At a monthly meeting last year, social expert Shane Gibson shared this saying, “Use the internet to get off the internet”. At first, it can seem like a platitude — similar to how people are always talking about how we need to put down our phones and enjoy nature. Sure, I’ll stare blankly at that tree, just give me a minute to finish this Huffington Post article. But when it comes to business, the idea of using the online world to build your offline connections has real value.
As someone whose work is 85% intangible and digital, it’s important for me to remember that the internet is just a tool — and extension — of the tangible world. It creates value by establishing and maintaining connections across time and well . . . space. I keep these three things in mind when building (business) connections online.
1. Think of your online communications in offline terms
One of the best ways to get an idea of how you’re communicating online is to think of it in offline terms. Would you walk up to a stranger and launch straight into a business pitch? If not, then you probably shouldn’t only tweet about your latest offering. Would you attempt to build a relationship by only talking about yourself? If not, then your Facebook presence shouldn’t simply be the greatest hits playlist of your business.
This doesn’t mean you can never use your online presence to talk about your business. It just means that building connections and promoting your business online needs to be more human. Imagine a customer walks into your brick-and-mortar store. First, you ask them how their day is going and figure out what they’re looking for. Then you show them the shelf of products that can solve their problems. Build relationships and provide value first, then you can offer your connections the services and products they really need.
2. Bring something to the table
Just like you would in any offline relationship, your online communications need to offer value. Especially when you’re building a business network and talking to (potential) customers, bringing something to the table will enable you to stand out and develop relationships that are actually meaningful. As Mark Schaefer explains on Social Media Today, “Offer true helpfulness and real value. Actionable relationships are earned, not bought. We’re not idiots. We know when we’re being used.” And you definitely don’t want your customers or connections to feel like that.
3. Integrate your online and offline communications
For a digital agency, we host a lot of in-person events. That’s because we operate by the philosophy that online connections are meant to build offline connections — and vice versa. We love connecting with customers on Facebook and double-tapping their Instagram photos. But inviting them to an event and sharing a beer creates another level of connection. Mark Schaefer agrees, “Turning online connections to offline relationships transforms weak links into strong bonds.” Those strong bonds allow us to create amazing work and provide exceptional business results.
When it comes to your business, think of how you can take your online business relationships into the offline world. Hosting events, inviting your customers into your store, or simply meeting connections for coffee can offer incredible insights and cement meaningful relationships. Developing real connections and seeing measurable business results — that’s what we’re in this for, isn’t it?