First off, a question for you. How do you build business relationships in the offline world?
Perhaps you listen intently when speaking to others, or offer your assistance when appropriate, or give someone a follow-up phone call as soon as you get back to your desk.
Are you approachable? Do you introduce people to each other? Do you ask really good questions that start conversations? Do you keep your promises? Do you send out birthday cards to your customers and suppliers?
Maybe you do some of these, and maybe you have your own unique ways to connect with others you meet. I’d love to hear what creative ways you introduce yourself and keep in touch with people. Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.
The fundamentals don’t change
Your customers are those who know you, like you, and trust you. Lots of them may know you. They will like if you’re polite and do good things. However, trust needs to be earned over time by building meaningful relationships, online and off.
Some think that social websites are just more channels for them to blast out their marketing messages worldwide. Others seem to believe these networks make up some kind of alternate universe where a new form of communication must be learned. They are neither, and the people that think they are will be the first ones to quit. Making and maintaining business connections via social networks is not that different than doing so in person.
Using online social networks is still “real life.” (We don’t call it “fake life.”) We still have to present ourselves and our brand image the same way we do offline. The fundamentals of communication and relationships don’t change, only the tools and methods change. Your messages don’t change, just the messaging systems we use.
Advantages and disadvantages
There are advantages and disadvantages social networks have on relationship building. One of the most obvious pros is that we can reach so many people in so many places, in so much less time. We don’t have to be in the right place at the right time to meet influential people, nor do we have to attend as many events just to introduce ourselves and have our brands be known. The ability to categorize connections is also wonderful for keeping track of who’s who and sending out targeted messages.
That said, it can be harder to connect on social networks because communication on the Internet is void of body gestures, eye contact, and vocal pitch—the signals we use to help interpret verbal messages. (Sarcasm doesn’t work very well online, and smiles can’t be seen. Smileys are certainly no substitute for the real thing, and can still be misinterpreted.)
By default, our social networking interactions are less personal than when meeting face-to-face. Because of this, we have to be creative and transparent with our dialog so that brand personality shines through, and so our meanings and intentions don’t get lost on the screen.
As they say on the street: Be real.
That means be yourself, be professional, be honest, and give people good reason to keep talking to you. Share valuable information, offer your assistance, be engaging, and be interesting to talk to—just like in “real life.” You can also bring your online interactions offline by continuing to send out those birthday cards!
Image by luc legay under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.
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