We will cover the following key takeaways:
- Digital pollution refers to the confusion, frustration, and annoyance we create in the digital world.
- To avoid digital pollution, we should focus on creating human-centered communication and relationships. Everything we do online should be focused on providing value to our customers.
- We should look to establish guidance and find guidance from those we respect.
- We should make it easy for people to understand our identity and motivation.
- By verifying our identity we make it safer and easier for people to say yes to us.
- We want to create engagement with our customers to build our relationships.
What is digital pollution?
Ethan is passionate about preventing pollution. He said, “Clean air, clean water, and clean soil are absolute necessities in precursors to human thriving.”
In the physical world, pollution can negatively impact our quality of life. When I lived in Bountiful, Utah, I lived on a hill and I could sometimes look down and see this gross haze of pollution settling in the valley. We eventually ended up moving out of the city largely because of the unclean air as living in a healthy environment is important to me and my family.
Just as no one wants to live in an area filled with pollution, we also don’t want to deal with digital pollution. Digital pollution refers to the confusion, frustration, and annoyance in the digital world. On one end it could be getting added to a wrong group chat and getting 85 notifications from people you don’t know. On the other end, it can refer to scams and other cybercrimes.
Ethan likes to focus on the pollution that happens in the middle of this spectrum: consequential pollution. This is what we experience when someone attempts to create or deliver value, but they do it in a way that confuses, frustrates, and annoys us.
What does digital pollution look like?
In general, many of these digital spaces lack emotion and fail to acknowledge our human needs. We often find ourselves experiencing behaviour that no one would intentionally do in-person, but feel like they can do online. When pollution like this happens, we often lose customers and hurt our credibility.
One of the things that feels like pollution to me is when a company requires multiple steps to sign into an account. As soon as they say “for your security,” I know they are defending themselves against my annoyance when they give me five different steps just to log into my bank account.
When I tried to log into my account while I was on a business trip out of the country, I had to go through multiple steps such as choosing all of the images with a motorcycle in it and then I had to talk to someone on the phone just to get anything done. The process becomes so frustrating and annoying.
Another example of pollution we see happen all the time are LinkedIn messages from people we hardly know, trying to sell us something. As soon as we accept a LinkedIn request message from someone, they often send paragraphs back full of transactional behaviour and links to buy from them or set up an appointment.
Imagine if they did something like this in person at a networking event. As soon as you exchange names, they start talking about their business, make assumptions about who you are, and pull out their phone asking for you to sign up for a meeting. This behaviour in person is obviously over the top, and yet some businesses do this same thing online.
How to Reduce Digital Pollution
To avoid digital pollution, we can ask ourselves, “Would this behavior be acceptable in person? Does this action make it easier for my customer or more frustrating?” As we ask ourselves these questions we can begin to refine our processes and clean the air in our digital landscapes.
The main way to get rid of digital pollution is to create human-centered communication. “In applying human-centered design to our daily digital communication we put other people’s needs, wants, and interests on a level playing field or on equal footing as our own,” Ethan said.
Our messages should be focused on our customers. What’s in it for them? Instead of mass-blasting someone with a message, we can segment our emails based on where they are in their customer journey. If we want to get rid of pollution we have to find our ideal audience and personalize our messages for them. If we don’t know our audience how can we create something of value for them?
“The ‘clean air’ is doing our best to make it really easy for people to understand, why is this in front of me? Who is it from? What is my opportunity here and how do I proceed?” Ethan said.
There are four pillars of human-centered communication to help us get rid of digital pollution: guidance, identity, verification, and engagement.
We should look to establish guidance and find guidance from those we respect. We should look to each other, to other practitioners, people who model the behaviour we want to demonstrate, and organizations we admire.
“We’re looking to start a conversation here,” Ethan said. “We’re looking to move business culture in a positive direction for better business outcomes as well.”
Our customers want to have a sense of who we are. We should make it easy for people to understand our identity, our motivation, and that we have their best interest in mind. Video can really help show people who we are as it puts a face to our brand and gives more emotion and personality.
“Making it clear who we are as individuals and as organizations helps build familiarity and starts that pattern of trust, engagement, and positive reputation such that we have faster access to people’s time and attention in the future. That’s what this is all about,” Ethan said.
We should verify our identity. We have to verify that we are who we say we are in order to build that customer trust. What proof can we provide? If we want our customers to buy from us, we have to make it clear that we will provide value to them. By providing that social proof in video, reviews and testimonials, etc. we make it safe and easy for people to say yes to us.
“If we don’t have a plan to create [our] identity, to verify that identity, and to create some level of engagement, then we’re on a fool’s errand, because we’re teaching people that were not worth their time and attention,” Ethan said.
The final pillar of human-centered connection is engagement. We don’t want to only have one-sided conversations with our customers. We want to give them a voice and an opportunity to engage with us. Can we create a good environment for open conversation? As we do this, we build our relationship with our customers and we are much more likely to find success.
Connect with Ethan
Thank you so much Ethan for sharing your stories and insights with us today. To learn more about or connect with Ethan: