It seems like every time I turn around I’m getting an e-mail, a Facebook friend request, an IM ping, a Twitter @reply or an invitation to connect with someone on a seemingly endless number of social media and networking outlets. Some people reach out their virtual hands very well. Others…not so much. Some are curt and rude. Others are obnoxious or creepy.
Let’s face it, while connecting with like-minded people and making friends may be among our many motivations to engage in social circles, there’s also a component of selfishness involved. The vast majority of us, at some point, hope to use the networks we invest so much time in building to help us accomplish a goal. You wouldn’t ask a stranger to buy you lunch. What makes you think asking a stranger to promote your content is any better?
No matter what our goals are, most of them will require contributions from others in order to succeed. Whether we are hoping to make sales, gain referrals, build brands, generate reviews or just spread the word, online networks have changed the game for businesses big and small. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…” is something we’ve all heard. In days gone by relationships with the “right” people were like a golden ticket in a Wonka bar. I suppose that’s no less true today, but initiating and building those relationships is vastly different.
The opportunity to cultivate any kind of one-on-one relationship used to be pretty limited by geography. Unless you were willing to spend a few hundred dollars a month on long distance phone calls, you were much more likely to invest your time getting to know those closest to home. For local business owners, putting forth a lot of time and effort focusing on people who live across the country, or even across the state, might not offer much return on that investment. It’s a new day…
Unprecedented Opportunity for Engagement
How many people do you suppose knew Dale Carnegie personally? How many would have liked to? In 1912 his influence was limited to those with whom he engaged in person. In the days before the multi-billion dollar self-help craze, Carnegie’s original book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People“, changed the way people approached interacting with one another. It has earned a place among the first and most useful texts on dealing with people ever written. And many of those principles still ring true today, albeit in some different ways.
Our opportunity to engage with others was once severely limited by geography. That’s not the case anymore. On a given day I may carry on conversations with people from Canada to Australia. My industry circles include people from around the world, including Israel, Iceland and New Zealand. Many aren’t merely business acquaintances, but friends – people with whom I have much in common and whose viewpoints I respect. A decade or so ago such an opportunity to build rapport with people around the world wouldn’t have been possible.
That said, most of the people who introduce themselves to me online these days are dicks. And they don’t even have the decency to pretend they’re not dicks. Okay, maybe they’re not actually dicks…maybe they’re just socially challenged people whose deficiencies are even more pronounced online than they would be in person. I have a feeling they’re the same people who 30 years ago would have made their rounds in a hotel bar handing a business card to everyone at every table with the exclamation that he can take care of all their insurance needs. Online or off, no one likes that guy.
Learn From Others’ Mistakes
Here’s the thing: building rapport is no easier online than off. In fact, it’s harder. Without body language, tone of voice and facial expressions, it’s even more difficult to determine what kind of person you’re really dealing with. With so many people vying for attention online, first impressions may be all you have. If you come off wrong in your initial introduction, you may have sealed your fate with that person forever.
Here’s an e-mail that highlights some of what I’m talking about:
I just see your profile in Sphinn.com, we’re on the same line, internet marketing, SEO, SEM, SMO, SMM.
I’m just studying all of these to become an expert someday. :-). I would enjoy being your friend, to learn from you and to
share some SEO articles, tips and breakthroughs.
If you want I will vote your stories, in exchange vote mine. :-)
Yeah, there’s 20 seconds of my life I’ll never get back. This one isn’t even one of the most egregious examples. What really sticks in my craw is the, “If you want I will vote your stories, in exchange vote mine…” part. Really? This is how you introduce yourself to a total stranger? At least I know now why he’s introduced himself to me.
It’s not because he’s read my blog. It’s not because he’s seen my tweets. It’s not because he’s actually interested in engaging in any kind of constructive conversation or exchange. He just wants me to Sphinn his shit. Guess what? I’m not going to. Ever. Because he’s trying to use me. Don’t be that guy.
Being Memorable for the Right Reasons
This dude wanted to get my attention. Well, he did. And I won’t forget him. Because of the approach, that’s not a good thing. I know what you’re thinking. “Geez, Alysson…you’re harsh and kind of a bitch.” Well, you’re not the first to say it. You won’t be the last. Maybe I expect too much of people. Or maybe I understand, and have always understood, that there are effective ways and ineffective ways to go about trying to engage with people. The more time I spend online, the more I realize how few people really understand that.
“…the ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.” ~ John D. Rockefeller
When I first started in SEO I spent a lot of time online reading blogs, reading comments, reviewing sites, etc. By a lot I mean an absolutely obscene amount of time. Lucky for me, I had a co-worker and friend to point me toward the best sources of information, so I didn’t waste a lot of time going down the wrong paths. For months I sat quietly in the corner. I didn’t leave comments. I didn’t publish anything. I didn’t call any attention to myself whatsoever.
Delay is preferable to error. ~ Thomas Jefferson
When I finally did decide to participate, I didn’t do it by sending out unsolicited e-mails to total strangers in industry circles. I didn’t send Facebook friend requests. I didn’t try to connect with industry vets via LinkedIn. I did what I would want someone to do if they’re trying to get my attention.
I started making constructive and useful comments on their blogs. I started asking questions. I started Sphinning stuff. I even submitted a post or two to Sphinn. And, at first, I got my ass handed to me. Right, Edward? :) I’d encourage you to follow Edward on Twitter, but he hates that.
I started participating in the community I wanted to be a part of. I knew I still had a lot to learn – still do – and I didn’t want to alienate the people most capable of helping me do that. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be that irritating fly buzzing around everyone’s head either. I didn’t want to get swatted away. I wanted people to read my comments and think, “Hey, she might not be entirely full of shit…perhaps I should check out her blog.” And that’s what happened. It didn’t happen overnight. But it did happen.
Super-Secret Silver Bullets
If you think I’m going to tell you there’s only one way to succeed online, you’re wrong. I bet you’re hoping I’ve drawn up some enchanted treasure map that will lead you right where you’re dying to go. Well, I haven’t. No one has. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying…first sales pitch will come about 5 minutes in.
There are as many paths leading to Oz as there are clouds in the sky. There are some tips and best practices you can follow, but no concrete answers. Be genuine. Just be yourself – no matter who that is, some audience out there will appreciate it. Give at least as much as you take. Don’t participate in social circles just because of what you can get out of it, but because of what you can contribute to it.
I’m proud of the online circle I now, perhaps a bit undeservedly, consider myself a part of. I have the utmost respect for my industry pals. And I hope I’ve earned a bit of their respect, as well. If I have, it’s partly because I didn’t make an ass of myself doing the virtual equivalent to the “OOH! OOH! PICK ME!! LOOK AT ME!!!” routine.
I’m not saying my approach is the only approach. I’m not saying it’s the best approach. I’m not even saying it’s the right approach for you. What I am saying is that choosing the wrong approach is the best way to alienate and piss off the people you might want most to get the attention of. Choose wisely. Don’t be that obnoxious guy in the hotel bar. You can’t un-ring a bell, so once you decide to ring it you better make sure it’s in tune and doesn’t make people want to run away from it screaming.