There is a small risk of this column turning into a bit of a rant this week. I shall try to keep the tendency in check, but when something has been consistently growing in its capacity to annoy you, that annoyance has to go somewhere in the end.  I am glad I have the therapeutic outlet of these words, to share with you what is getting on my wick just lately.  And between us perhaps we can turn the tide and make things nice again.

You might have noticed, I love social media – I spend a lot of my time there, I love it for its communication and immediacy, and the way it helps people connect about so many different things both personal and professional.  Indeed as part of my daily work I help businesses get the most out of social media marketing to represent their companies and drive sales, tools like Facebook and Twitter are fantastic for this because they are so rich in information and opportunity.

But they are SOCIAL networks.  The clue is in the name.  Doing business online is about building relationships between people, getting to know them, and seeing how you can help them.  If you were at a party you wouldn’t just go round the room pushing your business cards on everyone you met, would you?  Even if it were specifically a business networking meeting, you would start by connecting on a human and personal level, with introductions and enquiries and courtesies.  Call it small talk, but it’s important, it oils the wheels of our interactions, and it’s nice.

Don't be 'sell sell sell!'

Of course we’ve all met jerks with no social skills who clumsily set out to ‘work the room’ and just annoy everyone they meet, because they offer nothing of themselves first but just immediately jump in there telling you that most people simply don’t have enough life insurance, or could save a fortune on XXX or whatever it is they are flogging – but in real life these are people you would cross the street to avoid, and you would never want to BE that person, would you?

So why is it that some people think it’s OK on a platform like Facebook, to contribute nothing to any kind of conversation or dialogue, but merely to advertise and promote?  The minute they spot a new Facebook group they jump on it, don’t bother to read the guidelines set up by the group’s owner or anything contributed by other people, but just barge straight in there with ‘this is me and this is what I want to sell you – I will just grab this chance to shove it in your face one more time before I am kicked off’.  Would you ever buy any product or service marketed to you like that offline? Of course not. So why do people do this online?

The internet might be an unregulated wild frontier, but there are rules and standards of conduct about basic human connection that apply here.  Get to know people, establish a connection, show a genuine and honest interest in them and what their needs are.  Share some of your expertise and advice for free to demonstrate your skills and credibility, ‘pay it forward’ and earn some respect as a person who not only knows their trade well but is also helpful and willing to listen and provide good service.  Get some good articles together on your website that solve common problems in your industry, and you can legitimately refer people to them if you come across a question online, what can I do about so-and-so?  If you aren’t the best person to address their needs, be sociable and recommend someone else who is.  Provide a good service and someone will do the same for you one day.

Even connecting one on one, think sharing not selling.  Of course you are excited when you meet someone new and think, they need me! I have just the product/service/business they are after, to solve their problem!  But that’s your excitement not theirs and you have got to build trust and communication first.  People do business with people, not usernames or Facebook Pages or corporations.  So, be a person – that shouldn’t be too hard!  Real relationships can lead to real deals, but you have got to listen first, don’t assume you know a person’s needs at first glance, and don’t treat every prospect the same.

If you are using social media to promote your business, don’t forget that what you are and what you do is there online for all to see – you can refer back to it if you need to at some point, and people will look you up anyway – that’s what people do.  So make sure that your website / blog / business page is up to date, professional and credible, so your ‘shop window’ is easily accessible then to anyone who wants to look at it and says all the right things about what you do and how well you do it.  Then you can go out online and be yourself – a fully rounded human being, who connects with other humans, on a range of different levels.  Someone who tells their own story, listens and responds, is even a little vulnerable at times, and has a genuine openness people can respond to in turn.

The online world is not a replacement or substitute for the real one, it’s just an extension of it, a means of extending the reach of any given connection potential.  Keep it real, human and honest, and we can all help each other out, personally and professionally,

See you online!  @casslar, or info@costaconnected.com

Published in Costa Blanca News, 18th May 2012

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