4 Survival Tips For Leaders In The ‘Dead Internet’ Era

It’s one of the ironies of modern life that the more the internet gets to know us, the less personal it becomes.

Customized ads target us every time we open a new tab. People we “might know” are paraded in front of us on social media. Operating systems call us by name.

Yet bots answer helplines. Fake accounts litter social media. Autocorrect actively denies our language quirks.

And guest what – the internet is not likely to get any more human.

In fact, some doomsayers – European law enforcement agency Europol among them – predict that, by 2026, 90% of the internet will be bots talking to bots.

Welcome to The Dead Internet.

In January, Forbes.com defined the Dead Internet Theory as “the belief that the vast majority of internet traffic, posts and users have been replaced by bots and AI-generated content, and that people no longer shape the direction of the internet.”

If this is true, in the coming years, people will value authenticity and transparency even more than they do now. To cut through the bot-to-bot noise, leaders will have to work even harder to communicate with stakeholders and the public.

Here are some ways to stay ahead of the creep of the dead internet.

Highlight your human side

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: authenticity and transparency counts.

People build stronger connections with leaders who demonstrate their humanity. This will be even more true as we approach the Sunken Place of future internet.

In your social media and public appearances, speak from personal experience and be honest about failures. Encourage interactions with your audience. Show vulnerability. Adapt to feedback. Share your process. Stay true to your values and follow through on promises.

From O2E chief Brian Scudamore to Spanx head Sara Blakely, CEOs who show off their human side build a stronger personal brand.

Brian does this through personal posts that showcase his affable personality.

Sara peppers her feeds with photos of her domestic life and messages of inspiration.

Use AI judiciously

People are waking up to the dangers of AI.

AI-driven scams and illicit AI-generated images of celebrities like Taylor Swift have become commonplace. AI recently tricked customers into paying for a deceptive “Willy Wonka chocolate experience.” Another deepfake convinced an employee to pay out $25 million to a scammer.

According to allaboutcookies.org, 77% of Americans reported being duped by AI content online. No wonder people are reluctant to trust anything that smells of AI.

For a business leader who needs to use all available tools to stay ahead of the competition, new technology is impossible to avoid. The trick is to use it judiciously while leaving room for human interaction.

Using AI can have massive benefits in the areas of data analysis, strategizing, decision-making, and optimizing actions and decisions. However, awareness, compassion and wisdom are three “uniquely human capabilities” that leaders need to focus on honing, according to Harvard Business Review.

Demonstrating these qualities in both online interactions and within your organization will be paramount going forward. Short story: When your words and images truly matter, don’t blindly trust them to generative AI tools like ChatGPT. For leaders, standing out and cutting through the noise really does require a personal touch.

Emphasize in-person interactions

The pandemic was crucial to highlighting what we lose in living and working online—human contact, the ability to read people (although this can be overrated, as Malcolm Gladwell notes in his book Talking to Strangers), and the kind of creative energy and ideas generated by several minds interacting in close proximity.

Face-to-face meetings offer nonverbal clues and the capacity to pose questions to participants, reducing the chances of misinterpretation of messages, emails, and other communications. At the same time, physical interaction is a powerful and proven way to build relationships and make an impression. There’s a reason that in-person conferences and events continue to thrive, even in the era of Zoom.

As a thought leader, you can stay ahead of the curve by attending conferences, organizing meetings, and engaging in more one-on-one interaction with staff and stakeholders. Though it may be  more cost-effective to hold that company all-hands meeting or annual sales kickoff online, an in-person event will deliver significantly more return when it comes to building loyalty and team chemistry. Not to mention — Zoom afterparties are never as fun as the real thing.

Engage with community thoughtfully

As the internet at large devolves into a back-and-forth of bots, among the last bastions of human interaction are online communities.  These can take the form of members-only forums, professional societies or even social networks.

For leaders, the key to building true community depends on a timeless principle: give as much as you take. Blasting followers with content — whether your hot takes or your thinly veiled sales pitches — will only take you so far. What actually moves the needle is content and input that genuinely adds value to your community.

Expert insights, hard-earned hacks and tips, and insights into failures (not just triumph) can all help leaders stay human and stand out. Moreover, a real community is a two-way street. The most effective leaders on social platforms spend as much time reading and engaging with other people’s content as they do generating their own.

Ultimately, as a leader, you can counter the proliferation of AI-generated content through genuine engagement. Don’t leave communication to machines except when and where it will directly benefit the consumer or stakeholder.

The dead internet may be looming, but that doesn’t mean smart leaders can’t survive and even thrive. Whether online or in person, search out opportunities to engage with people. Remind them that, on the other end of the line, there is another human.

Sign up for The Helm Newsletter!

Latest Posts