A decade ago, I was working professionally building web strategy for an entertainment brand. Looking back, the whole endeavor seems like it must have been so simple, compared to the here-and-now of social media sharing, algorithms and SEO. Back in 2007, all anyone wanted me to figure out was how to get people to visit the website – a lot. 

Since Facebook was just getting its legs and the iPhone was in infancy, the idea of being flooded with photos from everyone you know still sounded novel. A popular strategy for folks in my situation became to implement photo contests. 

These worked simply: people were encouraged to upload a type of picture featuring something personal. They then invited all their friends to vote for their shot in hopes of winning some nominal prize. The real winner would undoubtedly end up being the website owners because suddenly their pageviews would skyrocket and they would have inflated numbers to show the people spending advertising money. 

During these days, we learned something valuable very quickly. Most of these photo contests could work to meet our basic need, but if we wanted ridiculous, ludicrous, eye-bulging results, all we had to do was incorporate one of two things into the theme of the contest: pets or kids. (Or if we REALLY wanted traffic, BOTH at the same time.) 

If we asked people to show us their pooch in a costume or their babies looking like bumblebees, not only would the number of photos we received for entries skyrocket, the number of votes that would be cast would often be ten or twenty times that of another type of competition. 

And not only would more people take part – the stakes suddenly seemed so much higher to these contestants. There were angry emails if a photo failed to appear properly or a barrage of phone calls from various members of the same family if anyone appeared to be cheating in a way that might endanger their chosen entry. It became overwhelming quickly and we swiftly developed a shorthand to describe this phenomenon around the office:

“Dogs and babies, man,” you’d often hear me mutter under my breath while struggling to keep up with the contest inbox on a random afternoon. “Dogs and babies.”

That phrase has matured for me now a decade later into a mantra that signifies a whole lot more when it comes to connecting with people.

To the introverted or unsure, instruction to get intimate in conversation can seem terrifying, but I whittle it back down to the same thing that drove pageviews all those years ago (and STILL drives pageviews – have you looked at your Facebook feed recently?) – Dogs and babies. 

No matter where you are or who you are trying to talk to, try stripping the conversation all the way down to the studs. Find the place where the floor and the wall come together between yourself and that other person. It may be a phrase on a t-shirt. It could be a style or glance or immediately shared moment (This is why so many people rely on talking about the weather.) 

But there is a good chance that if you really want to resonate, the quickest path to that point may involve my favorite mantra. 

That grumpy guy at the grocery? He has a toddler at home that keeps him up late, but steals his heart every morning with a toothy smile. 

That woman swerving around you in traffic? She is worried about getting home to let LeRoy out. He is getting older and has bladder issues. And he gets lonely. (And so does she).

Your boss who seems unreasonable this week? He just sent his youngest off to college and is terrified to find his room empty tonight when he gets home. 

“Dogs and babies, man.”

Dogs and babies.

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