shows the power of cause marketing and helps Pepsico push its message of doing good.

I’m using all the social channels, because they are inexpensive, because they are passion-filled, and because the kinds of people who might make a purchasing decision based on questions like, “Does the company do good things for the world?” would be the kinds of people who also might receive this message via a social channel.

Now, let me back up. Do social media necessarily go hand in hand with human business? No. Does cause marketing? Sure. So, it’s not fair to say that social media and cause marketing together equal a human business. But when I see how Pepsi Refresh did what it did, I make that leap. Do you?

Tools of the trade

Most people who sell social media tools aren’t selling human business directly. They’re selling tools that they consider really powerful. They sell them as the converted, not the skeptic. They sell these tools as a cure-all, and they most certainly don’t cure all.

In 2011, the three tools I’ll use the most for my own business are blogging, e-mail marketing, and private forum software. Those last two technologies are more than 20 years old. They aren’t shiny, nor are they new. I learned about the power of having a good e-mail list from Jeff Pulver. It was one of the first pieces of advice he ever gave me. So, we’re not selling shiny or new when we’re selling human business.

Return on human engagement

If you’re a big brand (or even a medium one) in 2011, and I’m at your door selling the fact that one should be human, I’d best be talking about relationship-based metrics, about sales conversions, and about how the improved customer connectivity of social tools reduces call centre costs, marketing costs and advertising expense. Otherwise, I’m selling snake oil, and that’s someone else’s business.

Brands have a lot to learn in 2011, but then, so do those who intend to sell to them. I say bring it on.

@BrandsConf takes place on Thursday, December 2nd in New York City. As official media partner, Sparksheet will bring you original content around the event’s theme, the humanization of brands, and in-depth interviews with conference presenters. Our readers are entitled to a 30% discount on registration by using the promo code “sparksheet” – http://brands2010.140conf.com/register